Evidence and research designs in applied sociology and social work research

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Today, social work is confronted with a political demand for being evidence-based, and researchers investigating social work practice are discussing the premises of this demand. They are asking if this discussion was substantially different from the one taken more than 50 years ago, and whether it had to be repeated all over again. This article tries to answer this question by reviewing the considerations in the history of applied sociology and its relevance for recent social work research. The ambition of delivering a research that has an impact on social work practice is not unique, neither for the evidence movement nor the Practice Research tradition we see today. The article reviews statements from Weber to Dorothy Smith and looks at the similar ambitions within the traditions for Sociological Practice, Clinical Sociology, Urban Anthropology, Social Engineering, Action Research, Formative and Realistic Evaluation and Institutional Ethnography. Some of these approaches share common roots with Social Work Research in the Chicago milieu of social science in the 1920s and 1930s, and the ambitions and aims are almost identical. The article identifies the more important experiences from the history of applied sociology and discusses its contributions to understanding questions of validity, evidence, methodology, practical relevance of research and scientific legitimacy in the areas of research which aim at contributing to the practical development of social services for marginalized people. By doing this, hopefully the history of applied sociology may prevent deeper mistakes, illusions and misleading in the development of social work research today.
TidsskriftNordic Social Work Research
Udgave nummerSuppl. 1
Sider (fra-til)56-70
Antal sider15
StatusUdgivet - 2015


  • Evidence Based Practice
  • Applied sociology
  • social work research
  • Practice Research in Social Work
  • Research Design