James A. Forte, Theories for Practice: Symbolic Interactionist Translations.Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2001. $68 hardcover
Forte's Theories for Practice is a sprawling and comprehensive overview of the intellectual spheres touched by symbolic interactionist thinkers. These include many of the intellectual watersheds of the past 100 or so years: psychoanalytic theory Psychoanalytic theory is a general term for approaches to psychoanalysis which attempt to provide a conceptual framework more-or-less independent of clinical practice rather than based on empirical analysis of clinical cases. , Marxism, and evolutionary psychology evolutionary psychology
The study of the psychological adaptations of humans to the changing physical and social environment, especially of changes in brain structure, cognitive mechanisms, and behavioral differences among individuals. , to name only a few. The names associated with early symbolic interactionism Symbolic interactionism is a major sociological perspective that is influential in many areas of the discipline. It is particularly important in microsociology and sociological social psychology. , including George Herbert Mead Noun 1. George Herbert Mead - United States philosopher of pragmatism (1863-1931)
Mead and John Dewey, are certainly major intellectual figures if not superstars like Marx, Freud or Darwin. Symbolic interactionism emphasizes that humans invest the world with meaning, meanings that evolve through interaction and are continuously interpreted and reinterpreted. This framework has inspired much social science research and is resonant with qualitative, interpretive inquiry. As the title suggests, this book examines theories from economics, psychology and political science and translates them into the sociological symbolic interactionist perspective.
Social work, psychology, and sociology have a long history of mutual influence, and social work has been poised between sociology and psychology for much of its history. In several chapters Forte traces the history of sociology
Involving both social and political factors.
of or involving political and social factors systems and their related complexes of meanings.
The book is clearly a product of devoted and thorough scholarship with the typical chapter having 3-5 pages of citations. With the exception of introductory and concluding sections, the book is structured around 10 chapters that each focus on a theoretical domain. Each chapter traces the history of a specific theoretical strand, the relationship with symbolic interactionist thought, and how this theory informs or translates to practice.
The social psychologist Kurt Lewin Kurt Zadek Lewin (September 9,1890 - February 12,1947), a German-born psychologist, is one of the modern pioneers of social, organizational, and applied psychology. Lewin is often recognized as the "founder of social psychology" and was one of the first researchers to study group said: "Nothing is as practical as a good theory." Forte's book raises the question: how practical for social work are sociological theories? These theories do not generally provide specific, clear statements of how intervention should proceed, making them useful more to analyze social situations but not to guide intervention. This is reflected in Forte's sections in each chapter that focus on translating theory to practice. Many of these sections report on sociological analyses that have practice implications; very few describe specific interventions designed around these theoretical analyses. It could be argued that the failure of applied or clinical sociology reflects the low utility of sociological theory by itself for direct practice.
As a contrast, consider the Empirically Supported Treatment (EST EST electroshock therapy.
electroshock therapy ) movement in psychology. ESTs are manualized therapies with demonstrated efficacy through randomized clinical trials randomized clinical trial,
n a clinical study where volunteer participants with comparable characteristics are randomly assigned to different test groups to compare the efficacy of therapies. . Many of the therapies with adequate research support to be considered "Well established" or "probably efficacious ef·fi·ca·cious
Producing or capable of producing a desired effect. See Synonyms at effective.
[From Latin effic " are cognitive-behavioral, but the lists also include brief psychodynamic therapy Psychodynamic therapy
A therapeutic approach that assumes dysfunctional or unwanted behavior is caused by unconscious, internal conflicts and focuses on gaining insight into these motivations.
Mentioned in: Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy , and a narrative reminiscence rem·i·nis·cence
1. The act or process of recollecting past experiences or events.
2. An experience or event recollected: "Her mind seemed wholly taken up with reminiscences of past gaiety" therapy for elders. Not only are there specific guidelines on how to conduct the treatment, but these interventions have been shown to work. These are more clearly practical theories.
As suggested earlier, the strength of symbolic interactionist thinking is in understanding the context of social work practice, in understanding the rich narratives that play out between workers and clients. These narratives contain all the motifs of our culture: gender, class, race, and so on. Perhaps a better title for this book would be "theories about practice," as the symbolic interactionist perspective renders a worker who is more reflective, more aware of the multiple influences and meanings that construct the worker-client interchange. However, this same worker also has to know what to do, has to have guidance from experience and research about what helps a client in a major depression, or what contributes to bonding between a parent and a child.
Clearly social work practitioners need theories about practice, as well as theories for practice. It is important, though, for the field to maintain clarity about the strengths and limits of different theory groups. This reviewer was not convinced that symbolic interactionism provides a useful root language for understanding the multiplicity of practice theories. The comprehensive survey of symbolic interactionist thought that Forte provides would be very useful in a doctoral course in a sociology program, or in a joint sociology and social work program. In its breadth of scope, and careful delineation of different intellectual movements, this book would be a useful reference for doctoral students and other scholars. Most MSW (MicroSoft Word) See Microsoft Word. students and MSW practitioners, however, would stumble over the density of theoretical material and would be skeptical of the practical utility of the theoretical material.
Daniel Coleman Boston University