Theories of Social Work. Silvia Staub-Bernasconi and Hans Thiersch

Term Paper, 2012

9 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Brief introduction to the discussed theories
2.1 Silvia Staub-Bernasconi: Social work as a human rights professional and cause of unfulfilled legitimate desires and needs
2.2 Hans Thiersch: Lifeworld orientation

3. Intersections and differences of the two aforementioned theories
3.1 Professional action
3.2 Social problems
3.3 Social work objectives
3.4 Mandates of social work

4. Technical-critical consideration
4.1 Thiersch's theory in the everyday life of an inpatient youth welfare institution
4.2 Staub-Bernasconi's theory in everyday life of residential care
4.3 Conclusion


1. Introduction

As the title of the work suggests, in the following four chapters I deal with two of the great theories of social work. I have chosen the theories of Prof. Dr. Silvia Staub-Bernasconi and Prof. Dr. phil. Dr. Dres. h.c. Hans Thiersch. Silvia Staub-Bernasconi studied social work in Zurich and the USA, sociology, social psychology, pedagogy and social ethics at the University of Zurich and habilitated at the Technical University of Berlin. She was, among other things, Lecturer for Social Work and Human Rights at the University of Social Work in Zurich and the TU Berlin. Silvia Staub-Bernasconi coined the term social work as a human rights professional and also shaped the scientific understanding of social work as a science of action. She established theories for social work that were largely detached from the other works of great theorists such as Thiersch, Dewe/Otto and Bommes/Scherr (cf. Staub-Bernasconi, Soziale Arbeit als Handlungswissenschaft, Haupt Verlag, 2007). Hans Thiersch considers, among other things, in his theory on the "determination of the position of social work" (Hans Thiersch, 2002, Juventa Verlag Weinheim), the self-image of social work against the background of political constraints and economic interests. His individual activities and publications are so numerous and extensive that a list of them would go beyond the scope of this paper. He is considered the founder of the Tübingen School. His view of life-world orientation in social work influences the theories of Dewe/Otto and Bommes/Scherr.

A clear demarcation of the two theories I have chosen is not completely possible, despite their independence.

In the following, I will try to highlight serious differences as well as striking intersections and to critically examine their applicability in the socio-pedagogical field of inpatient and open and outreach work for children and young people.

2. Brief introduction to the discussed theories

2.1 Silvia Staub-Bernasconi: Social work as a human rights professional and cause of unfulfilled legitimate desires and needs

Silvia Staub-Bernasconi's theory essentially deals with the treatment of social problems. This means that she only sees a social work response, by mandate from society, as required when a social problem has already been diagnosed. The origin of social problems lies, according to Staub-Bernasconi, in the inability of legitimate desires and needs.

"People become addresses of social work because they are temporarily or permanently […] unable to meet their needs based on their own resources and efforts.” (Silvia Staub-Bernasconi, Soziale Arbeit: Dienstleistung oder Menschenrechtsprofession?, 2006, p. 16)

As reasons for this non-fulfillability, Staub-Bernasconi cites various circumstances:

1. Scarcity of resources
2. Boundlessness of desires, collision with wishes of others
3. Lack of support from others
4. Moral concerns in interacting with others

(cf. Silvia Staub-Bernasconi, Soziale Probleme als ethisch-moralische Dilemmata, 2006)

Silvia Staub-Bernasconi’s approach to social problems is based on the clients’ system. In doing so, she distances herself from the two common paradigms of social work, the subject-centered one, which focuses on the individual, and the socio-centered view, in which society or the social environment is the focus (cf. Staub-Bernasconi 2002, 246). In this way, she combines the essential paradigms into a systemic view, in which both the family and social environment of the clientele are included, as well as the client him- or herself. (cf. Staub-Bernasconi 2002, 250)

In addition, Silvia Staub-Bernasconi postulates social work as a "human rights profession" and calls for "working towards transforming inhuman social rules and values – in short, transforming obstructive power structures into limiting power structures – as far as they are accessible to social work” (Staub-Bernasconi 2000, 254).

2.2 Hans Thiersch: Lifeworld orientation

Hans Thiersch's theory deals primarily with life-world orientation. According to his view, the clientele represents the center of observation in the middle of his world. Thus, his theory can be described as a subject-centered view of social work. The goal of the life-world-oriented approach is fairer living conditions, democratization and emancipation, as well as opportunities for legally secured, technically responsible work (see Thiersch 2005, p. 165). Social work should above all work with life-worldly resources, as well as create new patterns of action and understanding (cf. Thiersch 1993, p. 13 ff). Hans Thiersch pleads for a " vote against the abstraction and generalization of living conditions" (Thiersch 2005, p. 166).

Thiersch divides the lifeworld into different fields of life (family, peers, work) and distinguishes their mediated experiences. When experiencing these fields of life, conflicts, contradictory statements and problems can arise again and again. However, the fields of life can also complement and build on each other. The lifeworld orientation now has the task of reconstructing these experiences and optimizing the adaptation and mediation between the fields of life (cf. Thiersch 2005, p. 170).


Excerpt out of 9 pages


Theories of Social Work. Silvia Staub-Bernasconi and Hans Thiersch
University of Applied Sciences Münster
Catalog Number
social work, Hans Thiersch, Silvia Staub-Bernasconi
Quote paper
Reiner Neuhaus (Author), 2012, Theories of Social Work. Silvia Staub-Bernasconi and Hans Thiersch, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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