The Sociocultural Dimension

Learning Objectives:

  • Describe Critical Practice Theory
  • Describe Feminist Theory
  • Describe the Sociocultural Perspective
  • Define Cultural Concepts in Social Work


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James is a 16 y/o Latino American whose parents migrated to the United States from Guatemala before he was born. His family has always valued the traditional customs of their culture, his father being the head of the house and his mother staying home to run the household and raise the children. They have often discussed plans for an arranged marriage with a girl back in Guatemala throughout his life, but he had never really given it much thought until recently when his mother mentioned they would begin plans for his wedding within the next year. James is struggling with the thought of an arranged marriage as he has grown up in the United States where this is not a tradition that is practiced. On top of this, his father has recently lost his job and his mother has been struggling with some health issues. His family is experiencing increased stressors as his father is struggling to find a new job and his mother is unable to afford healthcare until his father begins working again. He has begun to demonstrate struggles at school due to the stress and anxiety he is experiencing with plans of his arranged marriage as well as increased financial struggles his family is experiencing. He has been reported to be getting into fights with peers, talking back to teachers, and refusing to turn in his work. James has been referred to the school social worker regarding his academic problems and his parents have encouraged him to meet with the priest at their church.


The Sociocultural Dimension

This dimension will continue introductions of theories and perspectives and exploration of how our environment teaches, influences, and changes (or reinforces) our behaviors and responses.

Critical Practice Theory states social problems are caused by an oppressive society and maintained by dominate groups. It is similar to Conflict Theory but expands further past the focus of unequal power distribution to explore social change views within social work practice. The goal is to help clients overcome limits of existing social order through empowerment.

Feminist Theory is based on the advocacy of social, economic, and political equality between both sexes and is often expanded to apply equal rights to all minority groups.

James’ story – Within Critical Practice theory, we would examine dominant groups he is connected with and explore any oppression he or his family may be experiencing that are causing increased struggles with his father’s attempts to find a job, access to healthcare, academic supports, or basic needs. We want to explore how he is impacted by dominant groups and work to support him in connecting to his experiences, recognizing how he is being impacted, and empowering him in his work to make change at all levels (micro, mezzo, and macro). Feminist theory joins in with work in advocating for equality in all areas of his life.

Sociocultural Perspective states that much of your behavior and feelings are dictated by the culture you live in. Think about how your culture greets one another – can you think of a way another culture might do this differently? Does your culture value the individual or the group?

When working with James it will also be important to consider the cultural aspects he is connected to and how this may be impacting his life. He reports feeling part of both Guatemalan and American cultures but feels some conflict as his parents stay strongly connected to their culture with minimal thoughts of incorporating American culture into their home and expectations of behaviors. What struggles might this conflict cause? How would having an understanding of his family’s culture help you in providing supports for James? 

Cultural Concepts in Social Work:

Cultural relativism – the idea that different cultures should be treated equally and not judged against the criteria of another.

Ethnic identity – how people form their identity/sense of belonging in relation to their ancestry and cultural heritage.

Ethnicity – how people associate themselves with a group that has a common national or cultural tradition.

Ethnocentrism – belief that one’s ethnic group or culture is superior to another and is the standard of how other cultures should be evaluated.

Ethos – the set of beliefs, morals, ethics, and values a person or community lives by.

Ideology – a person’s principal ideas of what is correct and the way things should be.

Social class – a division of a society based on social and economic status.

Worldview – a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world – how you look at the world or your personal philosophy.

Please continue to Chapter 4: Theoretical Perspectives which will cover Conflict Theory, Functionalism, and Symbolic Interactionist Theory (also known as Social Constructionism Theory). I would encourage you to continue thinking about how each of these theories connects to James’ story. And Chapter 5: The Elements of Culture for further exploration of cultural competence.

Key Takeaways:

  • Conflict Theory attempts to understand behaviors through exploration of conflicts/tensions.
  • Critical Practice Theory states social problems are caused by an oppressive society and maintained by dominate groups.
  • Functionalist Theory sees society as a complex system whose parts work together to promote solidarity and stability.
  • Social Constructionism or Symbolic Interaction Theory states people attach meaning to communications and interactions they have with their environments. This is experienced differently for each individual and they create their reality based on their experiences.
  • Feminist Theory is based on the advocacy of social, economic, and political equality between both sexes and is often expanded to apply equal rights to all minority groups.
  • Culture can be defined as the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group.
  • Defined cultural concepts in Social Work.


Rogers, A. (2013). Human behavior in the social environment (Fourth Edition.) New York: Routledge.


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Human Behavior and the Social Environment I Copyright © 2020 by Susan Tyler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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