Journal Article

Unsettled Social Work: The Challenge of Levinas's Ethics

Amy Rossiter

in The British Journal of Social Work

Published on behalf of British Association of Social Workers

Volume 41, issue 5, pages 980-995
Published in print July 2011 | ISSN: 0045-3102
Published online January 2011 | e-ISSN: 1468-263X | DOI:
Unsettled Social Work: The Challenge of Levinas's Ethics

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In this paper, I advocate for an orientation to social work practice that we might call ‘unsettled practice’ as a possible direction for moving beyond the separated discursive positions of critical and normative social work. Using the philosophy of Emmanuel Levinas, I make the case that unsettled practice requires us to regard social work as a practice of ethics defined by conscious and deliberate commitment to working in full view of the tensions and contradictions derived from social work's professional status and knowledge claims. Levinas's ethics represent a challenge to professional knowledge that holds the implicit claim of special knowledge of people. Levinas's insistence that ethics must precede knowledge means that unsettled practice must take place on the ‘razor's edge’ of totalising representations of people and the necessity of representation for justice. In this way, critical social work can situate itself in justice-oriented representations, but it can also interpret its chronic discomfort with normative social work as unsettled social work. ‘Unsettled’ means practice that accepts the impossibility of resolving the practice dilemma that the ‘violence’ of social work representations exists in inescapable tension with the need for justice that requires it. Consequently, I conclude that a space not entirely of social work knowledge enables ethics before practice.

Keywords: ethics; knowledge; critical social work

Journal Article.  6578 words. 

Subjects: Social Work

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