Promoting ethical practice: moral agency in a hostile environment

Elliott, Nigel (2010) Promoting ethical practice: moral agency in a hostile environment. In: 2010 Joint World Conference on Social Work and Social Development; 10 - 14 Jun 2010, Hong Kong, China. (Unpublished)


A reflective journey in probation and social work is the subject of this paper, during which the profession?s value base has been challenged by neo-liberal political and economic orthodoxy that has threatened to suppress social work?s �service ideal? of social justice, wellbeing and relationship. The Anglo-Saxon polities, including the UK, have been in the vanguard of these developments. Writing from the UK, the author promotes the exercise of moral agency � of praxis � associated with upholding the �service ideal? in the face of these challenges. A good practice framework is presented identifying features a practitioner can demand of practice settings if they are to provide congruity between the realities of daily practice and the �service ideal?. This framework is the outcome of the author?s own reflective journey encompassing practice, practitioner research, management, academic study, teaching and writing. A UK Advanced Award in Social Work and PhD were staging posts in its formulation. It models cross-fertilisation of teaching, learning and practice: an exemplar for the integration of social work education in the world of practice. The framework has four domains for appraising practice settings: regulatory context, values of practice, support and development of staff, knowledge creation. It is illustrated by �worked? examples from practice and research. The examples demonstrate tensions within the values, policy and practice dynamic, in which policy has become technocratic, instrumentalist and hostile to the �service ideal?. The author uses the examples to show how standards of moral agency may be actively sought by the practitioner in adverse circumstances. Our response to the modern environment challenges us to hone our understanding of what we mean by good practice and develop ethical practice because the global orthodoxy?s spectacular collapse in 2008-9 creates a space in which ethical discourse can acquire renewed influence in professional, political and economic debate.

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