Sharon Razon (Tel-Aviv University, Bob Shapell School for Social Work)


Professor Eugene Tartakovsky, Tel-Aviv University, Bob Shapell School for Social Work; Doctor Lia Levin, Tel-Aviv University, Bob Shapell School for Social Work.

Topic: The Social, the clinical, and the bureaucratic: Conceptualizing and measuring the complex professional identity of public service social workers.

Thematic area: Professionalisation of Social Work

Language: English 


Much of the research on social workers’ professional identity and its relationship to their practice has thus far been based on conceptualizations that define professional identity as a sense of belonging to the profession and the professional group. These definitions, however, are generic and do not consider any unique features of the social work profession. Moreover, they focus on professionals’ attachment to a single, overall representation of the profession. Our aim was therefore to develop a new theoretical conceptualization of social workers’ professional identity, focusing on a different aspect that has not yet been explored. Based on the literature, we contend that for social workers, professional identity can also be defined through the importance that they ascribe to three core components of the profession: social, clinical, and bureaucratic.
To test this theory, we developed a new measure: The social work professional identity scale (SWPIS). A convenience sample of 292 Israeli front-line case workers from a variety of public sector social services participated in a pilot study that included the new tool, as well as an existing scale measuring attachment to one’s profession and professional group (Barbour & Lammers, 2015).
Factor analysis confirmed the proposed theoretical construct of professional identity in social work. Furthermore, the new construct reflecting the complexity of social workers’ professional identity was found to be positively and significantly associated with the concept of attachment to one’s profession, yet distinct therefrom.
Findings imply that the stronger the importance of each component, the stronger the professional identity and thus, the more durable it may be facing contextual organizational and policy pressures. The new conceptualization opens new opportunities for future research on connections between professional identity and practice, as well as for professional training and supervision.