Social Workers as ‘Strong Evaluators’: Rethinking Moral Sources and Professional Identity

Stephen A Webb


This paper argues that adherence to an ethical stance in is one of the defining strengths of social work and something that makes it both distinctive and progressive. Social work refuses to drop the notion that society can be a vehicle for the translation of private troubles into public concerns and the democratically generated search for community, solidarity and the good life. Against the tide of neoliberal political rule with its pursuit of self-interested individualism it is argued that social work retains a strong conception of an ethical good as part of its professional identity. It is against this drift of hardening neo liberal politics that this paper situates the significance of social work in terms of the “practice of value”. To pose questions of ethical practice for social work is the first step towards reawakening them. This can contribute to the enrichment of ethical social work by activating moral sources. The starting point for this analysis derives from the writings of the Canadian communitarian philosopher Charles Taylor, and especially his idea that human beings lead their lives and assess themselves in light of broad ethical standards. The paper asks why social workers are committed to ethical practice through an examination of Taylor’s conception of “strong” versus “weak” evaluators. It looks at the way we can bring theory and practice together in accounting for aspects of professional identity and how this provides a basis for resisting the malaise of neoliberal capitalism. Starting from an actor oriented perspective, which holds to the view that human beings are essentially embodied agents who actively encounter things that concern them, the paper broadens this framework to examine the moral sources of social work.

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International Journal of Social Science Studies   ISSN 2324-8033 (Print)   ISSN 2324-8041 (Online)

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