THE MEANING OF ETHICS AND ETHICAL DILEMMAS IN SOCIAL WORK PRACTICE: A QUALITATIVE STUDY OF GREEK SOCIAL WORKERS
A thesis submitted for the degree of Master of Philosophy
By Dimitra Giannou
School of Health Sciences and Social Care Brunel University July 2009
Social work struggles between the dichotomy of “individual” and “society” as it is characterized as enhancing both individual well-being and social justice. As these are not always easily balanced and social work has limited autonomy, social workers must develop their capacity for making moral judgments and defend these within their various roles and responsibilities. Studies which explore the role of ethics in social work practice enhance the potential for maintaining a common identity. This exploration permits a deeper understanding of social work ethics and reinforces a common framework inclusive of purpose and standards for the profession. These studies also capture the contextual factors impacting on the moral agency of social workers, and thus substantiate the role for social work in a world with structured oppression. The purpose of this study was to obtain an in-depth understanding of social work ethics in the practice context of public hospitals in Greece. Using a case study design, data was gathered to explore and understand the role of social work ethics in daily practice and the formation of what is perceived as “good” practice. The analysis followed Yin‟s (1993) descriptive strategy. Data collection included fifteen in-depth interviews with hospital social workers, a group interview with social work academics, and a thematic analysis of the social work journal of the Hellenic Association of Social Workers (HASW). The meaning of ethical dilemmas and problems appeared to be constructed by personally held values, a lack of attention in social work education and the HASW on social work ethics, a professional emphasis on individualism rather than collectivism, and insufficient...