Publication Date


Document Type

Masters Thesis


School for Social Work


Social service-Moral and ethical aspects, Violence-Moral and ethical aspects, Anthropological ethics, Intersubjectivity, South Africa-Social conditions, Apartheid-South Africa-Psychological aspects, Theoretical, Morality, Moral anthropology, Relational psychoanalysis, Violence, Clinical impasse, South Africa, Apartheid


Clinical social workers face an ethical imperative to work with a range of clients, some of whom will undoubtedly espouse views and confess to violent behavior that will differ, sometimes profoundly, with the worker's own personal moral compass and the values of the social work profession. How are clinical social workers to navigate the potential impasses that arise from such encounters? This theoretical thesis explores the dilemma of engaging with a client whose morality is experienced by the worker as untenable. It draws on two bodies of theory, moral anthropology and relational psychoanalysis—both of which emphasize contingency, circumstance, and the role of social phenomena in shaping an individual's subjectivity and identities. These bodies of theory are applied to two cases set in apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa (Gobodo-Madikizela, 2003; Straker, 2007a). While these cases focus on the extremes of human behavior in a particular historical and cultural locale, they also offer a paradigm of what it means to face a client whose morality profoundly differs from one's own and how one might overcome the impasse precluding empathy for the client's subjectivity and recognition of his or her human dignity.




iii, 50 pages. Thesis (M.S.W.)--Smith College School for Social Work, 2015. Includes bibliographical references (pages 45-49)