Over generations, social workers have borrowed theories from sociology. However, sociologists have generally avoided borrowing theory from social work. By beginning with social work practice wisdom, we can unfold the complex elements organizing social work practice and by extension ethnographic research. Complexity and resulting uncertainty are antidotes for theoretical purity. Practice as grounded in life, that of client’s and social workers is inherently “dirty”, i.e., messy, disorganized, confusing, unfolding, and uncertain. Understandings and practices are accomplished in a connection of self to a profession, agency/organization, mandate and purpose, and ethical orientation, in interaction with colleagues and clients. Social workers take sides as they are grounded in an ethic of care. The challenge of developing an ethical practice in the face of difference, disagreement, disjunction, and conflict lead social workers to bracket, and hence reflect on the putative coherence of a “life world.” Face-to-face work with individuals rather than being a liability provides a source of knowledge and wisdom to inform social science generally.

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Keywords assessment, ethnography, observation, practice wisdom, Research, sociology
Persistent URL dx.doi.org/10.1177/1473325016678310
Journal Qualitative Social Work
deMontigney, G. (2018). Social workers’ peculiar contribution to ethnographic research. Qualitative Social Work, 17(3), 452–468. doi:10.1177/1473325016678310