Deepak Kumar Nanda
IJDTSA Vol.4, Issue 1, No.3 pp.33 to 47, February, 2019

Social Work Research and Non-Social Work Department: Between Pedagogy, Identity and Professional Standard

Published On: Tuesday, February 12, 2019


It is been more than eight decades of introducing social work education in India and the response is overwhelming across the country. By the year 2001, the numbers of social work educational institutions were limited to just one hundred twenty but within the next fifteen years by 2015, the social work educational institutions increase up to more than five hundred. Academicians describe this sudden expansion of social work education as phases of an explosion by demarcating the initial and middle phases of expansion. In this context, the critique within the academia comes heavily on the decreasing quality of education vis-à-vis the standard of the profession with the sudden expansions of social work education without maintaining some minimum ethical requirements. Expanding on these premises, this paper highlights the concern of social work research in the institutions administered & governed under “non-social departments” in relation to its pedagogy, identity, and professional standard. The paper argues that social work research under a separate department of social work has extensive pedagogy with experience teaching staff, therefore, excelled in research. Whereas social work research in the institutions provided under non-social work departments is in dilemma and lacks precise boundaries of the knowledge base thereby over-influenced by the epistemology of social research other than social work in their Ph.D. level research work.

Keywords: Social Work Department, Non-Social Work Department, Social Work Research, Social Science Research, Professional standard, and Identity


Social work education in India since its inception has grown with the number of institutions and with the quality of education. However, quality has been criticized sometimes for not being commensurations with the growing numbers of institutions. The expansion of social work institutions and education in India has captured in different phases like; initial phase, experimentation state, expansion stage, moderation phase and explosion (Bhatt & Phukan, 2015). During this explosion or expansion phases, many institutions provided social work education as profit-making academic disciplines looking into job perspectives and students placements. But with this making of profitable academic discipline, what is missing is the quality of academic and professional standard and identity. There were many social work educational institutions which provide social work education under allied subjects department or institutions (Desai, 1981). But the same situation is continued till date at the Ph.D. level study in social work. And subsequently, there is a contrast between social work research and education under the department of social work and social work research under non-social work departments/institutions. Social work educational institutions having their own departments have extensive course curriculum, infrastructure, and expert teaching faculties and excellent in research whereas institutions of social work research under non-social work department are in a dilemma and over-influenced by other social science research. Social work education under non-social work departments lacks precise boundaries and knowledge base between social work research and social science research which confuses social work researchers in differentiating social work research from other social science research. This paper address the question of social work research conducted under non-social work departments and highlighted the ethical and methodological issues and challenges in India by comparing social work research, standard and professional identity of social work departments.

Social work research, institutions, and researchers in India

The foundation of professional social work education in India dates back to 1936 with the establishment of the then Sir Dorabji Tata Graduate School of Social Work, presently Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. Thereafter, Gujarat Vidyapeeth, Ahmadabad, as well as Kashi Vidyapeeth, Varanasi in 1947, followed by a number of other institutions like Delhi in 1948, Baroda in 1950, Madras and Lucknow in 1954 and Bombay in 1955 (Saxena, 1994). This way, by the end of the year 1975, the numbers increased to 34 (Jacob, 1994a) and by the year 2001 the number has increased up to 120 (Bodhi, 2011) and presently it is more than five hundred educational institutions providing social work education across India (Bhatt & Phukan, 2015).

This means at present more than five hundred numbers of institutions are imparting social work education in various corners of the country. In eight decades of professional social work in India, the debate over Indigenized versus Westernized social work model is an age-old debate where many reflection and contribution has been made so far in the existing body of knowledge to make the knowledge more socially and practically relevant. Again at par with the growing numbers of institutions, ensuring quality has been always been a hurdle; the issue of social work education and research in different social work university and institutions where social work education is imparted under/along with non-social work departments.

Issue of administration and infrastructure is brought in to the attention for the first time by first review committee of University Grants Commission in the year 1965 that social work is a full-fledged profession and it should have its own separate school or unit of teaching if it is taught with any other courses of social science subjects, it does not serve the interest of the profession (University Grants Commission, 1965). Similarly, the second review committee also emphasized on its own faculties and competent institutions for social work education in fulfillment of quality education and professional standard and identity. They again reminded the issue of a separate unit or department of social work which otherwise confuses the general public and the employers. Therefore they recommended for ensuring a minimum standard of qualification of faculties, their expertise, and a number of faculties, a separate unit of administration, quality of course curriculum. They felt the social work profession gets step-motherly treatment and treated as subordinate by the department it is attached to. They believed that social work profession till date could not develop and maintain its distinctive character if the education is provided along with the department of sociology, anthropology or any other social science subjects (University Grants Commission,1980).

Amidst these abysmal conditions, there are two types of researchers can be identified in different social work universities and departments in India. Firstly, one who has extensive work experience in the field and at some point of time wanted to go for further study in research through Ph.D. in the same field; Second, the fresh post-graduate students extending their studies to Ph.D. for career advancement in academic or research line. Coming to the first category of research scholars, who are clear in their objectives and expected outcome of practice-based knowledge which explicitly contributes to the field of social work or they return to the same field with evidence-based social work practice. While on the other hand, the second category of research scholars, who pursue their career in Ph.D., very often orient themselves with the pattern of other social science subjects like sociology and anthropology. Indeed social work is a multidisciplinary subject, and hence social work practice uses social science knowledge base and theories to understand the phenomena but can we call a “research” as “social work research” simply because of its affiliation with the department of social work even if it does not contribute to the existing social work knowledge base or ended with no practical outcome. This lineation of researcher towards other social science research is because of the inferiority complex towards own profession and lack of conducive environment for social work research. The emphasis on basic research over applied or action research which is followed by confusion results due to lack of extensive pedagogy in social work research in various universities and departments at pre-PhD and Ph.D. level coursework.

Social work research is a method, as well an approach for the development of the body of knowledge to serve the objectives of professional social work (Polansky, 1960; Jacob, 1994b). But because of the above-mentioned issue, social work research is in dilemma with social science research and over-influenced by other social science research (Vijayalakshmi, 2004) as there lack precise boundaries which confuse the social work researchers to differentiate them with a researcher in social sciences subjects like sociology, anthropology or political sciences. The dilemmas are there starting from the type of research to the applied methodology to be undertaken in the research (Vijayalakshmi, 2004). This lack of clear-cut differentiation between social work research and other social science researchi is a matter of concern for social work education. Pedagogy of social work research (Ph.D. level coursework) which plays a crucial role in shaping and building the foundation in research methodology needs to be assessed in Indian scenarios, especially in those institutions where it has been taught and supervised by professors of non-social work background.

Pedagogy of social work research specially provided at PhD level programme in different institutions are not thoroughly developed and oriented as it is been point out by Desai (2004) that education in social work are traditionally taught in the line of basic research (because of knowledge and professors are from sociology background) for which the students are not able to link between research and practice. In the present days, the Ph.D. level coursework is highly influenced by basic research. As in the case of research methodology, the teachers happen to be from sociology background having done no separate coursework for social work education. In my opinion unless and until it could briefly differentiate between social work and social science research, Social work as a profession will not flourish. With respect to the interdisciplinary nature of the subjects of social work, it can’t completely separate its knowledge base with other social science subjects but a researcher should clearly understand what to and not to choose in the design of research methodology.

This lacuna has already been highlighted that school or departments of social work are running in a haphazard manner in different parts of the country. Many of it is in sub-standard facilities, untrained and under-qualified teaching faculty which cause great concern (Saxena, 1994; Botcha, 2012). Till today social work education do not have advanced level of course curriculum for its PhD level research programmes in the university department where both social work and sociology are taught together where it lacks in both expert teaching faculties and pertinent social work research knowledge for which we depend on faculties of social sciences other than social work for their subject expertise on research methodology.

In this backdrop, an assessment of the status of social work education in particular to social work research in that kind of university department or institutions providing social work education under/along with sociology department is very much relevant. It was accepted not to be having all positives’ towards social work professional education in its initial stages as it was mentioned by Jacob (1994b) and stresses not to be highly critical and condemnatory about the profession. Moreover, I feel the time has arrived to look back on the same issues with an interval until it gets its advanced modified shape with an attitude to strengthening the social work education in India.

The journey of Social Work Education and Its Course Design

Social work education was started with programmes of postgraduate level and much later with undergraduate level (Jacob, 1994b). In this scenario, the course design was based on the requirement of the then human resources for various welfare and philanthropic jobs. In those cases, curriculum building in social work was much difficult on its own knowledge base as there was no social work professional, as a reason it was based on the international level of coursework.

It is rightly pointed out that curriculum design is a tough task which needs meticulous understanding developed through proper discussion based on knowledge, experience, and expertise.

This emphasizes that curriculum development is a dynamic and collaborative exercise by the academicians, practitioners, administrators and the respective field experts but it has failed in some of the cases because of non-involvement of other stakeholders other than academicians (Jacob, 1994a). Equally essential is the clarity in the areas of both theoretical and empirical research by using better perception and deeper insights (Khan, 1994). This lack of clarity and focus exists in social work research courses in different university level of education with special focus on pre-doctoral and doctoral levels (Prasad, 1994).

In general social work research is basically described as applied or action research, however, it can be basic research if it is conducted for the advancement of social work knowledge which Prasad (1994) and others many have emphasized as, like any other professional research, social work research must begin with the practical problem matter and heavily lean on sociology, psychology, psychiatry, criminology, economics etc. (Prasad, 1994). This inadequacy is because of two reasons: first, the multidisciplinary approaches of social work study; and second, the slow growth of social work knowledge (Ibid encountering with social work practice and must orient towards social work knowledge building which shall help practitioners to tackle the issue. Again, in the cases of basic or pure research, it is the same that should generate or advance the social work knowledge base. But the difficulties in social work research is that there is no difference between social work research and other social science research from which the pertinent theories and knowledge base has been derived. Here the problem lies not in the research or the research guide but with the orientation through coursework and classroom teaching which follows the course curriculum. The course curriculum in social work research is inadequate as the course curricula are inadequate to address the issues of social work research design, methods, and techniques of data collections, the ethical consideration which social work research ought to be. Hence, most research scholars in Pre-PhD and Ph.D. level fall in dilemma with their subject). The first reason can be accepted as its nature but the second one is unacceptable until a longer period of time because of incapability and impotency of regular engagement of social work professionals and educators.

Hence, it is possible to solve the pedagogical issues in social work research and it can be properly framed if its teaching and practice with specific objectives, stated professional goals in research can be skillfully linked to the total social work curriculum (Prasad, 1994).

Social Work Research Versus Social Science Research

While mapping the discourses of social work and social science research, it is essential to briefly discuss research in social work before going into the contemporary issues of the knowledge base in social work research. Social work research is problem-oriented and begins with practical problems. Its objectives are to solve the problem by producing knowledge that can be put into practice (Polansky, 1960; McLaughlin, 2012). According to this, the motive of both social work practitioner and the social work researcher is the same; that is the improvement of social work practice even if their work varies in different ways. The practitioner seeks to blend knowledge and skill in the interests of service to the beneficiaries be it individual, group, or community. On the other hand, the researcher seeks to expand and refine the knowledge at the disposal of the practitioner (Ibid).

Practice without appropriate knowledge is meaningless. In the same way, social work research without contributing to social work knowledge is valueless and should not be recognized as social work research. The function of social work research is to contribute to the development of a dependable body of knowledge; to serve the objective of social work in all its means and consequences (Polansky, 1960). However, there is also the classification of social work research as ‘operational’ and ‘basic’. According to him, research on social work knowledge that is of less immediate use and application may be referred to, with appropriate reservation as basic social work research (Ibid). Hence social work research not necessarily to be only operational research rather it can be basic research depending on the nature of service provided to the body of knowledge and social work practice. Desai (2004) emphasizes “practice-based research”, “social intervention research”, “evidence-based research”, “action research” and “participatory research” in social work education. This indicates that research in social work should focus on applied research but that needs proper training and orientation in research methodology.

On the other hand, social science research or basic research usually refers to investigation directed towards the accumulation of knowledge for understanding the society or any phenomena. The motivation in basic research leads to an understanding of any intervention or change. It serves the purpose of generating and organizing systematic knowledge of various phenomena. In Sociology or Anthropology and other social science subjects, the objective of the research is to understand the society, community, people, state etc. by explaining and defining of particular subject matter. On the other hand, Social work research differs in motivation and emphasis from basic research. It is primarily applied research which begins with the practical problem with the hope of immediate interventions to solve the issues (Polansky, 1960). The only motivation that differentiates between social work research and social science research is the motive of practice. One may argue to substantiate to basic research that without understanding the phenomena, no knowledge can be build to practice, therefore, there is no difference between pure and applied research. But the crux is, pure research should serve the objective of social work education in knowledge building be its methods or the professional knowledge.

But the question arises, does the research conducted or registered under the programme of social work are serve the objectives of the social work profession. In my opinion, somewhere, we are in a dilemma in answering this question. We only relate the research with social work knowledge and remain quiet but we cannot confidently say that the research is serving the purpose of social work. In the 1980s, all the social work profession was concern about lack of research, facilities, and funds and administrative support to do the research (Nair, 1981). It was also heavily influenced by the subjects of sociology, psychology, and other subjects because of the lack of social work schools and institutions (Mehta, 1981). However, there should be an explicit distinction between the research leading to building social work knowledge and practice.

Pedagogy in Ph.D. and Pre-PhD level in Social Work Education

Pedagogy is very much crucial in serving the objectives and needs of social work research and education. It provides the perspectives and guidelines for conduction of research which differentiate social work research from other social science research. It has been noticed that having rich and comprehensive teaching of thematic subjects and research methodology produce novel research and recognition to the social work institutions.

In TISSii for Integrated MPhil-PhD Scholar one year of coursework is being offered on Philosophical Foundation of Social Science Research, Social Theory and Research, Quantitative Research: Theory and Practice, Qualitative Research: Theory and Practice in the first semester of eight credits. In the second semester, there are some baskets of subjects across the school from which the research scholar has to choose according to their research interest of areas of the same eight credits. For direct Ph.D., the courses are like the same but there is only one semester of coursework. In the year 2016-17 a new consolidated course curriculum was adopted for Integrated M.Phil-PhD in social work which offers “a mix of coursework on research methodology and social work perspectives and praxis, thematic optional courses, where major credits devoted to literature review and proposal development and the dissertation” (Annual Report 2015-16, TISS Mumbai, 2016, p.106).

Similarly, Delhi School of Social Workiii provides Master, M. Phil and Doctoral programme in Social Work where the course design for MPhil has had two compulsory subjects like Research Methods in Social Work and Statistics and Review of Studies in Social Work. Two optional papers like Social Action and Social Movement, Social Development and Welfare: Perspectives and Policies and bunch of fourteen elective papers encompassing the field of child development, community development and community work, ecology and development, Gandhian social work, health and social work, human relation and employees welfare, persons with disability and social work, social defense and correctional services, social work education, social work with elderly, social work with families, women welfare and development, youth work, and tribal development (, 2016).

It has been witnessed that in all the institutions of this kind, the Ph.D. level coursework may be different in volume and content but the objective is focused on quantitative and qualitative research methodology, philosophical and theoretical orientation on social science and allied subjects. Here the subjects are taught and Ph.D. works are supervised by social work professors. The systems are smooth without the interference of other social science subjects and easily differentiable between social work research and social science research because of the unique approach in research and outcome.

While in the case of university department imparted social work education under/along with sociology or other social science subjects, the social work researcher are in dilemma with social science research amidst the teaching and supervision by sociology professors (for ex. Utkal University, Bhubaneswar)iv. In the case of Utkal University, Ph.D. in Social Work is registered in the university but the coursework is conducted in a nodal center outside the university. Even though the course curriculum covers the research methodology of quantitative and qualitative research, courses are taught by junior-level faculty in the absence of senior expert faculties in Social Work subjects. There lack adequate course curriculum and research methodology in compare to department/school with full-fledged infrastructure and teaching staff. Again the outcome of research does not produce many differences between social work research and social science research as there is a mixture of both in one department. In this condition, researchers are in confusion with their Ph.D. research. The coursework does not fully cater the needs and demand of social work research. It is not enough to create a firm position among young research scholars admitted in this kind of university department in terms of their approach to Ph.D. research. There lack facilities, funds and administrative support in the conduction of social work research. Researcher finds innumerable problems and difficulties as the subjects get step-motherly treatment considering the subject of social work as subordinate to sociology, anthropology or political science.

Hence, broadly there are two kinds of educational institutions in India providing social work educations; one, education imparting under separate institutions for social work or separate university department and, two, institutions imparting social work education under non-social work departments. There are differences between the two kinds of institutions providing Ph.D. level social work education.

Educational institutions, having their own social work department (e.g. TISS, DU) has separate course curricula and separate expert teaching faculties to teach and guide the Ph.D. study. On the other hand, in the second category of institutions and departments, the faculties are happened to mostly from the faculty of sociology and maybe some guest faculties from social work. In this cases, Ph.D. supervisor are happen to be from the sociology background. This kind of schools is run in affiliation with the department of sociology and the Ph.D. degree in social work is awarded under/in affiliation with the department of sociology.

Impact of Weak Social Work Research Pedagogy on the Quality of Social Work Education and Practice

The existing conditions—with reference to the institutions imparting social work education under/along with other social science subjects departments—of social work research in the country is delimiting the advancement and negatively impacting on the standard and practice of social work profession. As knowledge is the sole identity of any profession, its creation and advancement should be of utmost priority. In this sense research has the significant role in creating and maintaining the standard of professional social work, therefore research and researcher has to be in the line of social work without confusion and inferiority complex with other social science subjects.

Referring to the other field of subjects, Desai et al. argues that “the image of the social work and social work institutions as researcher is poor, as it is felt incompetence in research methods in the schools of social work” due to this it is to be said that pedagogy in different universities and researcher are also responsible for. Further, they highlight the weaknesses of social work methodology, training and outcome of the research in the domain of social work research that delimit the professional growth and identity (Desai, Jaswal & Ganapati, 2001, 2004).

Even though they feel that the capacity of the researcher is increasing at par with other social science researchers with the advancement of technology and facilities in social work institutions. They emphasize on training including the uses of “library, bibliographic search, literature review, critical evaluation of knowledge, participatory research on social work practice, organizing knowledge, writing and editing, citations and referencing and use of internet etc” in social work schools and universities. (Desai, Jaswal, & Ganapati, 2004). This indicates the pedagogical drawbacks and a need for through teaching from the basic to the advanced level of social work research in social work institutions.

The weak social work research pedagogy has an effect on the knowledge base of the social work profession which further leads to professional identity and standard. In the case of the state of Odisha, where Utkal University is situated, social work profession has not been imprinted a unique identity as the profession as compared to the state of Maharastra and Delhi where TISS, DU is situated. Even though Utkal University has been providing social work education since the 1980s in Master and Bachelor degree in social work is yet to have a separate department in the university. This is the level and standard of social work education being imparted under/along with non-social work department like Utkal University. Subsequently, the Ph.D. scholars enrolled in the university do not get the chance to work with social work professors.

In this case, the image of social work education and research is further deteriorating amidst the alleged mushrooming social work institutions (Botcha, 2012) throughout the country without the maintenance of professional standard and quality education. As a result to this, instead of the increasing position of social work profession, the image of social work research remain stagnant which invites strict adherence to the professional code of ethics (NAPSWI, 2015) in pedagogy, research, and social work educational administration & governance.


There has been development in social work education and expansion of social work educational institutions in India but the outcome in the form of knowledge building is sluggish because of social work education imparted under the non-social work department. Social work research should be given immense focus on the advancement of pedagogical advancement with strict adherence to social work ethics. Social work education should be given a status of separate academic discipline vis-à-vis separate department or units in the institutions providing social work education under non-social work department. In this junction enormous responsibilities is bestowed upon all the pioneer institutions, departments, professional social work organization, and UGC to reassess the conditions of social work research and enforced to apply the recommendation of the second review committee on social work education in India. In this connection, there is a scope to research on social work research conducted under non-social work departments.


Social science research refers to the research conducted by the department of social science subjects other than social work. However social work can also be called as social science subjects but to distinguish social work research, “social science research” is being used in this paper.

ii The Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS) was established in the year 1936 as the Sir Dorabji Tata Graduate School of Social Work. In 1944 it was renamed as the Tata Institute of Social Sciences. In the year 1964, it was declared as Deemed to be a university under section 3 of the University Grants Commission Act, 1956. Presently it has three campuses established in Hyderabad, Tuljapur, and Guwahati with its main branches in Mumbai. It offers dynamic and relevant programmes at the Doctoral, Masters, Diploma, and Certificate levels in different sectors of social work (, accessed on 10/09/2016).

iii Delhi School of Social Work traces its origin to the establishment of the Y.W. C. A School of Social Work in 1946 at Lucknow. In 1947 the school moved to Delhi and postgraduate programme was started in the year 1948 with affiliation to University of Delhi and the name was changed to Delhi School of Social Work. It was taken over by the University of Delhi in 1962 and became a post-graduate institution maintained by the university. Ph.D. programme was started in 1965 and in 1976 M. Phil Programme was introduced. In the year 1979 Delhi School of Social Work became the Department of Social Work, University of Delhi (, 2016).

iv Utkal University, Bhubaneswar, is one of the state university in Odisha providing social work education from the 1980s and presently proving Ph.D. in social work technically but practically administered under department of sociology. It has many affiliated institutions and colleges which provides social work education but never thought up to establish a separate department for social work education in the campus. The social work department is in documents without any physical office and social work faculties recruited on the campus. (, accessed on 10/09/2016)


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