Focusing on a project of individual interest, the term paper is expected to build upon the concepts, paradigms, and theories covered in the readings and class. It should address a specific real-world issue relating to “the city” and the Bay Area, i.e., poverty, inequality, globalization, etc.-Apply the contents of the course to your work; so, this should be more than a literature review or book report.

Assignment Question

Focusing on a project of individual interest, the term paper is expected to build upon the concepts, paradigms, and theories covered in the readings and class. It should address a specific real-world issue relating to “the city” and the Bay Area, i.e., poverty, inequality, globalization, etc.…You are encouraged to apply the contents of the course to your work; so, this should be more than a literature review or book report. Also, you must do independent research to support your thesis and cite relevant scholarly sources, at least 4 and they must not be authors or readings from the syllabus. Keep in mind, this paper will form PART OF YOUR FINAL PROJECT, so keep that in mind when choosing a topic. It should relate to your photo essay.Requirements:1) minimum of 1000 words2) 12-point times new roman font3) Formatted in ASA, APA, or Harvard style4) Works cited. Minimum of 4 sources. They should not be websites; internet sources or works from the syllabus. Would like half of the paper to explain the literature review of these readings and then the other half would be the 4 scholarly cited articles.

Assignment Answer

Introduction to Paradigms and Theories

A paradigm, as defined by Kuhn (1962), serves as an analytical lens, shaping the way researchers view the world and understand the human experience. In contrast, theories provide a more specific framework to explain certain aspects of social life (Rubin & Babbie, 2017). The distinction between paradigms and theories is essential for understanding the connections between research methods and social scientific ways of thinking. This text aims to explore the significance of paradigms and theories, focusing on four predominant paradigms in the social sciences and the role that theory plays in social work research.

Paradigms in Social Science

Paradigms, akin to a set of glasses, significantly influence our perceptions and assumptions about the world (Kuhn, 1962). These assumptions are deeply ingrained and shape our stance on various issues. Taking the example of abortion, different paradigms, influenced by political, religious, or personal perspectives, lead individuals to distinct beliefs about the morality and rights involved. These paradigms highlight the subjective nature of human beliefs and the influence of personal experiences, political ideologies, or cultural backgrounds on shaping viewpoints.

Understanding paradigms becomes crucial in comprehending the diversity of opinions on contentious issues. For instance, a person’s views on abortion may be shaped by their political affiliation, religious beliefs, or cultural background. The pro-life paradigm might rest on a belief in divine morality and fetal rights, while the pro-choice paradigm may emphasize a mother’s self-determination and the positive consequences of abortion outweighing the negative ones. Thus, paradigms serve as a set of assumptions that influence how individuals perceive and make sense of complex social issues.

Overview of Social Scientific Paradigms

In social science, several predominant paradigms guide researchers with unique ontological and epistemological perspectives (Rubin & Babbie, 2017). Positivism emphasizes objectivity and empirical study, aiming for a value-free science. Social constructionism focuses on the variability of truth and the idea that reality is collectively created through social interactions. The critical paradigm centers on power, inequality, and social change, challenging the idea of objective and value-free social science. Postmodernism questions the existence of universally true explanations, emphasizing the historical and cultural context in shaping reality and truth.

Positivism, as the first paradigm, operates on the principles of objectivity, “knowability,” and deductive logic. This paradigm assumes that society can and should be studied empirically and scientifically, striving for a value-free understanding of social phenomena (Rubin & Babbie, 2017). In contrast, social constructionism, credited to Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman (1966), posits that “truth” varies based on social context and interactions. Truth becomes a socially constructed concept, and individuals create reality through their interpretations of interactions.

The critical paradigm, focusing on power, inequality, and social change, challenges the notion of objective and value-free social science. Researchers within this paradigm contend that social science can never be entirely objective, and they operate with the express goal of instigating positive social change (Calhoun et al., 2007; Fraser, 1989). Finally, postmodernism, characterized by skepticism towards certainty and grand explanations, questions the idea of objective truth. Postmodernists argue that researchers inevitably inject their own truth into investigations, making it challenging to discern an objective reality (Best & Kellner, 1991).

 Social Science Theories

Theories, complementing paradigms, offer specific explanations for phenomena in social life (Rubin & Babbie, 2017). They help answer questions about the “why” and “how” behind observed patterns. Conflict theory, symbolic interactionism, social exchange theory, and systems theory are major theories in social work, each providing a unique perspective on human interaction and societal structures.

Conflict theory, developed by early social theorists like Max Horkheimer and furthered by feminist scholars such as Nancy Fraser, is concerned with power dynamics and how societal organization creates rewards and punishments (Calhoun et al., 2007; Fraser, 1989). Symbolic interactionism focuses on how meaning is created and negotiated through meaningful interactions. Social exchange theory examines how human behavior is influenced by a rational calculation of rewards and costs. Systems theory views all parts of society as interconnected, focusing on the relationships, boundaries, and flows of energy between these systems and subsystems (Schriver, 2011).

These theories provide a theoretical foundation for social work practitioners, guiding their understanding of human behavior and societal structures. Conflict theory, for example, prompts social workers to explore power imbalances and advocate for marginalized groups. Symbolic interactionism emphasizes the importance of meaningful interactions in shaping individual experiences, influencing how social workers approach client interactions. Social exchange theory informs practitioners about the rational decision-making processes individuals undergo in social situations. Systems theory, with its focus on interconnectedness, guides social workers in understanding the broader context of clients’ lives.

Applying Theories to Substance Abuse

To illustrate how theories guide research, consider a study on substance abuse. A positivist study might focus on measuring substance abuse and identifying key causes (Rubin & Babbie, 2017). This quantitative approach aims to uncover objective truths about the prevalence and causes of substance abuse. Social constructionist study, on the other hand, delves into how individuals perceive their lives and relationships with substances, emphasizing subjective truths and experiences.

A critical paradigm study on substance abuse might investigate how people who abuse substances are an oppressed group in society. It could explore systemic issues, such as punitive drug laws and internalized fear or shame, contributing to the challenges faced by individuals struggling with substance abuse. The goal would be not only to understand the power imbalances but also to foster positive social change in the lives of those affected.

A postmodern study on substance abuse could take a narrative approach, chronically one person’s self-reported journey into substance abuse. This approach acknowledges the limitations of personal experiences and emphasizes the diverse and subjective nature of truth. It questions the idea of a universal truth about substance abuse, highlighting the importance of individual perspectives and contextual factors.

These examples demonstrate how a single topic, like substance abuse, can be approached from various theoretical perspectives, each offering a unique lens through which researchers interpret and understand the phenomenon. The choice of theory not only shapes the research questions but also influences the methodologies used and the interpretations provided.

Theoretical Perspectives in Social Work

As social workers delve into their area of focus, they encounter various theories and models beyond the introductory ones (Schriver, 2011). Systems theorists emphasize interconnectedness, viewing all parts of society as interrelated and focusing on the relationships, boundaries, and flows of energy between these systems and subsystems. Conflict theorists are interested in power dynamics, examining how societal organization creates rewards and punishments. Symbolic interactionists focus on how meaning is created and negotiated through interactions. Social exchange theorists examine how human behavior is influenced by rational calculations of rewards and costs.

Each theoretical perspective offers a unique lens through which social workers can understand and address social issues. Systems theory, for example, encourages practitioners to consider the interconnected nature of individuals within their families, communities, and broader societal systems. Conflict theory prompts social workers to critically examine power dynamics and advocate for social justice. Symbolic interactionism highlights the importance of communication and shared meanings in shaping individual experiences.

Specialized Theories and Perspectives

Beyond the major theories, social work encompasses specialized theories that explain specific interactions (DeCoster et al., 1999). For example, theories of sexual harassment, including routine activities theory, relational theories, and feminist theories, offer distinct explanations for why and how harassment occurs. Routine activities theory, developed by criminologists, posits that sexual harassment is most likely to occur when a workplace lacks unified groups and when potentially vulnerable targets and motivated offenders are both present.

Relational theories suggest that a person’s relationships, such as marriages or friendships, are key to understanding why and how workplace sexual harassment occurs. These theories focus on the power dynamics inherent in different social relationships, suggesting that individuals with supportive partners may be more likely to report harassment. Feminist theories take a broader perspective, attributing workplace sexual harassment to the organizational structure of our gender system, where those who are most masculine hold the most power.

The choice of theory significantly influences the questions researchers pose and the explanations provided for observed phenomena. In the case of sexual harassment, different theories highlight distinct factors contributing to the occurrence of such behaviors. Researchers applying routine activities theory may focus on the lack of unified groups in a workplace, while those utilizing relational theories might emphasize the role of interpersonal dynamics. Feminist theories, on the other hand, draw attention to the broader societal structures perpetuating gender-based power imbalances.

Paradigm and Theory in Social Work

The interplay of paradigms, theories, and levels of analysis shapes the questions researchers ask, how they ask them, and the potential findings (Schriver, 2011). Whether examining a topic from a micro or macro level, the chosen theoretical perspective profoundly influences the study’s focus and outcomes. Recognizing and addressing biases inherent in research is crucial, as researchers frame and conduct their work based on their own theories, levels of analysis, and paradigms.

Understanding the interplay between paradigms and theories becomes crucial when conducting social work research. For instance, a researcher examining a micro-level phenomenon, such as individual experiences of homelessness, may choose a symbolic interactionist perspective to understand how meaning is created and negotiated in the interactions between service providers and homeless individuals. On the other hand, a macro-level study on systemic issues contributing to homelessness may adopt a critical paradigm, emphasizing power imbalances and social change.

Researchers need to be cognizant of the theoretical perspectives they bring to their studies, as these perspectives shape the questions they ask, the methods they employ, and the interpretations they provide. A researcher committed to a particular theory may be more inclined to focus on specific aspects of a phenomenon, potentially overlooking alternative explanations or perspectives. Thus, the choice of paradigm and theory is not only an academic decision but also a methodological and ethical one that shapes the trajectory and impact of the research.

Recognizing Biases in Social Science

While social science strives for objectivity, paradigms and theories introduce inherent biases (Rubin & Babbie, 2017). Social constructionists and postmodernists argue that bias is an unavoidable aspect of research. Acknowledging and addressing these biases is essential for responsible research, enabling researchers to navigate the complexities of their own frames, approaches, and theoretical perspectives.

Researchers should recognize that biases are inherent in the research process, stemming from the chosen paradigms and theories. For example, a researcher conducting a study on access to healthcare services may approach the topic with a particular paradigm, such as social constructionism. This paradigm would emphasize the variability of truth and the idea that individuals construct their realities through social interactions. Consequently, the researcher may focus on how individuals’ social contexts and interactions shape their perceptions of healthcare access.

Recognizing biases is not a sign of weakness but an acknowledgment of the complexities involved in studying social phenomena. Social scientists should strive for transparency in their research, clearly articulating their theoretical perspectives and potential biases. This transparency allows readers and other researchers to critically evaluate the findings, considering the inherent subjectivity introduced by the chosen paradigms and theories.

Conclusion and Key Takeaways

In conclusion, paradigms shape our everyday view of the world (Kuhn, 1962), while theories provide a framework for understanding human interaction (Rubin & Babbie, 2017). Researchers utilize theories to frame their questions and make sense of answers, with an emphasis on applying both broad and specific theories in social work. The dynamic interplay of paradigms and theories influences the research process, from formulating questions to interpreting findings. Recognizing biases and understanding the limitations of paradigms and theories are fundamental aspects of conducting responsible and impactful social science research.

As researchers embark on studies in social work, they should carefully consider the paradigms and theories guiding their inquiries. Each paradigm offers a unique lens through which to understand the complexities of human behavior and societal structures. Theories provide the necessary tools to delve into specific aspects of social life, offering explanations for observed patterns. While paradigms shape the overarching worldview, theories provide the nuanced understanding needed to address complex social issues.


Critical paradigm: A paradigm in social science research focused on power, inequality, and social change.

Paradigm: A way of viewing the world and a framework from which to understand the human experience.

Positivism: A paradigm guided by the principles of objectivity, “knowability,” and deductive logic.

Postmodernism: A paradigm focused on the historical and contextual embeddedness of scientific knowledge; characterized by skepticism towards certainty and grand explanations in social science.

Social constructionism: A paradigm based on the idea that social context and interaction frame our realities.

Theory: “A systematic set of interrelated statements intended to explain some aspect of social life” (Rubin & Babbie, 2017, p. 615).


Berger, P., & Luckman, T. (1966). The social construction of reality: A treatise in the sociology of knowledge. Anchor Books.

Best, S., & Kellner, D. (1991). Postmodern theory: Critical interrogations. Macmillan.

Calhoun, C., Gerteis, J., Moody, J., Pfaff, S., & Virk, I. (2007). Contemporary sociological theory. John Wiley & Sons.

Fraser, N. (1989). Unruly practices: Power, discourse, and gender in contemporary social theory. University of Minnesota Press.

Kuhn, T. S. (1962). The structure of scientific revolutions. University of Chicago Press.

Rubin, A., & Babbie, E. R. (2017). Research methods for social work. Cengage Learning.

Schriver, J. (2011). Dynamic social network modeling and analysis: Workshop summary and papers. National Academies Press.

Wong, D. (2007). The cultural context of gestural communication among Chinese and American preschool children. International Journal of Behavioral Development, 31(2), 178-188.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. What is the distinction between paradigms and theories in social science?

Paradigms are overarching ways of viewing the world, akin to analytical lenses, while theories provide more specific frameworks to explain certain aspects of social life.

2. How do paradigms influence individual perspectives on contentious issues?

Paradigms shape individuals’ assumptions and beliefs, influencing their stance on complex social issues such as abortion, which can vary based on political, religious, or personal perspectives.

3. What are the four predominant paradigms in social science?

The four common paradigms are positivism, social constructionism, the critical paradigm, and postmodernism, each offering unique ontological and epistemological perspectives.

4. How do social work theories contribute to understanding and addressing social issues?

Theories in social work, such as conflict theory, symbolic interactionism, social exchange theory, and systems theory, provide lenses through which practitioners interpret and address human behavior and societal structures.

5. Why is recognizing biases in social science research important?

Recognizing biases is crucial because paradigms and theories introduce inherent biases into research. Acknowledging and addressing these biases responsibly contribute to the transparency and reliability of research outcomes.