RE: Assignment: Anti-Oppressive Social Work Practice

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Assignment: Anti-Oppressive Social Work Practice

Anti-oppressive social work means critically reflecting on your own cultural identities and how the social environment impacts these identities. Acknowledging power and privilege can be uncomfortable; however, with values of multiculturalism and social justice, social workers are committed to engaging in their own personal work and addressing social barriers clients may experience. Social workers view clients from a strengths-based perspective utilizing client strengths to support their goals, rather than pathologizing clients from the lens of the dominant culture.

For the past six weeks, you have learned about the social construction of social identities, structural inequality based on dominant and non-dominant groups, and oppressions based on sex, class, and race. While readings have continuously pointed out white privilege as the dominant group privilege, you also know that privilege is not equally distributed in groups. Intersecting identities creates unique experiences for clients. For this assignment, you draw from what you have been learning during the first part of this course and discuss strategies for anti-oppressive social work practice.

Submit a 2- to 3-page APA formatted paper in which you:

  • Explain the potential impact of white privilege on clients from both dominant and minority groups (consider impact of both positive and negative stereotypes).
  • Explain how intersecting identities might impact an individual’s experience (for example, race/ethnicity and gender, race/ethnicity and class, race/ethnicity and ability, race/ethnicity and sexual orientation, race/ethnicity and class).
  • Providing specific examples, explain how a social worker might utilize cultural strengths when working with clients.
  • Describe 2-3 social work skills and how a social worker might use them to engage in anti-oppressive work.
  • Support ideas in paper with at least 2-3 course resources (please reference specific chapters, not the entire textbook) and at least one additional peer-reviewed article from the Walden library (not assigned in this course) to support your ideas.


Adams, M., Blumenfeld, W. J., Castaneda, C., Hackman, H. W., Peters, M. L., & Zuniga, X. (Eds.). (2013). Readings for diversity and social justice. (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge Press.

  • Chapter 21, (pp. 125–126)
  • Chapter 22, (pp. 127–133)
  • Chapter 24, (pp. 135–139)

Carlton-LaNey, I. (1999). African American social work pioneers' response to need. Social Work, 44(4), 311-321.

Note: Retrieved from Walden Databases.

Johnston-Goodstar, K. (2013). Indigenous youth participatory action research: Re-visioning social justice for social work with indigenous youths. Social Work, 58(4), 314-320.

Note: Retrieved from Walden Databases.

Mc Laughlin, K. (2005). From ridicule to institutionalization: Anti-oppression, the state of socialwork. Critical Social Policy, 25(3), 283-305.

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❑ KENNETH MCLAUGHLIN Manchester Metropolitan University From ridicule to institutionalization: anti-oppression, the state and social work Abstract Anti-racist and anti-oppressive practices are considered essential components of social work education and practice. This paper charts the rise and rationale for these initiatives, detailing the social and political factors that influenced their development and incorporation into the profession. The criticism of such measures from a variety of perspectives is also discussed. Whilst this was at times vitriolic and did affect policy, the claim that it constituted a backlash is contested. Influenced by a Marxist view of the state and Foucauldian insights into both the power of discourse and controlling aspects of the ‘helping professions’, it is argued that what were considered radical measures have now become institutionalized and in the process lost their original meaning. Antioppressive social work, rather than being a challenge to the state has allowed the state to reposition itself once again as a benign provider of welfare, and via the anti-oppressive social worker is able to enforce new moral codes of behaviour on the recipients of welfare. Key words: anti-oppression, backlash, political correctness, social work, the State Introduction Within social work education and practice, a commitment to antiracist and anti-oppressive practice is essential in order for students to gain professional status. It is also expected that this will form an integral part of their practice post-qualification. Students and practitioners are expected not only to have an awareness of the construction and perpetuation of social divisions, but also to demonstrate in practice how they have challenged the norms, assumptions and Copyright © 2005 Critical Social Policy Ltd 0261–0183 84 Vol. 25(3): 283–305; 054072 SAGE PUBLICATIONS (London, Thousand Oaks, CA and New Delhi), 10.1177/0261018305054072 283 284 CRITICAL SOCIAL POLICY 25(3) behaviours that lead from them. According to the International Federation of Social Workers, ‘the main aim of social work is to alleviate poverty, to liberate vulnerable and oppressed people with the ultimate aim to promote social inclusion’ (quoted in Horner, 2003: 98). This definition has also been adopted in England by the Training Organisation for the Personal Social Services (TOPSS) (quoted in Horner, 2003: 98). It was the politicization of social work in the 1970s that highlighted the way social welfare and social work individualized social problems. Rather than being seen as due to the moral failings of the poor, poverty and marginalization were seen as due to wider political and structural inequalities. This early critique, focusing on social class, was itself seen as problematic, being charged with ignoring or indeed perpetuating other forms of oppression, such as racism or sexism. The 1980s and 1990s therefore saw the focus move to anti-racist and anti-oppressive practice within social work, with the agenda widening further to include issues such as disability, sexuality and age-related discrimination. Influenced by both Marxist and Foucauldian insights this paper charts the rise of ‘anti-racism’ and ‘anti-oppression’ within social work, discussing the social and political factors that helped shape the debate. From a Marxist perspective it views the state as historically specific, as a social relationship rather than an independent entity and as made up of many layers (e.g. parliament, judiciary, police and social workers). Foucauldian influences include recognition of both the power of discourse and controlling aspects of the helping professions. The role of pressure groups, some local authorities and black people themselves in prioritizing initiatives to combat racism and other forms of oppression is highlighted, and the opposition to such developments from a variety of perspectives is discussed. The claim by many social work academics that this opposition constituted a ‘backlash’ by right wing anti-egalitarians is contested. It is argued that what were seen as radical developments by their proponents, were in fact a response to political defeat and have now become institutionalized. Rather than being a challenge to the state, anti-oppressive practice has conversely allowed the state to reposition itself as a benign provider of welfare, as the solution to the problems of the oppressed, and via the anti-oppressive social worker is able to MCLAUGHLIN—ANTI-OPPRESSIVE PRACTICE enforce new moral codes of behaviour on the recipients of welfare services. Social work and anti-oppression The 1980s saw much political unrest over social inequality and the impact of racism on the black community. Black activists, community groups and organizations highlighted the way in which their communities were discriminated against by the police and judicial system, education departments and housing policy and practice (Gilroy, 1987). This critique and resistance towards discriminatory welfare practices also applied itself to social service departments. Social work theory and practice was exposed as pathologizing and controlling black people, for example black people were more likely to have their children removed and placed in residential care (Bebbington and Miles, 1989), and more likely to be compulsorily admitted to hospital under the Mental Health Act than their white counterparts (Francis, 1991). This increasing recognition of the unequal nature of British society was hugely influential within social work training in the mid to late 1980s, culminating in the publication of the second edition of the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work’s Rules and Requirements for the Diploma in Social Work (Paper 30) (CCETSW, 1989), which emphasized the need for an anti-racist approach, and the adoption of a policy which stated that, racism is endemic in the values, attitudes and structures of British society including that of social services and social work education. CCETSW recognises that the effects of racism on black people are incompatible with the values of social work and therefore seeks to combat racist practices in all areas of its responsibilities. (CCETSW, 1991: 6) In one sense this was a remarkable achievement. The 1980s was a period of Conservative political power with Margaret Thatcher the Prime Minister. A key aspect of the Conservative Party’s programme was an attempt to create political hegemony around free market economics and a return to ‘traditional values’ around the family and the nation state (Gamble, 1988). However, such Conservative rhetoric disguised a society where conflict over politics and values was never far from the surface (Molyneux, 1993; Penketh, 1998). 285 286 CRITICAL SOCIAL POLICY 25(3) Riots in the predominantly black areas of Bristol (St Paul’s), Manchester (Moss Side), Liverpool (Toxteth) and London (Brixton and Tottenham) brought to the surface the underlying tension between black people and the police (Gilroy, 1987). Positive role models for black and Asian youth were conspicuous by their absence (Syal, 1994), whilst the year-long miners’ strike of 1984–5 exposed the brutality of the police, as they were utilized to protect the employers whilst simultaneously crushing the miners. The Conservative Party’s appeal to ‘traditional values’ merely exposed the lack of consensus as to just what such values were and who benefited from them. And whilst the Labour Party was out of central government, it had control of many inner city boroughs through which it attempted to push through a ‘reformist left’ politics. The accommodation within the Labour Party of both black and women’s groups was recognition that issues of gender and race could not be ignored. Labour controlled councils increasingly adopted ‘Equal Opportunities’ statements, which by their nature were an acknowledgement that inequality existed. Some such authorities, for example Hackney, pressed CCETSW to address the inadequacies of much social work training which as it stood was ill preparing students to work in an anti-racist manner. According to Penketh (1998: 31) It was a combination of struggle by black social workers and students, in an atmosphere of both a growing awareness and critique of institutional racism within welfare agencies, and the rise of a counterThatcherite political opposition within the Labour party, local government and the equal opportunities community which created the ‘space’ for CCETSW’s anti-racist initiatives to develop. In order to be approved by CCETSW social work training providers had to develop ‘Clear and explicit anti-discrimination and anti-racist policies and explicit practices and procedures which provide evidence that these policies will be implemented and monitored in all aspects of the programme’ (CCETSW, 1989: 22). Penketh (1998: 37) argues that the understanding of racism developed from individualistic explanations based on personal attitudes and behaviour, to a recognition that racism is a phenomenon that exists, and is structured within the practices of all British institutions, including social services departments, local authorities and higher education institutions. This reconceptualisation of racism highlights the manner MCLAUGHLIN—ANTI-OPPRESSIVE PRACTICE in which individuals who may be genuinely opposed to racism can behave in ways which inadvertently discriminate against black people by following uncritically, the activities, ‘norms’ and unquestioned assumptions of the institutions within which they are located. Whilst there was this recognition, in practice local authorities still directed considerable effort to individualistic solutions to the problem of racism. For example, whilst the Greater London Council established London as an ‘Anti-racist Zone’ in 1982 and declared 1984 to be ‘Anti-racist Year’, its poster campaign still portrayed racism as a moral individual phenomenon. One poster asked: Are you a racist? You’d be a much nicer person if you weren’t. Another read, If you are a racist you have a problem. Don’t you have enough problems already? Apart from being criticized for being sanctimonious and individualistic, local authorities were also attacked for portraying the public as the problem and themselves as the solution, conveniently overlooking employment and housing policies that had historically marginalized the black population (Gilroy, 1987; Tompson, 1988). The social work profession faced a similar attack. Its image as a benign provider of welfare had already been attacked along class lines (Bailey and Brake, 1975), but increasingly its role in both the production and reproduction of racist ideology and practice was exposed. Dominelli (1988) in her book Anti-racist Social Work was unequivocal about both the extent of the problem and the necessary steps required to overcome it. Chapters One and Two are titled ‘Racism Permeates Social Work Ideology and Practice’ and ‘Social Work Training is imbued with Racism’ respectively, although her criticism was not of social work per se, just current practice. With effort, she believed that the profession could atone for past sins by incorporating ‘anti-racist’ practice. Seeing themselves as working within a caring profession and opposing social injustice, it was noted that many social workers and students found it difficult to come to terms with the possibility that they themselves may be perpetrating injustice through racist or sexist practices (Cooper, 1997; Penketh, 1998). As it developed, the term ‘anti-racism’ whilst still a discrete and specific term, in an acknowledgement of its egalitarian principles, and in an attempt to avoid the dilemma of creating a ‘hierarchy of oppressions’ embraced other areas of inequality, for example around sexuality, disability and age, leading to a focus on ‘anti-oppressive 287 288 CRITICAL SOCIAL POLICY 25(3) practice’ (AOP) (e.g. Dominelli, 1996; Macey and Moxon, 1996). AOP has been defined as A form of social work practice which addresses social divisions and structural inequalities in the work that is done with people whether they be users (‘clients’) or workers. AOP aims to provide more appropriate and sensitive services by responding to people’s needs regardless of their social status. AOP embodies a person centred philosophy; an egalitarian value system concerned with reducing the deleterious effects of structural inequalities upon people’s lives; a methodology focusing on both process and outcome; and a way of structuring relationships between individuals that aims to empower users by reducing the negative effects of social hierarchies on their interaction and the work they do together. (Dominelli, 1996: 170–1) The move to AOP has been both influenced and challenged by postmodernism and poststructuralism. Influences include a suspicion of grand narratives in favour of many competing narratives, power as operating at a variety of loci and the importance of language in constructing subjectivity (e.g. Philip, 1979; Parton, 1994). Challenge has come from postmodern writers (e.g. Fawcett et al., 2000) who argue that AOP’s tendency towards ‘oppositional discourses’ (e.g. oppression/emancipation; racism/anti-racism; masculinity/femininity) can in fact ‘often extend the very relations of domination that they are resisting’ (Fawcett and Featherstone, 2000: 13). However, they share the view of power as operating at a variety of levels which means that the concept of oppression can be widened. According to Doyle (1997: 8) child and ‘elder’ abuse and the mistreatment of dependent younger adults is at one end of the continuum of oppression with societal discrimination at the other . . . Oppression, whatever its form, has four essential components: the misuse of power, processes of objectification, the silence of witnesses and the entrapment or accommodation of witnesses. Oppression is here characterized as being the exploitation of difference, in the way Preston-Shoot (1995) uses the term. This differs from Singh’s (1996) focus on oppression as the ‘denial’ of difference (Trew, 2002). In these readings oppression is expanded from earlier notions where it meant the systematic denial of democratic rights to certain sections of society (for example, women and black people), to include interpersonal cases of abuse. MCLAUGHLIN—ANTI-OPPRESSIVE PRACTICE This concern with ‘minimising the power differences in society’ (Dalrymple and Burke, 1995: 3) is presented, not as a reaction to criticisms of anti-racist practice (ARP), but as a radical measure which moved ‘from the narrow, exclusive focus on racial oppression to a broader, more inclusive understanding of the links between various forms and expressions of oppression’ (Macey and Moxon, 1996: 309). It also broadened the scope of social work intervention. If oppression was operating at every level of society, including intimate interpersonal relationships, then the anti-oppressive social worker had licence to intervene, highlight and minimize such power imbalances. The case against ARP/AOP Having briefly sketched some of the influences on the move to AOP it is necessary to look at some of the criticisms that it has attracted. The focus will be on three main areas; firstly that AOP was ideologically driven and was itself oppressive, secondly that it focused on ‘trivial’ issues of language and terminology and thirdly that it was a top down divisive approach that was detrimental to the black struggle against racism. Finally, the AOP response to these issues is discussed and the concept of the ‘backlash’ problematized. Ideologically driven and oppressive Social work’s commitment to ARP/AOP was criticized for being ideologically driven by political zealots who would not accept deviations from the anti-racist doctrine, intimidating colleagues and students into a new conformity (e.g. Phillips, 1993, 1994; Pinker, 1993, 1999). According to Phillips (1994: 50) ‘the anti-racism taught to trainee social workers has nothing to do with promoting freedom and equality; rather it explicitly rejects such principles’. The idea that racism is all pervading is also ridiculed: ‘We do know that certain institutions have racist cultures, and that racial prejudice is a general problem. But it does not follow that all institutions behave in a prejudiced manner, such an assertion is little better than propaganda’ (Phillips, 1994: 50, emphasis in original). 289 290 CRITICAL SOCIAL POLICY 25(3) Other criticisms were that whilst the proponents of ARP/AOP insisted that all conduct must be anti-racist and anti-oppressive, it was of course left to them to decide not only what constituted racist or oppressive behaviour or language, but also what was the ‘anti’ in AOP/ARP (Pinker, 1999). Or as Webb put it Judgement, censure, righteousness and watchfulness – all of which must perforce attend anti-sexism and anti-racism if they are to succeed – are also the defining attributes of the ideal-typical puritan. To the puritan falls the heavy obligation of practising extreme strictness in matters of morals and a developed sensitivity to breaches in the correct code of behaviour or thought. (quoted in Pierson, 1999: 61) Those who demanded attention to such matters were labelled the ‘politically correct’ (PC) police, enforcers of the correct way of speaking and behaving. The danger of PC becoming a new middleclass way of moralizing to the poor was highlighted. According to Dent (1999: 28), the ‘PC police were swapping the pursed lips of “you should see the state of her kitchen” for the pursed rhetoric of “you should see her ideology”’ (emphasis in original). For Pinker, ‘A shamefully small number of social work academics raised objections to this pernicious nonsense [with the result that] The clientele of the social work profession – most of them poor and disadvantaged people – were once again short changed in the currency of welfare’ (1999: 19). It is of course disingenuous of Pinker to note how disadvantaged social welfare recipients are, whilst at the same time dismissing attempts to understand and to combat such a situation. However, both Pinker and Webb provide an appropriate cautionary note. If social work and social welfare have historically been an instrument for oppression and re-enforcing class, race or gender stereotypes, as proponents of AOP/ARP insist, then we should be careful not to uncritically embrace the contemporary moral consensus. Words not actions One criticism of AOP/ARP that tended to personify charges of political correctness was that it paid too much attention to language, for example in censoring certain words for their inappropriateness and lecturing people on their choice of terminology, thereby implying that changing the vocabulary of the nation would ease social inequal- MCLAUGHLIN—ANTI-OPPRESSIVE PRACTICE ity. This approach was exemplified by tabloid press sensationalism, but a more serious, if still jocular critique comes from one commentator I used to think I was poor. Then they told me I wasn’t poor I was needy. They told me it was self-defeating to think of myself as needy, I was deprived. They then told me deprived was a bad image, I was underprivileged. They told me underprivileged was over used, I was disadvantaged. I still haven’t got a dime. But I sure have a great vocabulary. (quoted in Philpot, 1999: 13) The point Philpot is making in using the quote is that raised awareness does not equate with improved material resources. Dropping ‘The Third World’ in favour of ‘The Developing World’ does not improve the quality of life or alleviate the hunger of the people living in poverty. The poor have more to be concerned with than ‘pedantic, linguistic niceties’ (Molyneux, 1993: 61), or as one Chief Executive put it, PC was ‘a long way from [service users’] day-to-day priorities’ (Dent, 1999: 37). Whilst this is the case, the very hostile reaction to the ‘obsession with words’ for its trivial nature exposes the reality that it is not trivial at all. Cameron (1995: 140) expresses her frustration at the self-contradiction inherent in those who get so inflamed about a ‘trivial’ issue, ‘“If the point is so trivial”, I want to tell this person, “please humour me by conceding it. If it really doesn’t matter what words we use, then let’s just do it my way and both of us will be happy”’. She is equally scathing of the implication in the previous quote that words do not on their own change the material circumstances of the poor. It wasn’t an either/or situation, for example either non-sexist language or equal pay for women. Women required both. And if forced into a binary choice, Cameron has no doubt that most women, herself included, would opt for the latter. However, the reduction of the campaign for equality to arguments over linguistic niceties led to a focus on administrative, not material, measures to combat inequality. As mass political movements receded there was left ‘a layer of intellectuals stranded in academia or cultural ghettos trying to continue the struggle by purely verbal means and falling over themselves to find linguistic wrongs to be linguistically righted’ (Molyneux, 1993: 59–60). Such measures inevitably took on an authoritarian edge as local authorities, including social workers, were charged with enforcing the ‘correct’ terminology. 291 292 CRITICAL SOCIAL POLICY 25(3) This is not to dispute the power of language. Indeed, the very use of the term ‘political correctness’ is illustrative of both the power and importance of language. As Thompson (2002: 94) notes, ‘The fact that “political correctness” has become a term of ridicule illustrates the basic point – the power of language to reinforce existing power relations’. The term can be utilized to justify the status quo, its very repetition enough to close off debate and absolve the speaker from having to defend their views or practices. A concern with language within social welfare is important, and the production, interpretation and reproduction of language are integral to social work, Its textual nature is demonstrated at every turn: the essays, process recordings, placement reports; the case records, applications, letters, case conference and court reports. From the process of applying to go on a training course, through the training programme itself, to the daily practice of ‘professional’ workers – social work is inescapably involved with the production and reception of text. (Turney, 1996: 2) Likewise, the role of discourse in identity formation, subjectivity and the construction of ‘reality’ in the form of ‘truth claims’ are important areas for consideration. According to Humphries (1997), discourses produce ‘truths’ and such ‘truths’ are necessary for the exercise of power. Whilst too much emphasis on discourse can be problematic, for example from a Marxist perspective human action precedes discourse, the recognition of the importance of discourse in not only reflecting but producing and reproducing social reality is an appropriate area of social and political investigation. However, it is also the case that the relationship between signifier and signified is not constant, but subject to various social and political influences which necessitates a critical stance in order that changes in the meaning of concepts and terms can be identified (Parker, 2002). In other words, what is classed as ‘anti-racist’ or ‘anti-oppressive’ will change historically and its meaning will be debated at each juncture. A divisive and top down approach The role of social work academics and professionals in the implementation of AOP has also been criticized for being driven from above, for being a ‘top down’ activity from a reformist political MCLAUGHLIN—ANTI-OPPRESSIVE PRACTICE tradition of engineering social change that was not owned by rank and file social workers, but rather was imposed on them from on high (Molyneux, 1993; Penketh, 2000). Penketh (2000: 129) notes how CCETSW’s policies contained a major contradiction CCETSW is a state agency, social work is a practice within which the dialectic of ‘care and control’ is crucial. Paper 30 denounced the endemic nature of racism in Britain and its institutional and structural nature, suggesting it was embedded in dominant social relations, and hence could not be removed until those social relations had been radically transformed. However, this is a revolutionary activity to the problem, and social work is not a revolutionary activity . . . She goes on to note that aspects of the job, for example probation, involve an element of controlling or ‘soft policing’ sections of the black community. Similar accusations can be made of mental health services (Skellington, 1996) and more recently in social work around immigration and asylum, with the government wanting social services to remove the children of failed asylum seekers into local authority care (Hayes and Humphries, 2004). For Sivanandan (1985: 15), the incorporation of black sections within the Labour Party and local government was not politically progressive as such people were ‘no more representative of black working people than the Labour Party is for white. In fact, black politics has to cease to be political for blacks to get into politics’. Sivanandan’s point is not only that the creation of a new black middle class does not necessarily improve the lot of black people in general, but also that this entails an accommodation with existing capitalist social relations which necessitates a more micro analysis of social power. This led to local government, including social service departments, promoting or effecting an anti-racism that emphasized a psychological or affective approach to combating racism, which rather than help matters actually degraded the black struggle against racism. Whilst Sivanandan was sensitive to the dangers of black activists being co-opted into the state machinery, his inability to pose a viable alternative has him at various times railing against the state and how it corrupts the well intentioned (1981/1982, 1985) whilst on other occasions arguing that such entryism is necessary and hopefully in 293 294 CRITICAL SOCIAL POLICY 25(3) such a process some are not corrupted (cited in Tompson, 1988: 101). For Jacoby (1999: 64) the corruption feared by Sivanandan became the reality, Once past the jabber about hegemony, difference and domination, this politics is defined by appointments and jobs, the not so revolutionary demand to be part of the university bureaucracy or the corporate world. In cruder terms, radical multiculturalists want more of their own people in the organization. This is fully understandable, but it is not radical, and it is barely political. It suggests patronage, not revolution . . . Once upon a time revolutionaries tried, or pretended to try, to make a revolution; they harboured a vision of a different world or society. Now dubbed radical multiculturalists, they apply for bigger offices. The move towards a celebration of cultural difference, of competing ethnicities, would lead to a dilution of the black struggle. Whereas racism divided communities, multiculturalism would further fragment them (Sivanandan, 1985; Malik, 1996). This is encapsulated in the endless etc. of difference, where an additional identity can be forever added, ‘Black women are treated differently from white women, lesbians are treated differently from heterosexual women, disabled women are viewed differently from able-bodied women, older women are viewed differently from younger women’ (Dalrymple and Burke, 1995: 8). And of course, black disabled women are treated differently from black able-bodied women and so on . . . . Such observations may be useful in the realm of interpersonal relations, but are problematic in trying to develop a form of collective consciousness for wider political change. The implication in this concept of ‘otherness’ is that differences are insurmountable, which can lead to a policy of cultural separation, for example in the debate over same race adoption (Molyneux, 1993). Of importance here is the question of who is charged with intervening and resolving these ever expanding categories of the oppressed. The change agent in these discourses is no longer the working class, and any notion of collective agency immediately encounters abuses of power within its ranks; the subjects of such oppression becoming too diffuse and weak to constitute historical agents of change. In such circumstances, it is invariably the state, whether in the guise of the government, police or social worker that is likely to be seen as the solution to the problem of oppression. MCLAUGHLIN—ANTI-OPPRESSIVE PRACTICE The backlash against AOP: myth or reality? The criticisms of ARP/AOP are likely to be dismissed as being part of a New Right backlash against progressive, egalitarian procedures that threaten the privileged power positions of a white, male dominated society (e.g. Dominelli, 2002; Penketh, 2000). For Dominelli (2002: 67) there was a ‘media orchestrated backlash against anti-racist social work’. She claims that anti-oppressive social work was deemed ‘a politically subversive operation’ that threatened the status quo and therefore was attacked by those opposed to social change, who questioned its relevance and effectiveness. Accusations of ‘political correctness’ were used to ridicule, denigrate and silence those seeking change. For Wise (1995: 106) the term ‘political correctness’ is ‘a catch-all and derisory term used to discredit all positive action against oppression’, whilst for Mullender (2003: xii), it is ‘the most damaging phrase in the English language [which] has been employed constantly, in a slick backlash reaction’ against social work’s mission to promote equality. According to Jones (1993: 9) ‘the right wing critics of social work’ have, with great tactical awareness and persistence pressed their campaign accusing ‘social work’s anti-racism as merely fashionable dogma of the lunatic left’. Whilst others (e.g. Alibhai-Brown, 1993; Humphries, 1993) liken the campaign against anti-racism to the anticommunist witch-hunts of post-war USA. Those opposed to AOP are said to be fearful of change, a fear that is ‘rooted in a loss of taken-forgranted privileges accorded to them through an inegalitarian social order’ (Dominelli, 1998: 11). It is certainly the case that the tabloid press of the late 1980s and early 1990s delighted in ridiculing many of the policies and practices of left wing councils, social work departments included. It is also the case that Virginia Bottomley, when Conservative Secretary of State for Health accused social work of being pre-occupied with ‘isms’ (racism, sexism, ageism, disablism etc.). And such criticisms did indeed have an effect on policy, with the appointment of Jeffrey Greenwood as chair of CCETSW in 1993. Whilst declaring his commitment to equal opportunities, Greenwood also pledged to rid social work training of ‘politically correct nonsense’ (quoted in the Independent, 28 August 1993). This led to a revised Paper 30 being published in 1995, with the explicit references to race and anti-racism being dropped. 295 296 CRITICAL SOCIAL POLICY 25(3) According to Singh (1996) as a result of this backlash there was a gradual reduction in institutional commitments to AOP. Even Penketh (2000) in an otherwise perceptive discussion of PC and social work is of the opinion that such a backlash took place. However, the concept of a ‘backlash’ is problematic. First, the extent of the ‘backlash’ is exaggerated. Tabloid sensationalism aside, more reasoned arguments against these developments were relatively rare. Invariably, it is the same articles by a small band of critics that are cited as representing the backlash; the journalists Melanie Phillips (1994) and Brian Appleyard (1993), plus social work academics Martin Davies (1985) and Robert Pinker (1993). (Davies’s critique, although aimed at the Radical Social Work movement of the 1970s, shares with the others a concern with the overt politicization of the profession.) It is of course correct to point out how the term ‘political correctness’ was used by the Right as a means of closing down debate, of avoiding criticism or of having to justify opinions or practices, however the term ‘backlash’ can serve the same purpose for the Left. Criticism can be dismissed as either part of the ‘New Right backlash’ or due to inherent racism or sexism. Whether the term used is ‘PC’ or ‘backlash’ the same statement is being made; ‘I no longer need to justify myself to you, you’re part of the a) loony left or b) racist/sexist right’ (delete as appropriate depending on which part of your argument you are no longer willing to debate). And however much the proponents of AOP/ARP may disagree with aspects of Sivanandan’s, Tompson’s, Malik’s, Molyneux’s and Jacoby’s arguments discussed above, they cannot easily be dismissed as elements of the New Right, the first three in particular being active at the time in grass roots anti-racist work which was not confined to the lecture theatre or word processor. CCETSW’s statement on anti-racism may have been dropped, nevertheless the revised Paper 30 still required students to, identify and question their own values and prejudices, and their implications for practice . . . respect and value uniqueness and diversity, and recognize and build on strengths [and] identify, analyse and take action to counter discrimination, racism, disadvantage, inequality and injustice, using strategies appropriate to role and context. (CCETSW, 1995: 18) MCLAUGHLIN—ANTI-OPPRESSIVE PRACTICE Despite the supposed ‘backlash’ CCETSW’s principles continued to be part of social work training programmes (e.g. see Mullender, 1995; MMU, 2003). However, it is worth questioning the current discourse in order to identify changing perceptions of oppression, the state and social worker. As defined by Dominelli (1988) the term ‘anti-racist’ is an unquestionable good, with the implication that rejecting her call or criticizing the method is merely the expression of covert racism. This assumes that language has a fixed meaning, being ‘an essentially transparent medium for the expression of truths’ (Turney, 1996: 8). However, this is not the case. For example, whilst the term ‘human rights’ can be seen as a laudable one which can oppose ethnocentrism (Dominelli, 2002; Singh, 2002), it has been argued that the term merely represents the new way in which western powers justify intervention in the developing world (Chandler, 2002; Sellars, 2002). Similarly, terms such as ‘anti-racism’ and ‘anti-oppression’ can be treated as logocentric, with little attention taken to analyse what the terms mean, and in what way their meaning has changed over time. It is by use of such a comparison that the contemporary problems of AOP can be best identified. The changing political and cultural landscape of the 21st century necessitates a critical analysis of terms that had their roots in a different climate. For example, talk of a ‘backlash’ indicates a failure to grasp how these ‘radical’ theories and practices are now embraced by most sections of the British establishment. The institutionalization of anti-racism As discussed above, CCETSW was accused of being infiltrated by ‘loony left’ political zealots using assertion and propaganda to exaggerate the extent of racism within British society. Today by contrast, many British institutions have acknowledged the depth of racism within their ranks. The Macpherson Report (Macpherson, 1999) into the death of black teenager Stephen Lawrence found the police guilty of institutional racism. The head of the Crown Prosecution Service is on record as admitting that his service is institutionally racist (Dyer, 2001). According to McKenzie (1999) institutional racism is at the very heart of health care practice. Another report has called for ministerial acknowledgement of institutional racism in the mental 297 298 CRITICAL SOCIAL POLICY 25(3) health service and a commitment to eliminate it (Blofeld et al., 2003). The editorial policies of leading medical science journals have also been accused of institutional racism for their failure to prioritize diseases of poverty that affect the developing world (Horton, 2003). The Royal College of Psychiatry and the Royal College of General Practitioners’ attempts to improve the nation’s mental health with their ‘Defeat Depression’ campaign were also criticized from within the profession for being institutionally racist (Bracken and Thomas, 1999). In a surreal development, one of the few organizations to deny charges of racism is the far right British National Party, one of whose members threatened to instigate legal action suing those who accuse him of being racist (Guardian, 25 February 2004, p. 3). The following day, it was reported that the Conservative MP Ann Winterton, had the party whip withdrawn for making a ‘joke’ about the tragic deaths of Chinese cockle pickers at Morecambe Bay earlier in 2004. Michael Howard, Conservative Party leader, issued a statement saying that, ‘Such sentiments have no place in the Conservative Party’ (Guardian, 26 February 2004, p. 11). Even football has been influenced, with Glen Hoddle, when England team manager, losing his job after making comments implying disabled people were paying for sins in past lives, whilst commentator and former club manager Ron Atkinson was sacked for racist remarks made when he believed he was off air. However much disdain we may feel for these two individuals, the response does not fit with the notion of an anti-PC backlash. As discussed earlier CCETSW’s 1991 statement that racism was endemic within British society sparked uproar. However, CCETSW’s ‘extreme ideology’ is now very much part of mainstream British society. Today, it is not only the social work profession that talks about endemic, institutional or unwitting racism, the police and judiciary are just as likely to make such a statement. Rather than causing a furore, declarations of endemic racism are widespread, and not the preserve of social work or ‘loony left’ councils. Such developments can be seen as long overdue recognition of systematic racial oppression within British society. However, when every agency is flying the anti-racist flag, including those agencies charged with upholding, both legislatively and physically ever more MCLAUGHLIN—ANTI-OPPRESSIVE PRACTICE punitive measures on immigrants and asylum seekers, it is time to view the contemporary anti-racist with a degree of scepticism. AOP: the politics of defeat AOP like its ARP predecessor was born, not from a confident belief in radical change, but from disillusionment with the prospect of wider social change. If it can be classed as political it is with a very small ‘p’, embracing personal over structural change. It is about ‘minimising the power differences in society’ (Dalrymple and Burke, 1995: 3). The power differences are seen as beyond resolution, so the best we can do is to minimize their impact. It also necessitates a re-conceptualization of the power and role of the state. Whereas Sivanandan (1985) and Tompson (1988) saw the role of the state as problematic, in that it upheld existing social relations that they saw as being ultimately responsible for racist ideology and practice, contemporary ARP/AOP views the state as a flawed but ultimately favourable referee, adjudicating between competing identity claims. The fragmentation of society and lack of collective consciousness has partly paved the way for this more benign view of the state. Where there has been a strong sense of collective solidarity the role of the state, including social welfare providers, is more likely to be viewed with suspicion (Popplestone, 1971; Bryant, 1973). Likewise, Gilroy’s (1987: 241) review of the inner city riots of the early 1980s notes that whilst not all of the riots followed the same pattern, they shared a suspicion of the state and resulted in part because of the authorities ‘violating the community’s right to control its own existence’. In contrast, the fragmentation of class struggle, the concomitant focus on identity and difference, of power as being diverse, beyond resolution and operating at a variety of levels, is more likely to problematize the public asking the state to intervene as neutral arbiter. For example, admissions of ‘institutional racism’ by public bodies such as the police tend to focus on individual police officers or the ‘canteen culture’ as the cause of the problem; racism/oppression being redefined as an interpersonal, cultural phenomenon rather than a questioning of the role of the police (Hume, 2003). Likewise, within social work there is evidence that social work students are more likely to correct service users’ language or attitudes 299 300 CRITICAL SOCIAL POLICY 25(3) than challenge wider issues (Collins et al., 2000; McLaughlin, 2003). Indeed, Dominelli (2002) sees the role of the AOP social worker as intervening in any ‘oppressive’ conversation they may overhear, with the back up of their employer if necessary (and presumably the police if the public fail to concede the argument to the AOP social worker). Conclusion There was undoubtedly a struggle to get issues of racism and other forms of oppression taken seriously during the 1980s and early 1990s. However, it is clear that the political landscape of the 21st century differs significantly from that time. Taking a stand against oppression in the past brought one into conflict with the state, which stood accused of promoting and benefiting from a society divided along class, race and gender lines. Today, the state and its institutions, increasingly sensitive to charges of discrimination along such lines, publicly acknowledge the charge and promise to take steps to eradicate it. In this sense the concept of a backlash against AOP within society in general and social work in particular is problematic. To be anti-racist or anti-oppressive today one need not view the state with any sense of suspicion. Indeed, anti-oppressive practice has allowed the state to reposition itself as a benign arbiter between competing identity claims. Perversely, given its aim to make the personal political, it has allowed the problems of society to be recast as due to the moral failings of individuals who need censure and correction from the anti-oppressive social worker. It is in this sense that social work is both political and personal. It is political in that social workers are gatekeepers to societal resources and have power over their clientele. However, in the sense that it is about fostering individual personal change and enforcing a new moral consensus from above, the anti-oppressive social worker is well placed for personally policing, not politically empowering the disadvantaged. References Alibhai-Brown, Y. (1993) ‘Social Workers Need Race Training Not Hysteria’, Independent 11 August. MCLAUGHLIN—ANTI-OPPRESSIVE PRACTICE Appleyard, B. (1993) ‘Why Paint so Black a Picture?’, Independent 4 August. Bailey, R. and Brake, M. (eds) (1975) Radical Social Work. London: Edward Arnold. Bebbington, A. and Miles, J. (1989) ‘The Background of Children Who Enter Residential Care’, British Journal of Social Work 19(5): 349–68. Blofeld, J., Sallah, D., Sashidharan, S., Stone, R. and Struthers, J. (2003) Independent Inquiry into the Death of David Bennett. Cambridge: Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire Strategic Health Authority. Bracken, P. and Thomas, P. (1999) ‘Psychiatry and Institutional Racism’, Open Mind No. 98(July/August): 14. Bryant, R. (1973) ‘Professionals in the Firing Line’, British Journal of Social Work 3: 161–74. CCETSW (Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work) (1989) Rules and Requirements for the Diploma in Social Work (Paper 30). London: CCETSW. CCETSW (Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work) (1991) One Step Towards Racial Justice (the Teaching of Anti-racist Social Work in Diploma in Social Work Programmes). London: CCETSW. CCETSW (Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work) (1995) Assuring Quality in the Diploma in Social Work: Rules and Requirements for the Diploma in Social Work (Revised Paper 30). London: CCETSW. Cameron, D. (1995) Verbal Hygiene. London: Routledge. Chandler, D. (2002) From Kosovo to Kabul: Human Rights and International Intervention. London: Pluto Press. Collins, S., Gutridge, P., James, A., Lyn, E. and Williams, C. (2000) ‘Racism and Anti-racism in Placement Reports’, Social Work Education 19(1): 29–43. Cooper, A. (1997) ‘Thinking the Unthinkable: “White Liberal” Defences Against Understanding in Anti-racist Training’, Journal of Social Work Practice 11(2): 127–37. Dalrymple, J. and Burke, B. (1995) Anti-oppressive Practice: Social Care and the Law. Buckingham: Open University Press. Davies, M. (1985) The Essential Social Worker. Aldershot: Gower. Dent, H. (1999) ‘PC Pathway to Positive Action’, pp. 27–41 in T. Philpot (ed.) Political Correctness and Social Work. London: IEA Health and Welfare Unit. Dominelli, L. (1988) Anti-racist Social Work. London: Macmillan. Dominelli, L. (1996) ‘Deprofessionalizing Social Work: Anti-oppressive Practice, Competencies and Postmodernism’, British Journal of Social Work 25: 153–75. 301 302 CRITICAL SOCIAL POLICY 25(3) Dominelli, L. (1998) ‘Anti-oppressive Practice in Context’, pp. 3–19 in R. Adams, L. Dominelli and M. Payne (eds) Social Work: Themes, Issues and Critical Debates. Basingstoke: Macmillan. Dominelli, L. (2002) Anti-Oppressive Social Work Theory and Practice. Basingstoke: Palgrave. Doyle, C. (1997) ‘Protection Studies: Challenging Oppression and Discrimination’, Social Work Education 16(2): 8–19. Dyer, C. (2001) ‘We’re Racist, Admits Prosecution Service Chief’, Guardian 27 July. Fawcett, B. and Featherstone, B. (2000) ‘Setting the Scene: An Appraisal of Notions of Postmodernism, Postmodernity and Postmodern Feminism’, in B. Fawcett, B. Featherstone, J. Fook, and A. Rossiter (eds) Practice and Research in Social Work: Postmodern Feminist Perspectives London: Routledge. Fawcett, B., Featherstone, B., Fook, J. and Rossiter, A. (eds) (2000) Practice and Research in Social Work: Postmodern Feminist Perspectives. London: Routledge. Francis, E. (1991) ‘Mental Health, Anti-Racism and Social Work Training’ in CCETSW (Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work) One Step Towards Racial Justice (the Teaching of Anti-racist Social Work in Diploma in Social Work Programmes). London: CCETSW. Gamble, A. (1988) The Free Economy and the Strong State. London: Macmillan. Gilroy, P. (1987) There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack: The Cultural Politics of Race and Nation. London: Hutchinson. Hayes, D. and Humphries, B. (eds) (2004) Social Work, Immigration and Asylum. London: Jessica Kingsley. Horner, N. (2003) What Is Social Work? Context and Perspectives. Exeter: Learning Matters. Horton, R. (2003) ‘Medical Journals: Evidence of Bias against the Diseases of Poverty’, Lancet 361: 712–13. Hume, M. (2003) ‘The Phoney Moral Crusade Against Racism’ []. Accessed 24 October 2003. Humphries, B. (1993) ‘Are You or Have You Ever Been . . .?’, Social Work Education 12(3): 6–8. Humphries, B. (1997) ‘Reading Social Work: Competing Discourses in the Rules and Requirements for the Diploma in Social Work’, British Journal of Social Work 27: 641–58. Jacoby, R. (1999) The End of Utopia: Politics and Culture in an Age of Apathy. New York: Basic Books. Jones, C. (1993) ‘Distortion and Demonisation: the Right and Anti-racist Social Work Education’, Social Work Education 12(3): 9–16. MCLAUGHLIN—ANTI-OPPRESSIVE PRACTICE Macpherson, W. (1999) The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry: Report of an Inquiry by Sir William Macpherson of Cluny. London: HMSO. McKenzie, K. (1999) ‘Something Borrowed from the Blues?’, British Medical Journal 318: 616–17. McLaughlin, K. (2003) ‘Student Use of Anti-racist Practice on Placement’, unpublished research paper for the Post-Graduate Certificate in Education (Higher Education), Manchester Metropolitan University. Macey, M. and Moxon, E. (1996) ‘An Examination of Anti-Racist and AntiOppressive Theory and Practice in Social Work Education’, British Journal of Social Work 26: 297–314. Malik, K. (1996) The Meaning of Race. London: Macmillan. MMU (2003) ‘Learning through Practice: Guidelines for Students and Practice Teachers’, Department of Social Work, Manchester Metropolitan University. Molyneux, J. (1993) ‘The Politically Correct Controversy’, International Socialism 61(Winter): 43–74. Mullender, A. (1995) ‘The Assessment of Anti-oppressive Practice in the Diploma in Social Work’, Issues in Social Work Education 15(1): 67–77. Mullender, A. (2003) ‘Foreword’, pp. xi–xii in N. Thompson, Promoting Equality: Challenging Discrimination and Oppression. Basingstoke: Palgrave. Parker, I. (2002) Critical Discursive Psychology. London: Palgrave. Parton, N. (1994) ‘“Problematics of Government”: (post) Modernity and Social Work’, British Journal of Social Work 24(1): 9–32. Penketh, L. (1998) ‘Anti-racist Policies and Practice: The Case of CCETSW’s Paper 30’, pp. 27–52 in M. Lavalette, L. Penketh and C. Jones (eds) Anti-racism and Social Welfare. Aldershot: Ashgate. Penketh, L. (2000) Tackling Institutional Racism: Anti-racist Policies and Social Work Education and Training. Bristol: Policy Press. Philip, M. (1979) ‘Notes on the Form of Knowledge in Social Work’, Sociological Review 27(1): 83–111. Phillips, M. (1993) ‘An Oppressive Urge to End Oppression’, Observer 1 August. Phillips, M. (1994) ‘Illiberal Liberalism’, pp. 35–54 in S. Dunant (ed.) The War of the Words: The Political Correctness Debate. London: Virago. Philpot, T. (1999) ‘Editor’s Introduction: The Modern Mark of Cain’, pp. 1–15 in T. Philpot (ed.) Political Correctness and Social Work. London: IEA Health and Welfare Unit. Pierson, J. (1999) ‘Social Work and Civil Society: the Mixed Legacy of Radical Anti-oppressive Practice’, pp. 50–63 in T. Philpot (ed.) Political Correctness and Social Work. London: IEA Health and Welfare Unit. Pinker, R. (1993) ‘A Lethal Kind of Looniness’, Times Higher Educational Supplement 10 September. 303 304 CRITICAL SOCIAL POLICY 25(3) Pinker, R. (1999) ‘Social Work and Adoption: a Case of Mistaken Identities’, pp. 16–26 in T. Philpot (ed.) Political Correctness and Social Work. London: IEA Health and Welfare Unit. Popplestone, G. (1971) ‘Ideology of Professional Community Workers’, British Journal of Social Work 1: 85–104. Preston-Shoot, M. (1995) ‘Assessing Anti-Oppressive Practice’, Social Work Education 14(2): 11–29. Sellars, K. (2002) The Rise and Rise of Human Rights. Stroud: Sutton Publishing. Singh, G. (1996) ‘Promoting Anti-racist and Black Perspectives in Social Work Education and Practice Teaching’, Social Work Education 15(2): 35–56. Singh, G. (2002) ‘The Political Challenge of Anti-racism in Social Care and Health’, pp. 72–81 in D.R. Tomlinson and W. Trew (eds) Equalising Opportunities, Minimising Oppression: A Critical Review of Antidiscriminatory Policies in Health and Social Welfare. London: Routledge. Sivanandan, A. (1981/1982) ‘From Resistance to Rebellion: Asian and AfroCaribbean Struggles in Britain’, Race and Class 23(2/3): 111–52. Sivanandan, A. (1985) ‘RAT and the Degradation of Black Struggle’, Race and Class 26(4): 1–33. Skellington, R. (1996) ‘Race’ in Britain Today, 2nd edn. London: SAGE. Syal, M. (1994) ‘PC: GLC’, pp. 116–32 in S. Dunant (ed.) The War of the Words: The Political Correctness Debate. London: Virago. Thompson, N. (2002) People Skills, 2nd edn. Basingstoke: Palgrave. Tompson, K. (1988) Under Siege: Racial Violence in Britain Today. London: Penguin. Trew, W. (2002) ‘Making a Difference? From Anti-racist to Anti-oppressive Practice in Social Work Education’, pp. 160–72 in D.R. Tomlinson and W. Trew (eds) Equalising Opportunities, Minimising Oppression: A Critical Review of Anti-discriminatory Policies in Health and Social Welfare. London: Routledge. Turney, D. (1996) The Language of Anti-racism in Social Work: Towards a Deconstructive Reading. London: University of London. Wise, S. (1995) ‘Feminist Ethics in Practice’, pp. 104–19 in R. Hugman and D. Smith (eds) Ethical Issues in Social Work. London: Routledge. Kenneth McLaughlin has been senior lecturer in social work at Manchester Metropolitan University since 2001. For the previous six years he worked as a mental health social worker for an inner city local authority. For his PhD he is researching perceptions of subjectivity within social work discourse. Recent publications include ‘Identities: Should We Survive or ❑ MCLAUGHLIN—ANTI-OPPRESSIVE PRACTICE Surpass Them?’ (Journal of Critical Psychology, Counselling and Psychotherapy (2003) 3(1): 48–58) and ‘Agency, Resilience and Empowerment: the Dangers Posed by a Therapeutic Culture’ (Practice (2003) 15(2): 45–58). Address: Department of Social Work, Manchester Metropolitan University, 799 Wilmslow Road, Didsbury, Manchester, M20 5WB, UK. email: ❑ 305
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Anti-Oppressive Social Work Practice



Anti-Oppressive Social Work Practice
A large part of social work practice is implementing anti-racist and anti-oppressive
practices. The social worker will provide assistance to both the dominant and minority groups.
Through anti-oppressive social work practice, the social worker is able to make positive changes
and challenge inequality. The social worker must understand and respond to the difficulties
experienced by certain groups in society. Social work practice is essential to making positive
changes in the lives of the oppressed and in understanding dominant group privilege. Social
workers have a duty to engage in anti-oppressive work in order to improve the lives of their
When there is a group in society who is considered the dominant group, it can result in
oppression. The dominant group receives all of the privileges in society and all of the
opportunities (McLaughlin, 2005). As a member of the dominant group, the citizen will have
advantages of the minority groups. Even within the advantage of the dominant group, not
everyone within the group will have the same level of privilege. In fact, within the dominant
group are people who are oppressed. The social worker must un...

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