Professor Kirk is interested in mental health policy, politics and services. His work focuses on the interplay of science, social values and professional politics in the creation and use of the official Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). In contrast to the conventional view that holds that diagnoses are names for pathological conditions that are "discovered" by scientific methods, Professor Kirk studies how diagnoses are created through complex processes of political negotiation among stakeholders both within and outside of the mental health professions. He is also interested in practitioners' clinical judgments and how the social context of problematic behavior affects attributions of mental disorder.
Professor Kirk has examined the development and uses of knowledge in the profession of social work. He is interested in both the structure of knowledge development in social work and how knowledge is disseminated and used by practitioners and policymakers.
A former psychiatric social worker, Dr. Kirk served on the Task Panel on Deinstitutionalization, Rehabilitation and Long-Term Care of President Carter's Commission on Mental Health, and has evaluated programs serving the severely and persistently mentally ill in several states. He served as Dean of the School of Social Welfare at the State University of New York at Albany (1980-88) and has taught at several other universities. He is the former editor-in-chief of the journal, Social Work Research.
Professor Kirk holds the Marjorie Crump Endowed Chair in Social Welfare.