Rethinking Care in Social Work: An Argument for Reciprocity-Oriented Practice


  • Lauren Ray BSW University of Sydney


Care, Reciprocity, Social Work


Both social workers and clients benefit from integrating an ethic of reciprocity into our caring relationships with both individuals and communities. This article unpacks the concept of care, arguing that its ubiquity and complexity allows for it to be imbued with many meanings. Care is predominately understood through a neoliberal lens within Australian formal services, which reinforces the carer-dependant binary and contributes to the capacity for care to be demeaning, oppressive and paternalistic.


We introduce the concept of reciprocity, which allows for mutuality within care relationships and is truer to models of relationality within First Nations cultures. Invoking reciprocity in social work practice is a useful tool to aid social workers in resistance against oppressive structures and the sustenance of meaningful relationships with clients. Social workers can engage in reciprocity-oriented practice in a number of ways, including through mutual relationships, the co-production of knowledge, and community-based work.


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