University of Tasmania
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The operations of risk : the meaning, emotion and morality of risk identities in social work practice

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posted on 2023-05-26, 05:17 authored by Sonya StanfordSonya Stanford
This study explores how risk operates as a concept and practice in social workers' interventions. Concern has been expressed within the critical social work risk literature that risk operates as a morally conservative and repressive construct in social work practice within the context of neo-liberal risk society. This thesis explores whether the influence of risk is necessarily as totalising of our professional identities, and in turn our practices, as this literature would suggest. Thus the aim of the research has been to identify whether spaces exist within social workers' practice contexts that enable them to resist invitations into the moral conservatism of negative constructs of risk. My assumption has been that forearmed with this knowledge, as individual practitioners or collectively as a profession, we will have a greater capacity to 'speak back' to the morally conservative ethos of risk that pervades welfare discourses in neo-liberal risk society. To progress the aim of the study, I have asked the question 'How are ideas about risk constituted and integrated into social workers' interventions?' I conducted my explorations of the operations of risk in social work by considering how risk was spoken of by practitioners within reflective accounts of interventions they had implemented that were significant to them. The results demonstrate that risk operated as a complex and discursively persuasive concept within their reflections on practice. Most significantly, risk operated as a powerful constituent of client and practitioner risk identities. Risk was integral to how practitioners recognised their clients and selves, evident in their ascription of highly moralised and emotionally constituted 'at risk' and 'a risk' identities. Given the presence of co-existing, multiple risk identities within a single intervention, practitioners faced a choice about which risk identities they would respond to ‚Äö- their clients and/or their own. In taking a stand for clients, practitioners' accounts indicate that the proclivity towards defensive and morally timid practice could be resisted. Contemplation of ethical, moral and value imperatives and the re-contextualisation of ideas about risk for clients and practitioners assisted social workers in this endeavour. The implications of this finding for social work knowledge, practice and education are discussed, alongside ideas for future research


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Copyright 2007 the author

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