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Editors: Sarah Banks and Peter Westoby

This book offers a unique focus on the everyday ethics of community development practice in the context of local and global struggles for equity and social justice.

Contributors from around the world (from India to the Netherlands and USA) grapple with ethical dilemmas and tensions, including how to: respect and learn from Indigenous values and philosophies; challenge environmental destruction; gain consent in divided communities; maintain or breach professional boundaries; and develop new paradigms for transformative community organising, sustainable development and ethically-sensitive practice.

Offering theoretical frameworks, philosophical perspectives and practical case examples (from sex worker collectives to tree action groups and Australian Indigenous communities) this book is essential reading for community-based practitioners, students and academics.

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Author: Sarah Banks

In his book Reclaiming social work, Ferguson (2008, p 132) includes a short section entitled ‘Reclaiming the ethical’. He writes in the context of increasing managerialism and marketisation in the field of social work in the late 20th and early 21st century – a period that has witnessed an erosion of practice premised on values of social justice and human dignity. This chapter is a response to Ferguson’s call – made all the more urgent with the new public austerity that prevails in many countries following the financial crisis of 2008. In this climate of welfare reform and public sector restructuring, social workers are increasingly finding themselves expected to monitor and control the behaviour of the growing numbers of people who are poor, sick, disabled and stigmatised.

This article examines the growth of interest in social work ethics in the context of neoliberal policies and, in particular, the growth of managerialism in public service professions. The main characteristics of neoliberal policies are the promotion of free markets and the privatisation of public goods, along with a strengthening of private property rights and weakening of labour rights – resulting in a growing centralisation of wealth and power (Harvey, 2005). Taking the UK as an example, while drawing links with trends across Europe and other countries in the global North, the article traces the development of the ‘new public management’ (NPM) since the 1990s. NPM is characterised as stressing the importance of measurable outputs, targets, competition and cost-effectiveness in the provision of public services.

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Author: Sarah Banks

By its very nature, community practice is fraught with ethical challenges – especially in relation to the extent to which community participants are given, take or create power and control. On a daily basis, grassroots practitioners work with these issues, and seek, or are given, support from managers to tackle them. In addition to supporting and supervising practitioners, those managing community practice face their own ethical difficulties, relating, for example, to: conflicts of interest between various stakeholders; political imperatives; resource allocation; and staff management decisions. This chapter will highlight some of the specific ethical dilemmas and problems that arise in the context of managing community practice. It will: discuss the nature of ethical dilemmas and problems in general; outline some of the key features of community practice that generate ethical difficulties for managers; and introduce the concept of ‘dilemmatic space’. The chapter draws on semi-structured interviews and case materials from managers working in the fields of neighbourhood regeneration, community education, community social work, youth offending, community safety, community support and community development. Two case studies are explored, based on the work of a UK neighbourhood regeneration programme and a non-governmental organisation (NGO) working in conflict-ridden areas of Pakistan.

What makes a dilemma an ethical dilemma, as opposed to a practical, technical or political dilemma? Usually, a dilemma is defined as a choice between two equally unwelcome alternatives – when it seems that ‘whatever I do will be wrong’. A dilemma belongs to someone and is about making a choice. A situation, event, case or story itself is not a dilemma, but may raise dilemmas for certain people.

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Author: Sarah Banks

This chapter examines the nature of ‘community work’ and regards ‘community development’ as one of several approaches to community work. It considers Marjorie Mayo’s conclusion that community development as an intervention has limited radical potential, and argues that this conclusion is equally valid thirty-five years later, as the more radical ‘community action’ approaches to community work have been marginalised and community development has become mainstreamed within policies and practices concerned with promoting citizen participation and neighbourhood renewal. The chapter also offers examples of locally based action for political change (based on community organising and critical pedagogy), which keep alive the radical community-work tradition. The focus is on community work as an occupation and set of practices in Britain, where it has developed separately from social work.

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Author: Sarah Banks

This book is part of the Rethinking Community Development series. As such, it offers a range of critical perspectives, both cross-disciplinary and international, on the place and meaning of ethics and the nature of ethical practice in community development work. The first two books in the series, Politics, power and community development (Meade et al, 2016) and Class, inequality and community development (Shaw and Mayo, 2016), had a primary focus on the structural context in which community development operates. Ethics, equity and community development takes account of context, but its focal point is the ‘micro-ethics’ of daily practice, often neglected in the literature which focuses on the broader political climate and how to develop equitable social policy to tackle disadvantage and inequity. In this book we are concerned with the ethical agency of the people practising community development, and the dilemmas and difficulties they face in their everyday work as they strive towards ethical practice and equitable outcomes. We are also interested in how micro-level or ‘everyday ethics’ interacts with the macro-level ethics of social and institutional policies in the community development field (see Banks, 2016 for the concept of ‘everyday ethics’; Truog et al, 2015, for ‘micro- and macro-ethics’).

To illustrate what is meant by ‘everyday ethics’, I will give an example from Chapter Five of the book. Here we are given an account of an ethically challenging situation faced by practitioners working for an NGO in India with a focus on participatory practice. In evaluating the effectiveness of interventions aiming to empower sex worker collectives, some of the sex workers felt the collective had made major achievements in ending false arrests and harassment by the police.

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Author: Sarah Banks

This is the first of three chapters exploring aspects of contemporary practice within the framework of the model presented in Chapter Four. Here the focus is on direct work in and with community groups and organisations. By ‘direct work’ we mean the face-to-face and organisational work accomplished by members in self-managed groups and by professional community workers and other professionals with a community focus in supporting, facilitating and advising community groups and organisations. Community groups and organisations may take many forms, ranging from loose networks to charities or businesses working for the benefit of geographical communities or communities of interest or identity. They may have a variety of functions, including campaigning, service delivery, policy making or self-help, for example.

The main focus of this chapter is on processes and practices of work in and with community groups and organisations. These processes and practices are embedded in a broader context of programmes, policies and paradigms (see Figure 4.2), which will be taken into account, although not explored in any depth in this chapter. The chapter discusses case studies of two community groups – a self-managed city-wide asylum seekers’ network and a worker-supported neighbourhood residents’ group. The work of the groups is analysed through first locating them in their political context, then exploring processes and practices for developing participants’ critical consciousness – the core circle of Figure 4.1, which includes critical awareness of themselves in relation to the political context, commitment to the values of social justice and motivations and capacities for taking action.

As already discussed, community practice is about stimulating, engaging and achieving active communities.

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Author: Sarah Banks

This epidemic is not just about people who tested positive but also about people whose life ended and deteriorated as an indirect result of the inhuman management of this epidemic. (Hospital social worker, Canada)

One of the challenges I am currently facing is being more human than professional. (Medical social worker, Colombia)

We felt sad, stressed, and sometimes exhausted … we did not have time to think and reflect. I felt like I was at a war. (Community social worker, China)

This chapter highlights the ethical implications of COVID-19, seeing it as a crisis of social justice for social work. Drawing on responses to an international survey, it illustrates how social workers had to rethink the meaning of ethical practice in real time, balancing privacy against health risks, empathy against efficiency and rule-following against being human. It argues for framing social work ethics with values of radical social justice and empathic solidarity at its heart.

The continuing impact of COVID-19 is as much a crisis of social justice, and hence of ethics, as it is of health or the economy. As such, it calls for a spirited social work response, which, as the title of this chapter suggests, calls into question ‘business as usual’. COVID-19 creates huge challenges for the profession, as social workers, social work organisations and governments work out what needs to change and how, both short and long term. These questions are not only political and practical, but also fundamentally ethical.

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Author: Sarah Banks

The last three chapters have examined aspects of critical community practice in relation to direct work in and with community groups and organisations (Chapter Five); managing practitioners, programmes and organisations (Chapter Six); and developing policy in the context of the current political climate (Chapter Seven). The focus of attention has been on the processes and activities of groups and organisations and the policy and political context in which the practice takes place. This chapter focuses on the practitioners themselves, in particular on their value commitments and motivations, their capacities for critical reflection and reflexivity and practical wisdom. Our concern in this chapter is with the centre of the diagram given in Chapter Four (Figure 4.1), namely, critical consciousness and value commitments – although as discussed in earlier chapters, all elements are inextricably linked. We first discuss accounts given by practitioners of their orientations to their work, drawing out aspects relevant to critical community practice. We then consider briefly some approaches to supporting and developing the commitment and capacities of critical community practitioners through supervision, dialogue and reflective writing. The accounts from practitioners come mainly from professional workers, with some insights also from policy makers, managers and members of community groups.

Although the term ‘practice’ implies a practitioner, it is often used with a focus on actions and outcomes, rather than the motivations, intentions or purposes of the practitioner. In critical practice the latter are centrally important and inextricably linked with the processes and outcomes of the work. Arguably, in characterising critical community practice, the qualities or dispositions of the practitioner (such as courage or a questioning approach) are just as important as the action taken and outcomes achieved.

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The increasing impact of neoliberalism across the globe means that a complex interplay of democratic, economic and managerial rationalities now frame the parameters and practices of community development. This book explores how contemporary politics, and the power relations it reflects and projects, is shaping the field today.

This first title in the timely Rethinking Community Development series presents unique and critical reflections on policy and practice in Taiwan, Australia, India, South Africa, Burundi, Germany, the USA, Ireland, Malawi, Ecuadorian and Peruvian Amazonia and the UK. It addresses the global dominance of neoliberalism, and the extent to which practitioners, activists and programmes can challenge, critique, engage with or resist its influence.

Addressing key dilemmas and challenges being navigated by students, academics, professionals and activists, this is a vital intellectual and practical resource.

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Authors: Sarah Banks and Hugh Butcher

This chapter outlines the nature of community practice – defined as work that stimulates, supports and engages ‘active communities’. Along with Chapter Two on historical and recent policy developments, it sets the scene for the rest of the book, which focuses on issues relating to the management of community practice. In this chapter, we briefly discuss the ‘community turn’ in public policy and the growth of work with a community focus. We then explore the contested concept of ‘community’, leading to a discussion of the nature of ‘community practice’. We examine the nature of community practice by first considering who its practitioners are, and then discussing how the power and goals of institutions and practitioners interact to create the complex field of community practice. Next, we describe and illustrate a range of different approaches to community practice, outline the underpinning values and principles of action, and discuss the nature and role of critical community practice. While acknowledging the challenges of implementing a critical community practice model in a climate of austerity, we argue that it is more important than ever to take a critical stance in relation to this kind of work, in order to resist and move beyond some of the more regressive political and policy trends that are outlined in Chapter Two.

As noted in the Preface, it is now 20 years since the publication of Community and public policy (Butcher et al, 1993). That book introduced the concept of ‘community practice’ and examined a range of public policy initiatives that had resulted in the growth of work with a community focus on the part of a growing number of practitioners (including paid community development workers).

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