First Advisor

Stéphanie Wahab

Term of Graduation

Spring 2024

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Social Work and Social Research


Social Work





Physical Description

1 online resource (viii, 180 pages)


Social justice is central to social work and guides the profession's ethics, educational standards, and practices. It is aspirational and actionable, ideological and practical, and is simultaneously shaped by, and shapes in turn, social work. Consequently, this study understands social justice to be a discourse. Despite its ubiquity throughout the profession, what constitutes social justice, how it should (or could) be practiced, and what epistemologies orient social work to the concept continue to be debated. Given social work's express promotion of social justice and the myriad ideas and practices that follow from this critical value, the concept and the foundational epistemologies it rests upon must not be taken for granted. In this research, I assert that academic journals significantly influence the formulation of professional social work knowledge and,consequently, social justice. Therefore, critically examining social justice discourse within a dominant context like high-impact social work journals offers a chance to explore the epistemological assumptions of social justice and scrutinize their authoritative effects.

This study implements a Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) of high-impact social work scholarship to explore how social justice is conceptualized within contemporary high-impact social work journal articles (N=25). CDA is a critical analytic approach from sociolinguistics that attempts to pinpoint the intersections between knowledge and power to contest and reshape power dynamics. CDA is aptly suited to address my research inquiry, as the methodology aims to uncover underlying assumptions within discourses and the effects of these assumptions on knowledge creation and social practices.

My findings within the scope of this sample suggest that social justice discourse within high-impact social work journals privileges epistemologies that reflect certain Enlightenment values, neoliberalism and instrumentalization, professional hegemony, and moralizing inclinations. These findings hint at some epistemological limitations currently shaping social justice discourse. My goal is that these findings contribute to the broader social work scholarship about social justice that seeks epistemological scrutiny and critical deconstruction of social justice discourse. It is hoped that the findings aid social work students, scholars, and practitioners in critical explorations of social justice discourse so that novel social justice conceptualizations and practices may emerge.


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Persistent Identifier

Included in

Social Work Commons