Social Worker Anti-Oppressive Term Paper

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Anti-Oppressive Social Work

Social workers encounter a large number of people who have been marginalized in society, people who are formed by degrees of oppression and who must cope with the results of oppression in their lives every day. Burke and Harrison (1998) state that as social workers, "we have a moral, ethical and legal responsibility to challenge inequality and disadvantage (p. 229) and note that the profession as traditionally made this effort by drawing upon such disciplines as psychology, sociology, history, philosophy, and politics. Recognizing the source of oppression is a good beginning, and when the social worker cannot change the nature of the oppression because it is too widespread and too firmly entrenched, the goal would be to help the client cope.Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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Term Paper on Social Worker Anti-Oppressive Assignment

Burke and Harrison (1998) further note their intention to consider "how a theorized social work practice informed by anti-oppressive principles can be sensitively and effectively used to address the inequalities of oppression that determine the life chances of service users" (p. 229). The authors set out first to define anti-oppressive practice and note how the issue has been debated by a number of theorists for some time. They state that anti-oppressive practice should be seen as a dynamic process "based on the changing complex patterns of social relations" (p. 231). Certain principles have been formulated for anti-oppressive practices and set forth by Clifford (1995), beginning with recognizing social differences, with the major divisions found in terms of race, gender, class, sexual preferences, disability, age, religion, region, mental health, and single parenthood. These can combine and interact and so make understanding oppression a complex issue. Another aspect of understanding is to link the personal and the political by reviewing personal biographies in light of social systems including the family, peer groups, organizations, and communities. The concept of power has to be considered and can be seen as operating at the personal and structural levels. The historical and geographical location of the individual places the individual in a specific time and place and gives meaning to their experiences. The element of reflexivity and mutual involvement involves "the continual consideration of how values, social difference and power affect the interactions between individuals" (Burke & Harrison, 1998, p. 232).

Dominelli (2002) notes that for anti-oppressive practice to provide appropriate and sensitive services, it must embody a person-centered philosophy and an egalitarian value system. Dominelli also cites the need for "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" (p. 3). Social workers, of course, work in an environment that is constrained by financial, social, legislative, and organizational policies and so face "conflicting and competing demands on their personal and professional resources" to which they can respond with the use of anti-oppressive principles (Burke & Harrison, 1998, p. 232).

One area of social work and oppression that has been given much attention involves the population of women, with part of the criticism deriving from more general issues of discrimination against women. This became evident in the 1980s, especially to feminist social workers. The women's movement emerged alongside social work and was shown to be increasingly critical of its narrow analytic framework and its restricted approach to practice (Langan & Lee, 1989). At the time, the radical social work movement was male-dominated and was also often insensitive to some of the basic realities of the world of social work, such as the fact that the large majority of both clients and workers are women (Brook & Davis, 1985).

Day (1992) notes the nature of the issue when she writes,

Any consideration of the experiences of women as social work clients and workers should not proceed without examining the intersections between racial, class and gender oppression (p. 12).

The black feminist critique differs somewhat but recognizes the junction between race, gender, and social class more readily, also analyzing racism in terms of an understanding of the shared history of oppression as experienced by black people from different parts of the world and specifically "the ways in which the British state and its institutions continue to reproduce racist oppression" (Day, 1992, p. 17).even this recognition has created some tensions in the movement as some see any emphasis on black women and their oppression as excluding many other groups. In the broadest sense, though, an anti-oppression social work can and must take all the different groups into account, detailing specific oppression in terms of specific groups, but being generally anti-oppression toward all.

Critiques of social work and social work practice tend to focus on some specific aspect of oppression for specific populations, though, as when Holton (1992) notes how child abuse and neglect specialists often do not understand the effects of social structural oppression and inequalities on black families, which can in turn cause social workers to oversimplify the fact that blacks are overrepresented among their clients. As Gitterman (2001) notes,

Without regard to social structural inequalities, racial incidence differences can be interpreted as a sign of disproportionate dysfunctionality or pathology in black families, or these differences can be misinterpreted to be influences of black culture (p. 387).

In terms of preventing child abuse specifically, Holton (1992) makes a number of recommendations indicating an anti-oppression stance, including using elders as key resources, extending family participation and influence, using the expressive and visual arts for outreach and retention, giving equal emphasis to male- and female-oriented programs, and incorporating religious elements and spirituality to engage community members.

Egan and Maidment (2004) consider the issue and explain the nature of the oppression that is seen in much social work practice and the anti-oppressive practices that can replace it when they write,

Anti-oppressive practice entails workers both acknowledging and challenging these three levels of oppression- -- structural, cultural and personal- -- in their daily practice. This understanding is incorporated into social work and welfare practice with clients by actively using strategies to bring about change at all three levels. Workers who are anti-oppressive in their practice recognize that they themselves may reproduce oppressive practices which need to be challenged. Similarly, they will also recognize that the agency mandate under which they operate maybe oppressive (p. 6).

These authors also note the specifics of the issue in Australia, where one population that is often disadvantaged consists of the Aboriginal people who suffer from "lower live expectancy, higher rates of hospital admissions, lower levels of education and qualification attainment, and greater levels of imprisonment compared to the non-Indigenous populations" (p. 10).

This issue has been addressed by others as well. Shulman (1992) recommends that the social worker make preparation for practice by tuning in to the feelings of clients, which means more than considering the individual when dealing with indigenous populations, for it also means tuning in to their communities. Egan and Maidment (2004) note that working with people from these communities is difficult and requires new skills, though the complexities involved are no reason not to do wall that can be done to achieve the most possible. They further recommend,

It is imperative that practitioners do not assume that worldviews held by the mainstream population will also apply to Indigenous communities, as there may be fundamental differences between them. Differences may exist in any of the following areas: child-rearing practices; conception and enactment of behavior management; relationship to land, spirituality, (extended) family, sharing patterns and obligation among relatives/kin; individual freedoms and autonomy; and communication styles (body language, questioning, nonverbal signs)(p. 56).

In Australia, a number of Aboriginal feminists have criticized mainstream feminism for being culturally unaware and for making inappropriate assumptions about family structure and the importance of gender for identity over ethnicity (Pine, 1996). An anti-oppressive social work must recognize where such differences have power and how much needs to be understood to be sensitive to the needs of oppressed populations. Social workers know how difficult it can be to get a battered woman to report her problem to the police, for a numb ed of reasons, but it can be even more difficult for a woman from a population where there is a cultural restriction on making a complaint. In some populations, such reluctance may derive from colonial history when the police were allied with an invading power. As Egan and Maidment (2004) state, "Any domestic violence risk assessment with an Aboriginal woman needs to ensure that the priorities that emerge from this process are appropriate and based on cultural awareness" (p. 135).

Burke and Harrison (1998) note that for the social worker, what is needed it "to examine the range of evidence used in decision-making, asking questions about why any one piece of evidence is given more weight than another" (p. 237). Part of the task for the social worker is to address the conflict between power and powerlessness, and again this requires being able to recognize the different forms of power and its effects on the community. As Burke and Harrison (1998) write,

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APA Style

Social Worker Anti-Oppressive.  (2006, November 26).  Retrieved February 28, 2021, from

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"Social Worker Anti-Oppressive."  November 26, 2006.  Accessed February 28, 2021.