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Durham University

Policy, Professions and Communities Research Group


Publication details for Professor Sarah Banks

Banks, Sarah (2016). Everyday ethics in professional life: social work as ethics work. Ethics and Social Welfare 10(1): 35-52.

Author(s) from Durham


This article outlines and develops the concept of ‘ethics work’ in social work practice. It takes as its starting point a situated account of ethics as embedded in everyday practice: ‘everyday ethics’. This is contrasted with ‘textbook ethics’, which focuses on outlining general ethical principles, presenting ethical dilemmas and offering normative ethical frameworks (including decision-making models). ‘Ethics work’ is a more descriptive account of ethics that refers to the effort people put into seeing ethically salient aspects of situations, developing themselves as good practitioners, working out the right course of action and justifying who they are and what they have done. After identifying seven features of ethics work, including work on framing, roles, emotion, identity, reason, relationships and performance, each element is illustrated with reference to two case examples from social work practice. It is argued that the concept of ethics work, with its focus on the practitioners as moral agents in context, is an important antidote to the rules-based managerialism of much contemporary practice.