This paper challenges proceduralized, rule-bound approaches to ethics and considers how social workers and teams can develop an attitude of compassionate concern and become more effective in dealing with ethical problems in their day-to-day practice. It introduces the work of Humberto Maturana, a widely respected theorist, whose work has received little attention in social work. It stresses the importance of emotions, particularly love, and considers the way in which ethical action is shaped by culture. It emphasizes the importance of engaging in reflection on professional practices and team, professional and organizational culture in order for social workers to improve their awareness of ethical dilemmas and promote ethical practice. For those teaching ethics, this paper suggests an alternative to the rational consideration of moral dilemmas and proposes approaches to training that can help social workers become more attuned and responsive to ethical conflicts. Relevance: The paper argues that Maturana’s biology of cognition provides an approach to ethics that takes into account the spontaneous nature of everyday work in which social workers undertake their ethical actions.
Context: The cultural worlds that we generate in our living are worlds in which we frequently live in a self-depreciating relational pain. This arises when we feel that we do not deserve to be loved and respected because we think that we are intrinsically incapable of satisfying what we think are legitimate cultural expectations about how we should be. Problem: Can we find an answer to the general question, “How is it that our life is so frequently painful?” Hypothesis: The pain for which a person asks for relational help is always of cultural origin, and arises from some experience in which she has not been loved and has accepted that she deserved not being loved because as a result of that experience she began to feel that she is intrinsically deficient. I propose that that person will come out of her pain – and will recover her self-love and self-respect as she reconnects with her fundamental loving nature as a biological-cultural human being – when she becomes able to realize that she is not intrinsically defective and that the expectations put on her are only arbitrary cultural demands. Results: I show (a) that the recovering of self-love and self-respect occurs as a result of a conversation that opens a relational space for the interplay of the conscious and unconscious reflections in which the person in pain finds that she is an intrinsically loving biological-cultural human being; (b) that this occurs through the reflexive evocation of the inner feelings of self-love and self-respect in the consulting person as she reflexively contemplates her life while she is revealing it to a caring reflective listener in a conversation that flows without expectations, demands or judgment. In such reflective “liberating conversations,” the consulting person finds herself in self-love and self-respect, not through a rational argument but through her spontaneous connection to her unconscious constitutive human inner feelings as a loving being. Implications: We do not need to suppose any reality independent of the operational coherences of our living to explain and understand the different worlds that we generate in the realization of our living.
How might teachers think about moving to challenge prejudice against persons with handicap? Drawing on Piaget’s and Bateson’s constructivist theories, prejudices are examined in terms of the processes by which they are formed within the individual, the role they play in identity, and the reasons they may be resistant to change. Consideration is then given to strategies which may be useful in inviting reconsideration of cognitive items of this type. Looking at the learner’s experience these include certain types of questioning strategies and counterexamples. Looking at the teacher’s experience a number of techniques are recommended including, neutrality, circular questioning, and parenthesising. Relevance: This is a constructivist approach proposing a method of attitude change in the context of special education. Clearly though, it has implications for attitude change generally.
A research programme was initiated to promote positive attitudes towards children with special needs. Fifteen students each taught 4 lessons to children from second to sixth class in Primary Schools. Their approach was constructivist involving discussion and activities designed to provide opportunities for the children to reconsider their ideas. A post-test was given to 465 experimental and 326 control children. Experimental children were different from controls in being more prosocial in a number of ways. Children who knew somebody with a mental handicap were affected by the programme differently in comparison with inexperienced children, largely by becoming more aware of the difficulties of children with special needs. There were a number of age and gender differences in the ways children think about mental handicap. Relevance: This paper shows how constructivist classroom techniques can be used to facilitate children’s thinking about children with a disability
A total of 305 urban primary school children participated in an educational programme to promote awareness of children with special needs. Subjects were pretested to assess their initial attitudes towards and prior experience of children with special needs and posttested to see how their attitudes changed as a result of an educational intervention programme based on constructivist ideas. Programme effects, which included both augmentation of some positive attitudes and diminution of sympathy for children with special needs, were strongly correlated with grade and gender differences in initial attitudes. Whether the drop in sympathy constitutes normalization or permission to be dismissive requires further examination. Relevance: This study shows the implications of using constructivist approaches in classrooms. It seems clear that changing attitudes may not always have the desired effects, and that longer term interventions may be needed.
Thoughts can be fleeting and changeable and they may also be rigid. Generally the rigid thoughts are related to self-identity, and concern positions people hold very seriously. In previous conferences I have presented constructivist accounts of how ideas change and how tolerance might be promoted. In the present paper I extend these ideas to include insights into these issues raised in social psychology. Where the constructivist approach emphasised the importance of providing experiences that challenged emerging representations with questions and counter-examples, this paper reviews social psychological approaches that draw attention to the importance of the circumstances of events and the natural inclination to attend initially to personal attributes. Relevance: This paper links constructivist insights into promoting tolerance with ways these issues are considered in social psychology