Bringing morals to life – Professionals’ use of morals in German care planning conferences
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Theory and practice of social work are highly morally grounded. As a basically helping profession, social work practice is closely linked to the idea that it will contribute to improving the lives of its clients. Social work practice is grounded in the various values of a societal order (social justice, individual rights, rights of religious freedom, human dignity, etc.), which are transformed into ethical standards that are used to structure normative expectations regarding the activities of professionals. Empirically, however, moral issues in social work practice often appear in a quite different way. Based on a conversation analysis of audio-taped discussions between professionals and clients in German care-planning conferences, this study emphasizes how morals are established primarily in a practical sense. By regarding morals as a sign of respect or disrespect, it is shown that professionals make use of morals to assess a client’s behaviour in either a positive or a negative way. Furthermore, it is argued that morals in social work practice primarily respond to the overall interactional asymmetries of a client–professional encounter. In addition, they also reflect the basically deficit-oriented case descriptions of the professionals to establish the case in a less threatening way.