‘Rogue’ Social Workers: The Problem with Rules for Ethical Behaviour

Weinberg, Merlinda and Taylor, Stephanie (2014). ‘Rogue’ Social Workers: The Problem with Rules for Ethical Behaviour. Critical Social Work, 15(1) pp. 74–86.

URL: http://www1.uwindsor.ca/criticalsocialwork/rogue_S...


This article explores one aspect of increased managerialism, the impact of the expansion of rules in organizations. Discussing findings from a recent large-scale Canadian research project with social workers, this paper addresses some of the effects of the proliferation of rules, including their ethical implications, and considers the usefulness of different theoretical accounts of the rule-bending individual. The research indicated that although rules did serve as technologies to regulate and normalize practitioners’ behaviours, they were not monolithic in their consequences. Typologies which divided individuals in terms of their responses to rules were useful but insufficient explanations of the observed effects. The paper suggests that practitioners will use discretion to deal with the complexity of situations, the contradictory nature of the rules, and to resist being positioned as subjects in ways they found problematic, outcomes which support Lipsky’s classic premises. Other findings were that the increase of rules, through their complexity and contradiction, promoted ‘rogue’ or rule-bending behaviour. A further outcome was that practitioners who perceived part of their responsibility to be change agents towards societal transformation encountered particular difficulties, because the expansion of rules impacted negatively on the availability of their time and energy.

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