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What Are the Differences Between Sociology and Social Work?

A social worker working with a teen.
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  • Written By: Helen Akers
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 17 September 2014
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Even though the fields of sociology and social work overlap in terms of their subject matter, the primary difference between the two is that social work tends to advocate for the improvement of existing social conditions and institutions. Sociology examines how various social institutions, such as marriage and educational systems, reinforce cultural beliefs, roles and customs. The field also identifies and analyzes problems that stem from certain inequities that these practices encourage. Social work provides a means of intervention and support for members of society who experience forms of injustice, such as poverty and abuse.

One of the most prominent differences between sociology and social work is each field's orientation towards social injustice. While sociology attempts to explain why humans behave in certain ways, social work takes action to change or modify behaviors that are considered destructive. Sociology can be viewed as a field that defines a blueprint or map for human interaction. A social worker often uses that blueprint to analyze, make suggestions, and recommend the proper support services for individuals who are temporarily unable to sustain themselves in certain areas.

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Some social workers begin their careers after obtaining a degree in sociology. Coursework related to marital difficulties, abuse cases, legal statutes, and anti-social behaviors provides exposure to the types of problems that a social worker will be required to address. Sociology and social work are interdisciplinary careers and fields of study that differ in whether the practitioner takes a passive or active approach to human behavior. Furthermore, sociology examines both positive and negative influences on behavior, while social work zeroes in on preventing, alleviating, and terminating negative influences.

Another way to look at the differences between sociology and social work is that sociology indicates how society and humans function as a whole, while social work tries to make changes to the behaviors and functions of individual people and small social units. Social workers often address dysfunctional behaviors and thought patterns, while serving as advocates for changes that yield positive results. For example, a family that becomes homeless due to a job loss might work with a social worker who can direct them to community services that provide support. In this case, that support may come in the form of temporary financial assistance, temporary shelter, money management and job search education.

These fields also differ in that social workers may help define and discover new methods of human behavior through practice and first-hand experience, rather than observation and research. The majority of social workers tend to interact directly with clients, managing several types of cases at once. Sociologists may conduct live research experiments, yet they often focus on finding out what drives the behavior in the first place. Social workers use the reasons behind the behaviors to help people overcome their individual difficulties.

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anon317701
Post 2

@anon251650 - That is not true; you must have a BSW to take the licensing exam not a MSW you must be a MSW to give therapy.

anon251650
Post 1

To legally call yourself a social worker, you have to be a licensed social worker. We who major in social work are doing so to become licensed social workers. In most states you need a MSW to take the licensing exam. In others, like Texas, you need a BSW. That is the main difference. I love sociology, but I quickly figured out I would find a job quicker with a social work degree.

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