Posted: September 16th, 2022

Response to colleague


Respond to at least two colleagues:

  • Identify one strength and one limitation your colleague may encounter when employing an individual-related theory and a structural/cultural-related theory to formulating interventions for structural issues or barriers that contribute to a client’s marginalization.

Describe how a social worker would conceptualize a presenting problem related to structural issues or barriers contributing to a client’s marginalization using the two theories you selected.

Poverty is a significant issue in society, and therefore, it’s important to consider different theories regarding why it exists (Turner & Lehning, 2007). Individual and structural theories provide two opposing points of view about the issue. The attribution theory, for example, details that the poor tend to blame internal factors for their difficulties while attributing success to external factors (Turner & Lehning, 2007). This is an example of an individual-related theory that suggests that poverty is caused by factors related directly to the individual. In contrast, structural-related theories indicate that poverty results from social or cultural factors. For example, the empowerment theory suggests that poverty is more than just a lack of income. Rather, it’s a lack of political and psychological power that results in a lack of income (Turner & Lehning, 2007). Both of these theories can be beneficial when considering the issue of poverty.

Explain how this conceptualization differs from an individual-related versus a structural/cultural-related theoretical lens.

The concept of poverty differs dependent on the lens through which one looks at the issue. When applying an individual theory, that suggests that there is something deficient about the individual that is leading to their experience of poverty. Specifically, the attribution theory implies that there is something wrong with the way that those in poverty view the world (Turner & Lehning, 2007). On the contrary, structural theories analyze what may be deficient about society or culture as a whole that contributes to the experience of poverty for many people. The empowerment theory analyzes the society that creates a lack of power for particular groups of individuals that leads to a lack of income/poverty (Turner & Lehning, 2007). These different conceptualizations of poverty provide different perspectives that are both important to see the entire picture.

Compare how the two theoretical lenses differ in terms of how the social worker would approach the client and the problem and how the social worker would intervene.

Individualistic theories address poverty on a micro level. Thus, it may be effective for a social worker to apply these types of theories when working with individual clients who are experiencing poverty. Utilizing individual theories can help the social worker to discover what, if any, internal factors may be contributing to the individual’s poverty and help the social worker and the client come to a resolution. However, while individual theories may provide answers to why individuals may be more likely to become impoverished, they do not adequately explain the experience of poverty in society as a whole (Calnitsky, 2018). Structural theories look at poverty from a macro perspective. Social workers who apply these theories can support impoverished clients through advocating for social justice reform to improve society so that people are less likely to become impoverished in the first place. However, this would be a more difficult and lasting approach. Although individual theories do not provide a full picture, they may be more beneficial to apply to specific client interventions.


Calnitsky, D. (27 August 2018). Structural and individualistic theories of poverty. Sociology Compass. DOI: 10.1111/soc4.12640.

Turner, K., & Lehning, A. J. (2007). Psychological Theories of Poverty. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 16(1/2), 57–72.

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