Should I use social theory to explain my cross discipline discomfort?

Last year, during one the many weeks where I felt rather lost, I was having coffee with Mark and moaning about feeling so lost I had even borrowed some of Parson’s work from the library. It turned out that this Luhmann person he was studying was a social systems theorist, and I was lucky enough to be given a brief and understandable rundown of the key aspects in Luhmann’s work. (An abstract for a paper Mark gave late last year can be found further down on this page).


Nearly a year later, I happened to come across an article in the Journal of Social Work Practice which discusses Luhmann’s work. More specifically, Ahmed-Mohamed (2011) argues that social work should not adopt sociological theory unless it has been proven suitable for social work practice, with the specific example he uses being contextual systemic intervention (as developed from Luhmann’s modern system theory).


I have potentially stumbled across this article just at the right time. Not only does Ahmed-Mohamed’s discussion of the mismatch between contextual systemic intervention and social work ethics provide a useful example for my ethnography forum of theoretical and applied research, but potentially Luhmann’s modern systems theory itself could explain why the term ‘ethnography’ can be used in applied research with very little regard for how it is is used in a lot of current anthropological work.


There is a good chance that I take the ‘tool-box theory’ (e.g. Knauft 2006) a little too far, and I do not think that such a theoretical framework is really necessary for a productive discussion at ethnography forum. However, a few strategic references to theory will probably help when it comes to turning my ethnography forum presentation into a poster for the School of Health Science’s Research Day.



Ahmed-Mohamed, K. (2011). “Social work practice and contextual systemic intervention: improbability of communication between social work and sociology.” Journal of Social Work Practice: Psychotherapeutic Approaches in Health, Welfare and the Community 25(1): 5 – 15.


Knauft, B. (2006). “Anthropology in the middle.” Anthropological Theory 6(4): 407-430.


One Response to “Should I use social theory to explain my cross discipline discomfort?”

  1. Tracey Says:

    Note to self- I could use Bourdieu’s field theory to make a slightly different point out of the same data.

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