Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


College of Social Work

First Advisor

Terry Wolfer


Mounting scientific evidence about the global environmental crisis has created an urgent call to action for all people to promote sustainable environmental practices that enhance the well-being of humans and the ecological systems in which they live. Despite the increasing body of social work literature or the recent social work leadership’s emphasis on this call to action, the social work profession as a whole has been slow to embrace an “expanded professional identity” that includes a response to the environmental crisis. Further insight is needed from individual social workers who have expanded professional identities. Knowledge is needed from their specific experiences of professional socialization in order to develop theories for educators to use to help students and practitioners develop an expanded professional identity.

A grounded theory qualitative research study was conducted with social workers (N=17) using their professional skills to address the environmental crisis. The study aimed to explore their reciprocal process of professional socialization including: 1) how they developed an expanded professional identity, and 2) how, if at all, they influenced others in the profession to develop an expanded professional identity. This study found that social workers may not need expanded professional identities in order to situate themselves in roles to work on environmental issues. Of the participants (n=14) who were found to have expanded professional identities, it was discovered that they had two pathways of professional socialization. Emerging factors that contributed to and hindered their development of an expanded professional identity were analyzed and are presented in the findings of this study. Based on results of the study, I developed a grounded theory of reciprocal professional socialization. These new findings contribute to the current literature on professional socialization, and provide crucial insight on professional social work identity. The discussion highlights key supportive factors that could be used to promote an expanded professional identity across social work education, research, policy, and practice. As more social workers develop an expanded professional identity the profession as a whole could transform and potentially become a leader in an era of global environmental crisis.

Included in

Social Work Commons