Critical Ethics of Care in Social Work

This book, a collection of articles on critical ethics of care and social work, is worthwhile reading for all who wish a better understanding of social work and its political importance. This political importance is unveiled by investigating social work practices from a ethics of care perspective, thus also showing the political nature of a critical ethics of care.

Most authors are Australian scholars of Social Work. They were invited to join the editors to reinstate care into the vocabulary of social work “[….]not care as we had come to know it through neo-liberal discourse, but a critical, political version of care” (p 4). Critical ethics of care is to be at the heart of social work, to redress inequality in political and practical terms, without regarding care and justice to be dichotomous. The editors argue that a critical ethics of care needs to operate as a moral philosophy to guide social work practices, thus helping social work embrace the wider politics of solidarity. Solidarity with those who are marginalised by neo-liberalism and/or who experience ‘structured suffering’ as a result of global phenomena such as global health inequalities, international debt and global climate change.

The 21 contributions are clustered in four parts. The first part (Framing care) looks at how social work and critical ethics of care are related. The following parts (2. Situating care and 3. Unsettling care) address the role of a critical ethics of care in relation to care for groups in society, such as people seeking asylum and people with disability and homeless people. In particular the chapters in the section ‘Unsettling care’ challenge Western, white, heterosexual and able-bodied privileges. The last part (Transforming care) provides some thoughts for the future when thinking about transforming care and the role of a critical ethics of care therein. One of the issues addressed here is the need for a critical ethics of care in relation to the environment.

In the foreword Brid Featherstone addresses the unhelpful polarised perspectives on the relationship between care and social work. Optimists and pessimists have different views on the position of social work in society. The optimists claim everything is fine as long as they are allowed to do their job, from their own moral mandate, which is clear and not to be questioned. Others can be found to be pessimistic about the possibilities for care-full practices given the context of inequality and neoliberalism within which social workers operate. The ethics of care offers a perspective to understand what happens in care situations as described in the various contributions, thus unveiling the political swampiness in which they are rooted as well as the political implications.

Pease, B., Vreugdenhil, A. and Standford, S. (editors) (2018). Critical Ethics of Care in Social Work. Transforming the Politics and Practices of Caring. Routledge, London and New York.

About the author: Eveline Bolt

Eveline Bolt

In August 2012, Eveline Bolt (1959) graduated from Tilburg University. Focus in her work is quality of care for elderly and homeless people and her pre-master and masterthesis focused on these subjects. Ethics of care is thereby the entrypoint for her research, development and training activities. In the town she lives in, she is part of the board advising the city council on issues in the area of care and community development.