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Social work and self-determination.

Spicker, Paul


Paul Spicker


Self-determination is a curious concept, related to, but not quite the same as, freedom and autonomy. As an ethical principle, the principle of self-determination bears little relationship to the way social workers behave. It is used as if clients were being allowed a free, independent choice; but clients are subject to pressure, and the social work relationship is often conceived within a structure of authority. As a guide to practice, the concept of self-determination ignores the cases where direction is legitimate or desirable. Self-determination can be seen as a professional ideology - an inter-related set of values and ideas. The concept is derived from a number of ideas and values outside social work, but it appears to have little direct relevance to social work in practice. The paper suggests that the concept of freedom may be more useful and less remote from the realities than self-detemination is.


SPICKER, P. 1990. Social work and self-determination. British journal of social work [online], 20(3), pages 221-236. Available from:

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Apr 30, 1990
Online Publication Date Apr 30, 1990
Publication Date Jun 30, 1990
Deposit Date Sep 18, 2013
Publicly Available Date Sep 18, 2013
Journal British journal of social work
Print ISSN 0045-3102
Electronic ISSN 1468-263X
Publisher Oxford University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 20
Issue 3
Pages 221-236
Public URL
Publisher URL


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