The Global Definition of Social Work: Ontology, Implications and Challenges

Abigail Ornellas, Gary Spolander, Lambert Engelbrecht

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Citations (Scopus)


The revised global definition for social work promotes the profession’s commitment to social change and development, social cohesion and the empowerment and liberation of people. By reviewing the implications of this definitional shift and locating this within existing influential social work ontological models, the implications for social work within global and national contexts are critically reviewed.

The changes to the global definition, along with recognition of the importance of strengthening knowledge and theory, encourage critical review of the implications of a shift from an emphasis on individual approaches to the importance of collective and macro perspectives in social work intervention. The location and exploration of these debates using existing key ontological frameworks and socio-economic contexts encourages critical reflection on the purpose, role and function of social work in society.

Social work must critically review what it means by, along with the implications of, the profession’s commitments. The profession needs to consider how theory, its academic discipline and social work interventions support these commitments. The critical examination of ontological frameworks, indigenous knowledge and social work interventions is vital to inform social work education and practice to enable a reinvigorated profession able to address the contemporary challenges of both society and individuals.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)222-240
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Social Work
Issue number2
Early online date12 Jun 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2018


  • Social work
  • global social work definition
  • ontology
  • neoliberalism
  • critical reflection
  • globalisation
  • international social work


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