The Need for Advancement in the Conceptualization of Cultural Competence


  • Joseph S. Gallegos
  • Cherie Tindall
  • Sheila A. Gallegos



Culture, competence, theory


The concept of cultural competence has become ubiquitous in human services language and settings. Though the literature from various disciplines is replete with discussions on the topic, there still exists much disagreement regarding the definition of cultural competence as well as how to operationalize, test, and apply concepts related to cultural competence in social service settings. A related issue stems from debate regarding whether cultural competence is a theory, model, paradigm, framework, or perspective. Though cultural competence has been referred to as a theory by some scholars from different disciplines (e.g., Lum, 2005; Blue, Thiedke, Chessman, Kern, & Keller, 2005; Wu & Martinez, 2006), there is still disagreement about whether the concepts related to cultural competence actually meet the criteria for a theory and, consequently, whether they can be used to generate hypotheses and allow for independent observations that can be used to continue building theory, conduct empirical research, and provide evidenced-based practice implications. The authors join in this theory debate through an analysis of the elements of theory and conclude that it has better fit with the definition of social perspective than it does social theory.