Publication 840

Bilson A. (2007) Promoting compassionate concern in social work: Reflections on ethics, biology and love. British Journal of Social Work 37(8): 1371–1386. Fulltext at
This paper challenges proceduralized, rule-bound approaches to ethics and considers how social workers and teams can develop an attitude of compassionate concern and become more effective in dealing with ethical problems in their day-to-day practice. It introduces the work of Humberto Maturana, a widely respected theorist, whose work has received little attention in social work. It stresses the importance of emotions, particularly love, and considers the way in which ethical action is shaped by culture. It emphasizes the importance of engaging in reflection on professional practices and team, professional and organizational culture in order for social workers to improve their awareness of ethical dilemmas and promote ethical practice. For those teaching ethics, this paper suggests an alternative to the rational consideration of moral dilemmas and proposes approaches to training that can help social workers become more attuned and responsive to ethical conflicts. Relevance: The paper argues that Maturana’s biology of cognition provides an approach to ethics that takes into account the spontaneous nature of everyday work in which social workers undertake their ethical actions.


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