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Durham University

Policy, Professions and Communities Research Group


Publication details for Professor Sarah Banks

Banks, S. (2013). Negotiating personal engagement and professional accountability: professional wisdom and ethics work. European Journal of Social Work 16(5): 587-604.

Author(s) from Durham


This article examines the relationship between personal engagement and professional accountability in social work—considering whether the increasing focus on professional accountability in the context of the new public management, public austerity and market-based systems of welfare is incompatible with the personal engagement of social workers with service users and with their work. After undertaking a conceptual analysis of the terms, it is argued that both personal engagement and professional accountability are essential features of social work. Indeed, it is this negotiation of the creative tension between them that constitutes the subject matter and work of professional ethics. This requires a capacity and disposition for good judgement based in professional wisdom and a process of practical reasoning or ‘ethics work’ to find the right balance between closeness and distance, passion and rationality, empathic relationships and measurable social outcomes. It also requires a space for the exercise of professional wisdom.