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About this book

This agenda setting text explores a broad range of value perspectives and their impact on and contribution to social work thinking on ethics. Including new perspectives, such as Islam, and drawing on international contributors, this is essential reading for all social work students studying ethics and values.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Ethics and Value Perspectives in Social Work

1. Introduction: Ethics and Value Perspectives in Social Work

Ethics is a branch of philosophy which addresses questions about morality, such as what is the fundamental nature of morality and the way in which moral values are determined.
Mel Gray, Stephen A. Webb

Professional Perspectives


2. Codes of Ethics

Professional values are a particular grouping and ordering of values within a professional context. In social work such values tend to focus on human functioning, capabilities and development.
Elaine Congress

3. Codes of Conduct

Codes of Conduct are statutory, regulatory measures that attempt to standardize practice. The difference between a Code of Ethics (discussed in Chapter 2) and a Code of Conduct (discussed in this chapter) lies in the locus of control. While a Code of Ethics is professionally based, a Code of Conduct is a statutory instrument.
Paul Webster

4. Ethical Decision-making

Ethical decision-making is the process by which social workers engage in an exploration of values — that may be evident in the personal, professional, social and organizational spheres — in order to establish where an ethical dilemma might lie according to what competing principles, and what factors take priority in the weighing up of alternatives.
Donna McAuliffe

5. Ethical Dilemmas in Practice

An ethical dilemma is defined as a situation in which a social worker has to decide on a course of action in which the legitimate wants of one or more person are neglected because they are in direct opposition to another person’s legitimate wants. If these competing legitimate wants are based on the same level of need, one can call it an ethical dilemma.
Stefan Borrmann

6. Faith-based Approaches

Faith is the confident belief or trust in the truth of a person, idea or thing. The word faith can refer to a particular religion or to religion in general. It involves future events or outcomes that do not need to rest on logical proof or evidence. Faith is often used in a religious context where it universally refers to a trusting belief in a transcendent reality or a supreme divine being.
Philip Gilligan

Moral Perspectives


7. Ethic of Care

Caring is a social and moral practice that involves not only dealing with feelings of love, compassion, empathy, and involvement but also of grief, anger and rejection. As a foundational element in social relationships, caring allows for an engaged and intimate space for the articulation of values associated with trust, respect for differences, and mutual recognition.
Brid Featherstone

8. Ethics of Responsibility

Responsibility to the Other: In Levinas’s terms this is a primordial relationship of responsibility that arises from being in the world with others; we are commanded to react to other human beings by virtue of our human relations and being a part of a social world.
Sonia Tascón

9. Discourse Ethics

Lifeworld is the reservoir of meaning that human subjects draw on in order to make sense of their world, to negotiate and to create and maintain relationships with others.
Stan Houston

10. Virtue Ethics

Communitarianism emphasizes the need to balance individual rights and interests with that of the community as a whole. It is opposed to individualism and libertarian political perspectives. Unlike liberalism, which construes communities as originating in the voluntary acts of individuals, it emphasizes the role of the community in defining a shared civic engagement. Communitarians argue that values and moral beliefs exist in public space, in which dialogue and criticism take place.
Stephen A. Webb

11. Postmodern Ethics

Ethics and morality: In postmodern ethics, a distinction is drawn between ethics as a normative domain and morality as a descriptive one. Ethics is associated with the modernist search for ‘golden rules’ of conduct and morality with the postmodern acceptance of the individual impulses of the here and now. Individuals are first moral then social. In other words, ethics follows morality.
Mel Gray

Social Perspectives


12. Anti-racist Practice

Racism: The belief that a certain ‘race’ is superior to another or all other races and thus has inherent right to dominate the members of other races. Biologically there are no discreet and scientifically measurable races among human beings. Race is a social construct and its purpose is to set social boundaries that can be used for dominance by power.
Haluk Soydan

13. Human Rights and Social Justice

Human rights refer to the basic rights and freedoms to which all humans are entitled. They are socially sanctioned entitlements to the goods and services that are necessary to develop human potential and well-being.
Jim Ife

14. Anti-oppressive Practice

Citizenship is the status bestowed upon those entitled to live in a particular nation-state and claim the right to its care. Intended to be inclusive, citizenship is disparaged as exclusive for defining those included in a particular territory at the expense of those excluded.
Lena Dominelli

15. Participation and Citizenship

Civil society is a sphere of social solidarity that is composed of the totality of voluntary civic and social organizations that form the basis of a functioning modern society, as opposed to the regulatory structures of a state and commercial institutions of the market.
Aila-Leena Matthies

Spiritual Perspectives


16. Islam and Ethics

Islam is a monotheistic, Abrahamic religion originating with the teachings of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, a seventh-century Arab religious and political figure.
Terry Lovat

17. Christianity and Ethics

Christian ethics is not a single entity in that there are competing interpretations of ethics that all claim a basis in Christianity. The following concepts also contribute to an understanding of Christian ethics.
Russell Whiting

18. New Age Ethics

Esotericism: A ‘spiritual’ Western tradition, rooted in the fifteenth-century Renaissance, that is critical of dogmatic religion and rational science and presents ‘gnosis’, or personal experience, as a ‘third way’ to determine what is true, just and beautiful.
Dick Houtman, Stef Aupers

19. Conclusion: Practising Values in Social Work

Social workers face especially hard moral choices. They are often caught between a rock and a hard place. There are situations in which, whatever they do, moral blame and guilt will result. Thus it seems that moral goodness is not always within the grasp of social workers. The problem of what is called moral ‘dirty hands’ always looms as a possibility with the realities of front-line practice. ‘Dirty hands’ are said to result when a social worker encounters a conflict of duties or values and must choose between alternatives, none of which is entirely satisfactory. In such cases social workers find themselves in situations where they can be morally sullied by doing what is morally permissible or even obligatory. There are some situations where social workers experience moral guilt or regret for doing the right thing. A social worker who is complicit in having an older person admitted to a residential nursing home because she is at risk of falling but knows that institutional life will inevitably hasten her dementia is one possible case of moral dirty hands. Under such difficult circumstances you often hear people gingerly remark that ‘it was for the best’. In social work moral dilemmas are genuine even when the right solution is clear. The question of how a social worker is to act in the public good when circumstances are not ideal for its realization is a very common problem.
Mel Gray, Stephen A. Webb
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