Critical Eco Practice: How Should It Develop in Social Work Practice Thinking?

Malcolm Payne

Malcolm Payne holds honorary professorial posts at Manchester Metropolitan University and Kingston University London. He was previously Director of Psycho-social and Spiritual Care, St Christopher’s Hospice, London. Author of Modern Social Work Theory (5th Ed.) (Bloomsbury, 2021) and numerous other books and articles about applications of social work theory to practice, his book Why social work is important is forthcoming in 2024 from Policy Press.

OBJECTIVES: This paper reviews the practice implications of texts proposing an eco or green social work. While these developments reject social work’s historic emphasis on the social environment and ecological systems practice, eco practice theory has not achieved significant influence on social work practice and theory. THEORETICAL BASE: Practice objectives proposed in practice theory in textbook literature. METHODS: Analysis of trends in a textbook literature review. OUTCOMES: Although ecological sustainability concerns reflect important social issues with increasing impacts on political and social debate, they have not penetrated social work practice. This is because eco concerns are a global social issue requiring social work interaction policy constructions and fail to connect with social work agency and practitioner concerns. While these concerns overlap with critical practice theory, eco practice proposes a community grassroots practice which does not reflect local community concerns about poverty and the social environment of many social work clients. SOCIAL WORK IMPLICATIONS: The paper proposes the need for a more complex understanding linking the policy and practice implications of eco concerns, working to develop empirical evidence of the impacts of eco concerns on clients’ lives and including respect for the future of the changing natural environment in social work’s ethical and practice framework.

eco practice, green practice, deep ecology, ecological systems practice, critical theory, social environment, sustainability, climate change, disasters

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