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About this book

This book explores the far-reaching ethical implications of recent changes in the organization and practice of the social professions (social work, community and youth work), drawing on moral philosophy, professional ethics and new empirical research by the author. What does the development of external regulation and audit mean for the autonomy, discretion and creativity of practitioners? How does inter-professional working in community mental health, youth offending or neighbourhood regeneration challenge conceptions of professional identities and roles? What relevance does an ethics of proximity, care or virtue have for professional ethics, alongside more abstract, principle-based approaches?

Table of Contents

Introduction: exploring professional ethics

Abstract
Our present concern with ethics distinguishes this age from others. (Davis, 1999, p. 3)
Many commentators have noted the recent growth of interest in ethics in the western world. Numerous factors have contributed to this, including: developments in biomedical science (especially genetics), leading to a questioning of the nature and value of human life and personal identity; a growing awareness of human-induced ecological changes and their interrelationship with global business interests; and increasing publicity given to ‘scandals’ surrounding senior figures in public life. According to Davis (1999, p. 20): ‘the ethics boom is primarily a boom in “professional ethics” and other forms of “applied” (or “practical”) ethics’.
Sarah Banks

1. The social professions and the calling to care

Abstract
This book is about ethics in relation to a particular group of related occupations. I have called these occupations the ‘social professions’, which includes those occupations described in the UK as social work, youth and community work. Already we have introduced two problematic concepts. The first is ‘profession’ and the second is the ‘social professions’. There has been much debate over the meaning of the term ‘profession’, and, indeed, whether it makes sense to define it at all. For those that have defined it, there is further debate about which occupations can be categorised as professions, with the list I have just given as belonging to the ‘social professions’ being particularly contested and sometimes referred to as ‘emergent’, ‘new’, ‘semi’ or ‘quasi’ professions.
Sarah Banks

2. Philosophical perspectives I: professional ethics and ordinary ethics

Abstract
In this chapter we will explore the nature of ‘professional ethics’ (as a set of professional norms) and the extent to which professional ethics can legitimately be regarded as special, or indeed separate from the ethics of ordinary life. The fact that we talk of ‘professional ethics’ implies that these ethics are not only important and legitimate, but also in some way different from what we might call ‘ordinary ethics’ (that is, the norms we follow in ‘non-professional’ or ‘everyday’ life). The existence of categories such as ‘social work ethics’, ‘medical ethics’ or ‘legal ethics’, and the fact that occupational groups have their own codes of ethics, could be taken to suggest that it is important, or even necessary, that each professional group has a distinctive set of ethics, and that these are different from each other and from ‘ordinary ethics’. But how important is this, and how distinctive are they, or should they be?
Sarah Banks

3. Philosophical perspectives II: professional ethics and ethical theory

Abstract
This chapter considers professional ethics in the second of the senses identified in Chapter 2, namely as the study of the moral norms of occupational groups. It explores the relationship between professional ethics and moral philosophy (as ethical theory). We will discuss the view that professional ethics can be regarded as ‘living a life of its own’, quite apart from moral philosophy, and should not be seen simply as comprising the application of ethical theories to professional life. Whilst this position makes some sense, it is also argued that the ethical theories and theoretical approaches of moral philosophy can offer useful insights for professional ethics. A brief overview of different theoretical approaches and how they might be of relevance to professional ethics is outlined, divided into two broad sections: impartial and detached approaches (covering ethical theories based on principles, rights, discourse and cases), and partial and situated approaches (covering ethical theories based on virtue, care, community and the relationship with the ‘other’). Some discussion of whether the idea of an ‘ethical theory’ makes sense in the light of postmodern critiques is offered, with the suggestion that in the context of professional ethics it is hard to sustain a ‘postmodern’ viewpoint on ethics.
Sarah Banks

4. From philosophical principles to professional practice: the form and function of codes of ethics

Abstract
This chapter examines certain features of professional codes of ethics and some of the critiques that have been directed at them. Three recent codes of ethics for the social professions are examined to show how they vary greatly in their form, content and in the purposes they are intended to serve, and how criticism of codes per se may often miss the mark. Just like the professions they relate to, the form, content and functions of codes of ethics will vary over time, place and according to the social, economic and political conditions in which the professions exist. Codes exemplify the coexistence of several apparently contradictory or incompatible models of professionalism and professional ethics.
Sarah Banks

5. Practitioner perspectives I: interprofessional working — issues of identity, values and culture

Abstract
In Chapter 2 we explored the extent to which the idea of professional ethics as distinct from the ethics of everyday life makes sense in terms of arguments developed by philosophers. We concluded that while professional ethics must be regarded as derived from ordinary ethics, it does make sense to see professional ethics as distinctive. In this chapter we will explore that idea that each profession has a distinctive set of professional ethics (as espoused and enacted norms) in the context of increasing demands for interprofessional working. This theme will be explored through a case study of an interprofessional service, drawing on conversations with practitioners about their work.
Sarah Banks

6. Practitioner perspectives II: the new accountability and the ethics of distrust

Abstract
This chapter explores some of the implications for professional ethics of the changes that have been taking place in the organisation and practice of the social professions in the context of moves towards marketisation, privatisation, and increasing managerialism. These changes are located in a context of the restructuring of the ‘welfare state’, and a questioning of the legitimacy, trustworthiness and effectiveness of professionals as outlined in Chapter 1 (see, for example, Clarke et al., 2000; Exworthy and Halford, 1999; Jones, 2001; Jordan and Jordan, 2000; Lymbery, 2000; O’Neill, 2002b). The discussion draws on semi-structured, in-depth interviews with 32 practitioners.
Sarah Banks

7. Called to account: the response of the social professions

Abstract
This chapter draws on the previous chapters to offer some tentative conclusions to our exploration of the theme of professional ethics in the context of the changing social professions. It discusses the constantly shifting ground of professional ethics, the ethical challenges faced by practitioners and some of their responses.
Sarah Banks
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