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Does American Social Work Have a Progressive Tradition?
Allison D. Murdach
Social work authors in the 1950s claimed progressivism as a unique social work "tradition" and set of values, and this historical interpretation has influenced many versions ofsocial work history since that time.Today, other voices in the profession claim various divergent traditions for social work and note that the progressive tradition has waned in the profession. Given these uncertainties, the question of whether social work has or still possesses a progressive tradition is once again revisited, and the current relationship between social work and progressivism is evaluated.
KEY WORDS: professional identity;progressivism; social work practice; social work traditions; social work values

T

he field ofsocial work has long been identified with a focus on poverty, tbe welfare of children and families, unemployment, discrimination, and social justice. Tbese areas are also among the constant concerns of progressivism, a political movement stemming from the early 20th century that, at various times, has dominated tbe political process in tbe United States during the past 100 years. Given the similarity ofthe concerns of social work and progressivism, it has been argued that because social work from its earliest days adopted a "tradition" of humanitarian social reform—called the "American tradition" by Cohen (1958)—tbe profession has essentially become identical with progressivism in all major respects. Furthermore, it has been asserted tbat tbis orientation bas distinguisbed social work from otber service professions by giving it a predominantly activist and Hberal approach to professional activity (Bisno, 1952; Cohen, 1958; Howard, 1954).Because tbe issue of wbetber a progressive tradition actually exists in American social work bas lately been questioned (Margohn, 1997), this article...

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