Social Work Community
Megan Meyer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 05 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 June 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0103


Understanding, fostering, and mobilizing communities have been central features of social work practice since the profession’s founding in the late 1800s. During this period of rapid industrialization, social workers recognized the significant impact of social context on the well-being of individuals and families and worked through settlement houses both to create a sense of community among immigrants and the poor living in America’s growing cities and to achieve policy reforms. Scholars of this era also began to explore how industrialization and urbanization were affecting the nature of human association. Since then, scholarship on the nature of community has steadily grown in a number of disciplines, including sociology, anthropology, psychology, political science, urban planning, and social work. Finding a single, encompassing definition of community is virtually impossible, as there are hundreds of “types” of communities and the construct can be conceived of in a wide variety of ways. Generally, however, community is understood as a set of relationships or connections among individuals and/or institutions that share common values, beliefs, behavioral norms, interests, or goals and have developed a sense of reciprocity and collective identity with and influence over one another. Scholars recognize that these connections can be rooted in physical location (e.g., neighborhood, region, nation-state) or in shared interest or identity (kinship, race, religious belief, occupation, political goals) and that individuals can identify with multiple communities with varying degrees of loyalty. This bibliography does not aim to provide a clear definition of community or claim to cover all definitions or types of community. (The diffuseness of the concept, however, coupled with increasing interest among academics, practitioners, funders, and policy makers in studying, strengthening, or rebuilding “community,” has led several of the authors cited here to seek to establish some definitional clarity for both community and community interventions.) Rather, it identifies sources from the fields of social work, sociology, anthropology, psychology, and political science that are useful for social work scholars, educators, and practitioners interested in understanding, researching, or practicing with communities.

Introductory Works

Introductory social work texts on community cover a variety of topics, but most review the different conceptions and definitions of community; identify classical and contemporary theories for analyzing and understanding community dynamics; and discuss (some in much greater detail than others) the ways communities around the world have evolved and the contemporary challenges they face. Most texts focus on geographic communities and the methods community practitioners employ to work with community stakeholders to develop community services, improve community conditions, and increase a community’s social, human, physical, and political capital. Fellin 2001; Hardcastle, et al. 2004; Homan 2011; and Netting, et al. 2007 all discuss the history and theories of community practice and cover assessment and intervention methods used by community practitioners to affect community change. The casebook Fauri, et al. 2008 is a useful supplement to such texts and includes several real-life case studies, each of which presents dilemmas commonly confronted by community workers. Rubin and Rubin 2008 covers various methods of community practice but emphasizes the basic tenets and methods of progressive organizing. Contributors to DeFilipis and Saegert 2008 and Rothman, et al. 2001 are leading community-practice scholars and practitioners. Chapters in these books discuss methods of community intervention, critically analyze the history and future of community practice and development, and highlight current debates regarding models and methods of community intervention.

  • DeFilipis, J., and S. Saegert, eds. 2008. The community development reader. New York: Routledge.

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    Chapters critically analyze the history and future of community development and various forms of community practice and address some of the current debates in the field.

  • Fauri, D., S. Wernet, and F. Netting, eds. 2008. Cases in macro social work practice. 3d ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

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    Cases examine real-life dilemmas faced by community practitioners, and each case concludes with a set of driving questions that challenge students to think creatively about how they would respond in similar circumstances. The text is useful for stimulating small-group discussion in classrooms.

  • Fellin, P. 2001. The community and the social worker. Itasca, IL: Peacock.

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    Grounded in a social systems approach, this book provides detailed definitions of community and community competence, examines demographic trends in geographic communities, and examines and discusses ways to assess competence and health in various sectors or subsystems of a community.

  • Hardcastle, D., S. Wenocur, and P. Powers. 2004. Community practice: Theories and skills for social workers. 2d ed. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    This text is organized into two main sections. The first contains chapters that examine the nature of community problems, community theories, and models of intervention. The second provides frameworks and practical guidelines for conducting community assessments, working in social work service agencies, working with groups, using social marketing, and engaging in political advocacy.

  • Homan, M. 2011. Promoting community change: Making it happen in the real world. 5th ed. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole Education.

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    Provides overviews of the social work approach to working in communities and the theoretical frameworks used to guide community assessments and interventions. Presents chapters on the basic skills of community practice: assessments, building power, fund raising, organization building, and action strategies.

  • Netting, E., P. Kettner, and S. McMurty. 2007. Social work macro practice. 4th ed. New York: Allyn & Bacon.

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    Draws connections between macro- and micropractice and the ethics of practice and reviews the historical roots of macropractice, theories useful for analyzing community dynamics and human service organizations, and steps for developing intervention strategies.

  • Rothman, J., J. L. Erlich, and J. E. Tropman, eds. 2001. Strategies of community intervention. 6th ed. Itasca, IL: Peacock.

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    Volumes 1–6 by these authors host chapters from leading community scholars and practitioners on a variety of topics. While every volume is unique, each typically contains chapters related to frameworks for understanding community practice, methods of community intervention and mobilization, and current challenges facing community planners, organizers, and administrators of human service organizations.

  • Rubin, H., and I. Rubin. 2008. Community organizing and development. 4th ed. Boston: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon.

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    Examines community organizing and the other community-practice models for implementing social change. Details methods that relate to community practice more broadly, such as roles for social workers in community practice, organizational administration, policy practice, social planning, and economic development.

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