Bernadette Moorhead (Charles Sturt University)

(Australia, England, Israel and Japan
Kyoko Otani, Nihon Fukushi University; Riki Savaya, Tel Aviv University; Nicola Ivory, Charles Sturt University; Wendy Bowles, Charles Sturt University; Karen Bell, Charles Sturt University; Mary Baginsky, Kings College London
Topic: Is Professional Identity Adequately Conceptualised in Peer-Reviewed Social Work Literature?
Language: English 


This paper reports on data from a systematic scoping review about professional identity in social work. Since the inception of social work, there have been ongoing concerns about our professional status, with recent questions persisting about how the profession defines its own identity, especially within the context of working across diverse fields and teams. To explore contemporary knowledge on this topic, a systematic scoping review was undertaken in order to critically review the terrain of the literature and examine how professional identity is conceptualised in social work. Peer-reviewed literature spanning 1999–2019 was collected from academic databases, and after screening, 65 sources formed the dataset. Our paper focuses on data related to how professional identity was defined and theorised in these sources. Surprisingly, analysis revealed that 26 of the 65 sources did not provide any definition of professional identity, and of the 39 sources that did, some of the definitions were lacking in detail and clarity. Furthermore, only 25 sources specified theories or theorists for conceptualising professional identity.

Despite these gaps and issues, social constructionist theories were most prevalent across the sources. Thematic analysis produced four themes from the 39 definitions related to socialisation, characteristics, feelings towards social work, and professional structures. The findings offer new insights into possible dimensions of professional identity that can form the basis of future international comparative research.

The need for further critical engagement with these dimensions and their applicability across diverse cultural and linguistic contexts are both outlined, as is the need for researchers to provide comprehensive definitions and theories that can assist the profession in grappling with the persisting questions related to the professional status and identity of social work.