Power/Knowledge and the Ethics of Involuntary Treatment for Anorexia Nervosa in Context: A Social Work Contribution to the Debate

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Journal Article
British Journal of Social Work, 2016, 46 (3), pp. 686 - 702
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© 2014 The Author. This paper reports on an ethnographic study conducted in two eating disorders treatment settings in New South Wales, Australia. The study set out to make a social work contribution to the debate on the ethics of involuntary treatment for anorexia nervosa (AN) drawing on the authors' practice experience. An empirical ethics approach was taken to support a reflective process of theorising from practice focused on how the treatment decision-making context is relevant for ethics. Three key issues of relevance for social work and the ethics debate were revealed: (i) the operation of power, knowledge and values affirms particular knowledge during treatment decision making that may justify the use of paternalism; (ii) particular knowledge and values are privileged in the treatment environment and associated with 'good practice' and 'professionalism'. This may or may not promote the core social work values of 'empowerment', 'participation' and 'self-determination'; (iii) the operation of power, knowledge and values has implications for the patient-professional relationship that may be counterproductive to recovery from AN.
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