Journal Article

Selective Memory: A Note on Social Work Historiography

David Burnham

in The British Journal of Social Work

Published on behalf of British Association of Social Workers

Volume 41, issue 1, pages 5-21
Published in print January 2011 | ISSN: 0045-3102
Published online October 2010 | e-ISSN: 1468-263X | DOI:
Selective Memory: A Note on Social Work Historiography

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Since the Second World War, histories of social work have regularly confirmed that the activities of philanthropic visiting societies, chiefly the Charity Organisation Society (COS), supplied the principles and practices of late-twentieth-century social work. Similarly, histories of social work have asserted that there was no legacy from public sector welfare workers to the development of social work after 1948, which date marks the start of social work in the public sector. This paper reviews these orthodox assumptions, concluding that both are flawed. There is evidence that the reported legacy of charitable visiting societies owes a great deal to a particular set of circumstances after the Second World War and also that the public sector hosted social work roles and activity from before the Great War. Such practices and roles in the public sector developed in the interwar years and there was considerable continuity of staff and practice from before the Second World War into the 1950s. This public sector legacy was ignored, then forgotten by post-1948 historians of social work—partly by chance, partly as a deliberate policy by some social work historians and latterly because of a lack of rigour by those reviewing social work history.

Keywords: history; historigraphy; training

Journal Article.  6859 words. 

Subjects: Social Work

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