A life dedicated to research: The Dorothy Stock Whitaker Archive

Last year we had the privilege of bringing the personal papers of Dorothy Stock Whitaker into the Planned Environment Therapy Archives. A leading social work academic, Whitaker made a considerable contribution to the field, influencing both practice and policy in a career that spanned over sixty years.

Born in the US, Whitaker was active in the National Training Laboratories at Bethel, Maine, where she developed the ideas of Kurt Lewin and Wilfred Bion. She emigrated to the UK in 1964 and was appointed Chair of Social Work at the University of York in 1974.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s Whitaker’s research focused on group work and therapy, with a special interest in the provision of residential care, and the links between research and practice in social work. She published a number of influential books, papers and articles throughout her career, including several reports commissioned by UK Government departments.

Whitaker’s archive is a fitting tribute to a professional life dedicated to research and teaching. Alongside drafts, notes and teaching materials, the collection includes Whitaker’s original research data. Perhaps most notable within this subset are the audio cassette recordings, transcripts and minutes that capture the candid interviews and conversations that drove Whitaker’s research. There are interviews with the managers of children’s homes, surveys exploring the quality of life experienced by the elderly in care homes, and case studies revealing the personal experiences of staff in residential settings.

The most ambitious collection of data is connected to the 1996 publication, ‘The Prevailing Cultures and Staff Dynamics of Children’s Homes’. With her frequent collaborators Leslie Archer and Leslie Hicks, Whitaker captured data from the social workers, residential staff, children and parents connected to children’s homes and units across the north of England.

The Dorothy Stock Whitaker Archive is currently awaiting full cataloguing and the digitisation of analogue materials. However a brief file list of the collection with an overview of her career can already be accessed on the Planned Environment Therapy Archives’ website giving a flavor of the collection and pointing to areas of further research and exploration.

Nicky Hilton, Senior Archivist

The Planned Environment Therapy Archives and Special Collections at the Mulberry Bush are a free, unique public resource. We preserve and make accessible the histories of therapeutic living and learning in the UK and around the world. 

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