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Durham University

Policy, Professions and Communities Research Group


Publication details for Professor Sarah Banks

Weinberg, Merlinda & Banks, Sarah (2019). Practising Ethically in Unethical Times: Everyday Resistance in Social Work. Ethics and Social Welfare 13(4).

Author(s) from Durham


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.