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Practising Ethically in Unethical Times: Everyday Resistance in Social Work

Weinberg, Merlinda; Banks, Sarah

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Merlinda Weinberg


This article considers the challenges faced by social workers struggling to act ethically in what we characterise as the ‘unethical climate’ of neoliberalism. We offer a brief account of the current context, including the increasing managerialism and marketisation of welfare services, exacerbated by cuts in welfare provision following the 2008 financial crisis. We discuss the concepts of ‘ethical resistance’ and ‘ethics work’. We illustrate this with three case examples drawn from accounts given by social workers in Canada and England in the context of two research studies. These accounts feature social workers struggling to be ethically good and to do what they consider to be the right actions in difficult circumstances. We interpret their accounts of their actions largely in terms of everyday ethical resistance to organisational pressures of regulation of practice and rationing of resources. We conclude that everyday ethical resistance is not enough to ‘make good’ the unethical climate, but is an important precursor to social and political resistance.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Mar 6, 2019
Online Publication Date Apr 17, 2019
Publication Date Apr 17, 2019
Deposit Date Jun 18, 2019
Publicly Available Date Apr 17, 2020
Journal Ethics and Social Welfare
Print ISSN 1749-6535
Electronic ISSN 1749-6543
Publisher Taylor and Francis Group
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 13
Issue 4
Pages 361-376
Public URL


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