Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Values Talk in Social Work: What's It Worth?

1.0 Values have a special place in social work
1.1 The profession’s mission “rooted in a set of core values,” which “are the foundation of social work’s unique purpose and perspective” (NASW Code)
1.2 The NASW Code of Ethics places values ahead even of principles and derives principles from values

2.0 But can values bear the weight placed on them?
2.1 Values are subjective, relative, matters of opinion
2.1.1 For Nietzsche, this was what made them preferable to virtues—they had no anchor in what was necessary for human flourishing or the good life
2.1.2 For Weber, they are the non-rational, arbitrary part of the fact-value distinction
2.1.3 This founds the profession in nothing more solid than convention or consensus [for emotivist and other subjectivist moral philosophy, this is no different from ethics in general]
2.1.4 To the extent that social work rests on values that have no intrinsic or objective moral authority, the boundaries of acceptability in the profession become a matter of power, not evidence or argument—which are cut off by appeal to an essentially arbitrary Code of Ethics

3.0 Do values distinguish between social work and other professions or the larger society?
3.1 E.g., medicine—cf. Pellegrino and self-effacement, autonomy, doing no harm, etc.
3.2 They have an altruistic aspect, as do other professions like medicine, law, nursing
3.3 They include the dignity and worth of the human person—a central feature of the Judeo-Christian tradition and Catholic social teaching in particular—so seem to rule out compatibility with strong forms of collectivism, such as fascism, Stalinism, traditional or indigenous cultures that subordinate individual to collective or accord dignity and worth only to some

4.0 Within those limits, do social work values enable us to distinguish one view from another within social work?
4.1 Social work values exclude some positions, such as strong collectivism, or a practice aimed at defending the privileges of the affluent (see Spano & Koenig’s example)
4.2 But even that claim is open to argument—for example, by those who view social work as precisely, if not consciously, about defending the status quo through social control of the deviant. See for example, the 58th (1926?) annual report of the London COS, entitled 'Bolshevism and its only true antidote: being the 58th Annual Report of ... claimed that 'the only real antidote to Bolshevism is good casework'
4.3 More important, social work values do not help us decide between the major positions of left and right in American politics with respect to major social welfare policies or approaches to practice
4.3.1 Many secularist liberals and now the Democratic Party as a whole support positions that subordinate the weak to the strong and refuse ascription of human dignity and worth to the weakest—unborn children. Many social workers support assisted suicide, the manufacture of “designer babies,” infant euthanasia, and abortion without seeing these positions as contradictory to basic social work values at their core. To be coherent, they have to hold to a strong body-mind dualism--that the dignity of the person is not at issue because personhood implies consciousness, so a physical human body like a fetus, someone in a coma or with advanced dementia, a deformed infant, etc., is not really a person—i.e., a person is a mind
4.3.2 Or what about the systematic subordination of the needs of children to the rights of adults in recent law and social policy, documented in The Revolution in Parenthood?
4.3.3 The assumption that liberals are caring and compassionate and hence more closely aligned with social work values does not withstand scrutiny—Brooks found the reverse (but cf. Haidt). Are liberal social workers an exception to the rule?
4.3.4 Take the (social work) value of social justice. This seems a strong case of a social work value that distinguishes between the main political positions of left and right. But this is not so.

5.0 Defining social justice
5.1 Barry—social justice as social democracy
5.2 Rawls vs. Nozick
5.3 MacIntyre’s critique and the Catholic social justice tradition
5.4 Subsidiarity and empowerment—the little platoons
5.5 Mediating structures—Berger & Neuhaus  patch, FGC/’Ohana Conferencing, social work as empowering, as partnering of state and family or community, strengthening marriages, families and neighborhoods rather than substituting for them, interweaving formal and informal care and control—community social work in UK
5.6 Gilbert’s Transformation of the Welfare State—across political boundaries and advanced liberal democracies—from state as provider to state as enabler, etc.
5.7 Centre for Social Justice (UK), Phillip Blond’s “Red Tories” (UK); red Tories Canada? A definition of social justice that is exactly not about big government as provider.

6.0 Do social work values help social workers choose among these conceptions of social justice in theory or practice? Can the matter be settled by appeal to the Code of Ethics?
6.1 This is Spano & Koenig’s idea, but
6.2 There is nothing in the value of social justice as described in the Code that helps us in this regard, contrary to S&K’s claim—does appealing to conventional understandings among social workers amount to more that groupthink?
6.3 Nor should there be. A profession is not a political party.

7.0 Values are largely useless in distinguishing between conceptions of the social good, in distinguishing social work from other professions like medicine and law that rest on appeal to a higher social good (health, justice), or even in guiding social workers in such a core area as social justice
7.1 Does “values” add anything to the classical ways, East and West, of thinking ethics in terms of the virtues, happiness, the good, and eudaimonia (the notion common to social work and Aristotle alike, of human flourishing, or the well-being of individuals and communities)?
7.2 Except, that is, relativism and subjectivism?
7.3 Which become, in their imperviousness to reason, a matter of the will, the dictatorship of relativism, and power?
7.4 Is it time to junk the concept of values altogether?

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