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About this book

Social Workers in Australia are increasingly called upon to work across social differences in ways that promote social justice and challenge growing inequity, and anti-oppressive practice has been put at the heart of qualifying programmes. In this exciting new collection, some of Australia’s leading social work academics explore working across so-called human differences within the context of contemporary social work.

By drawing on the insights and theories of people who have been positioned as ‘different’, the authors use practice vignettes and original data to provide ways to join theory and practice, with a primary focus on thinking about how to change patterns of social difference.

Whether a social work student or an experienced practitioner, Working Across Differences is essential reading for anyone who values anti-oppressive practice and social justice.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

Social work practice is implicated not only in the discounting of Aboriginal knowledge and an unwillingness to learn from it but also in the destructive intervention in the lives of generations of Indigenous Australians (Bennett, 2015; Briskman, 2016). Working across difference with Australia’s First Peoples requires urgent attention. Accordingly, the book includes several chapters written by or with Indigenous Australians. These chapters are not presented as ‘the’ Aboriginal perspective but offer insight into the experience of multiple ‘differences’ in settings as diverse as academia, health, community and violence against women services. For non-Indigenous (white) readers these chapters provide an opportunity to listen and learn from Indigenous Australians, from a position of cultural humility.
Donna Baines, Bindi Bennett, Susan Goodwin, Margot Rawsthorne

Aboriginal Perspectives


2. Invisible from the Start: Australian Aboriginal People’s Experiences of Difference and Aboriginal Community-Controlled Organisations

This chapter explores experiences of Aboriginal people’s experience of being ‘othered’ in Australia, since the time of invasion/colonisation, focusing on the invisibility of their knowledges, which has continued through to invisibility and diminishment of Aboriginal community-controlled organisations. We propose some practice strategies that social workers may consider in shifting this ground. Recognising that practice changes need to go hand in hand with policy changes, nonetheless for the purposes of this chapter our focus is predominantly practice and organisational-level insights.1 We recognise, too, the similarities between the many forms of racist and colonialist oppression in Australia, which are both multiple and intersecting (Collins and Bilge, 2016; Mattsson, 2014; Moreton-Robinson, 2004). In light of what we see as the particular invisibility of Aboriginal people’s contribution and experiences we elected to exclusively address their experiences.
Donna Baines, Bindi Bennett, Susan Goodwin, Margot Rawsthorne, Sigrid Herring, Jo Spangaro

3. Transforming Classrooms: Developing Culturally Safe Learning Environments

A culturally safe learning environment is where all learners believe and feel competent in talking about and promoting diversity with their cohort, and extends to within professional and personal spheres. This process is especially critical if most of the students are white (Williams, 1999). Academics (curriculum development, research and lecturing) must possess a deep understanding of issues impacting on First Nations students, their families and their communities. Privileging students’ voices in the learning environment is a way forward to emancipatory education and offers self-determining learning opportunities.
Donna Baines, Bindi Bennett, Susan Goodwin, Margot Rawsthorne, Mareese Terare

4. Ownership and Protection of Aboriginal Knowledge: Academic Response and Responsibility

The normative pronoun ‘she’ is used throughout this chapter but many of the comments and ideas refer to both male and female Aboriginal people. The chapter is written from a cisgendered Aboriginal woman’s viewpoint.
Donna Baines, Bindi Bennett, Susan Goodwin, Margot Rawsthorne

Critical Perspectives on Cultural Difference


5. Islamophobia and Social Work Collusion

In Australia anti-Muslim sentiment, commonly known as Islamophobia, has taken hold, driven by a convergence of actors in political, public and media spheres. Thinly disguised strategies of ‘social cohesion’ laws, particularly ‘anti-terrorism’ laws, are incrementally put in place, justified on the grounds of ‘national security’ and compounded by policies that align with national security perspectives. Australia’s anti-terror laws were enacted as a response to attacks in the United States on September 11, 2001 and subsequent attacks in Europe. Academic lawyer George Williams states (2011, p. 1137) that the laws were cast as a temporary, emergency reaction. However, he argues that Australia’s anti-terror laws can no longer be cast as a transient, short-term response. This reflects the assessment of the Australian government and its agencies that terrorism remains a persistent threat.
Donna Baines, Bindi Bennett, Susan Goodwin, Margot Rawsthorne, Lobna Yassine, Linda Briskman

6. Pushing Back against Stereotypes: Muslim Immigrant Women’s Experiences of Domestic Violence

Violence against women has pervasive and traumatic effects on all women’s lives. For victims from immigrant backgrounds, the situation can often be more complex. Despite this complexity, there has been little effort until recently to address domestic violence within the immigrant communities in Australia (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2013). Studies examining the experiences of abused Muslim immigrant women in Australia are especially limited, despite Muslim Australians being one of the fastest growing minority groups in the country.
Donna Baines, Bindi Bennett, Susan Goodwin, Margot Rawsthorne, Nafiseh Ghafournia

7. Working with Cultural Differences: Teaching First-Year Undergraduate Students to Unpack Unjust Power

Society is complex – made up of complex individuals, families and communities. The way in which society is structured is shaped, in part, by the way that we collectively draw meaning to objects that, in turn, prescribe our values, beliefs, ideals and practices. How we interpret and place meaning on certain activities can also be complicated by the diverse relations of social life that pervade and construct our sense of belonging and purpose. This includes perceived differences based on gender, religion, sexuality, language, ability, class, ethnicity and other diverse categories, situations and circumstances. How do we then, as a society, create fair and just communities that support such diversity and differences for individuals and families to feel like they belong? And how is this contrasted against dominant discourses that continue to uphold hegemonic values and belief systems that suppress difference, ignore inequity and devalue critical discourse social work practice, policy and research? This chapter will explore the possibilities to shift the way that social work educators promote scope, in order to better assist tertiary students to develop a greater insight and understanding of their own position on working with cultural differences, while simultaneously challenging sites of ignorance and unjust power. It is hoped that the practices discussed here can also be helpful to those working in community development or providing workshops and presentations on diversity and social justice. This content will also be useful to front-line practitioners in terms of providing a language and concepts and activities that will be useful in addressing difference and inequity in ways that engage communities, students, service users and educators in generating more socially just practices. Key theories such as deconstructionism are highlighted, as well as the need to create transformational learning environments that promote social justice education. An innovative approach to promoting undergraduate engagement will be presented and unpacked in order to provide an example of transformative education. This engagement strategy includes the use of a social media platform to encourage students to be more mindful of their own positionality, while encouraging wider engagement with fellow learners within face-to-face teaching.
Donna Baines, Bindi Bennett, Susan Goodwin, Margot Rawsthorne, Jioji Ravulo

Critical Perspectives On Gender Difference


8. Allyship and Social Justice: Men as Allies in Challenging Men’s Violence and Discrimination against Women

Confronting and ending oppression against marginalised and minoritised peoples is at the heart of social justice-oriented social work practice. Developing a critical understanding of power and oppression and enacting social change aimed at challenging structural factors that contribute to oppression are integral to the core mandates of the social work profession (International Federation of Social Workers, 2014). Different ways of challenging oppression are therefore of significant interest to social workers. The allyship model of social justice offers social workers a meaningful way of engaging with anti-oppressive practices that help address privilege and interrupt oppression. In this chapter I will introduce the idea of allyship from a social justice perspective and illustrate it through the example of men allies working with a profeminist framework to challenge men’s violence and discrimination against women (MVDAW). I have chosen this example because this is a political position I am committed to, and because of my experiences of working against sexual and gender-based violence. Social workers can apply the core ideas of allyship to diverse contexts. I will occasionally discuss illustrative examples drawn from my personal and professional experiences. My purpose in doing so is not to communicate that my understanding of feminist issues is wholesome or that my politics is perfect. On the contrary, I hope the imperfect and evolving nature of my politics will become apparent in my sharing of these examples. I will discuss some of the salient aspects of allyship in this context, and argue that politicisation of allyship practices is important to meaningfully serve a feminist agenda. I should add that gender-based violence is a broad subject, and in this chapter I only focus on men – cisgender men, in particular – in addressing discrimination and violence against women. Men perpetrate violence and discrimination against women as well as against people of diverse gender identities including transgender and genderqueer. I acknowledge that efforts to prevent and address gender-based violence have historically been led by women and people of diverse gender identities who have had to unfairly and disproportionately shoulder the weight of experiencing such violence and discrimination, educating others about it, and working to end it.
Donna Baines, Bindi Bennett, Susan Goodwin, Margot Rawsthorne, Alankaar Sharma

9. Women and Older Age: Exploring the Intersections of Privilege and Oppression Across Lifetimes

In neoliberal social and policy contexts there are many areas of concern for critical social workers and others promoting social justice. Our focus on the intersections of privilege and oppression across women’s lifetimes arises from growing evidence of disturbing inequalities based on class, gender, race and other structural factors that accumulate for women in older age (see, for example, Asquith, 2009; Carr et al., 2015; Hooyman et al., 2002; Lui et al., 2011). Inequalities and disadvantage encompass a range of factors which, over a lifetime, can alter significantly to shape life experiences such as in the areas of income, economic (in)security, caring responsibilities, access to health care, as well as the impacts of racism, sexism and heterosexism. In neoliberal societies such as Australia alongside the social impacts of ageism for both women and men (Hastings and Rogowski, 2015; Maidment and Macfarlane, 2011), older women are increasingly experiencing concerning levels of poverty, housing insecurity and marginalisation as indicated by recent research (see Australian Human Rights Commission, 2009; Hetherington and Smith, 2017; Committee for Economic Development of Australia, 2015; and the Australian Council of Social Service, 2015 submission to the Australian government’s Retirement Incomes Inquiry).
Donna Baines, Bindi Bennett, Susan Goodwin, Margot Rawsthorne, Tina Kostecki, Selma Macfarlane

10. Uncovering Games of Truth: A Collaborative Exploration of the Ways Transgender and Non-Binary Young People Access Health Care and Support

The project is a collaboration with three workers, Amy Harper, Sekneh Hammoud-Beckett and Rebecca Howe, and a number of young people with lived trans and non-binary experience connected through a youth service. We made a group agreement that no identifying information would be used to protect the privacy of these young people. As workers, we all share an emphasis on honouring the knowledge of the young people we support. As Pease (2013) is conscious of writing about challenging heterosexism from within the dominant position of a straight man who benefits from heterosexual privilege, we are conscious of writing about trans and non-binary people as workers who benefit from our access to cis privilege. However, like Pease (2013), we also see the ‘problems with silence’ (p. 129) and agree that it should not only be people who designate their own gender who deconstruct cisgenderism. Collaborating has extended our practices and nourished us as workers.
Donna Baines, Bindi Bennett, Susan Goodwin, Margot Rawsthorne, Rebecca Howe, Amy Harper, Sekneh Hammoud-Beckett

Critical Perspectives on Normality and Difference


11. Accepting My Illness? Problematising the Claims of Mental Health Anti-Stigma Efforts

Historically, to be deemed mentally ill has carried the consequence of a highly marginalised social positioning; mental illness has been a marker of social difference often coupled with a range of negative circumstances, including social isolation and unemployment, alongside despair and hopelessness about probable life outcomes (Hansson, 2006). In an attempt to reduce the stigma attached to mental illness, and to address the marginalisation of people labelled as mentally ill, contemporary mental health community education campaigns have focused their attention on a major reframing of mental illness – not as an experience to be hidden or ashamed of but as a common occurrence, which can affect people of all backgrounds and across all contexts. Examples of such education efforts include Australia’s beyondblue Ambassador program, in which famous sporting and entertainment personalities share their stories of mental illness in order to ‘raise awareness and reduce stigma’ and ‘provide messages of hope and encouragement to others’ (Beyond Blue, 2016); and the United Kingdom’s Time to Talk campaign, aimed at generating ‘thousands of conversations about mental illness’ within schools, workplaces and communities, in order to ‘end discrimination and change attitudes and behaviour’ (Time to Change, 2017). These shifts in the public conversation about mental illness are often seen as deeply embedded in social justice principles – for example, the hopelessness and fear of societal rejection that has traditionally surrounded mental illness is replaced with a reassurance that compassionate help and effective treatments are available, combined with a message that recovery from mental illness is possible. As anti-stigma education efforts are becoming increasingly commonplace and influential in shaping both community and professional understandings of difference, it is necessary for human service professionals to understand both their strengths and their limitations in transforming the social positioning of people diagnosed with mental illness. Within this chapter, critical mental health theory, the ideas of Mad activists and the voices of people with lived experience of mental illness diagnosis are drawn on to explore the key assumptions contained within education campaigns designed to ‘de-stigmatise’ mental illness, in order to address the complexities of working across difference within mental health policy and practice contexts.
Donna Baines, Bindi Bennett, Susan Goodwin, Margot Rawsthorne, Emma Tseris

12. Supported Employment and Social Inclusion: An Analysis from the Perspective of People with Intellectual Disabilities

A growing literature explores and problematises the social inclusion of people with disabilities. This chapter draws on data collected for a thesis of Master of Social Work in the University of Sydney. The data was collected in February 2017. The purpose of the research was to investigate supported employment for people with intellectual disability in order to explore whether this form of employment promoted social inclusion, particularly forming social relations and undertaking community participation.
Donna Baines, Bindi Bennett, Susan Goodwin, Margot Rawsthorne, Barbara Soares e Madureira

Policy Work Across Difference


13. Feminist Gains Lost: Public Policy and the ‘Genericising’ of Women Survivors of Domestic Violence

Feminist activists and policy advocates in Australia have been highly successful politicising the distinctive needs of women and have advocated for gendered policy analyses of a wide range of issues. This kind of work has led to the development of a raft of new policies and services for women – often referred to as women’s policies and women’s services. One of the areas where feminist policy development has been key to improve the lives of women has been in relation to gender-based violence, and Australian feminists, or ‘femocrats’ (Sawer, 2007), were pioneers in establishing policies that assured services and resources were made available to survivors of domestic violence.
Donna Baines, Bindi Bennett, Susan Goodwin, Margot Rawsthorne, Susan Heward-Belle

14. Who Can Argue with Blue Sky? The Questionable Alliance between Difference and the Market in Disability Policy

A central debate in social policy in the twenty-first century is managing the tensions between collective and equity-based approaches and responses which attend to individual needs, recognising differences between people and the contexts impacting on life. One-size-fits-all approaches in providing economic and social support and sustenance can appear equitable but hide an uneven distribution of resources and create support systems driven by their own imperatives rather than those they are supporting. In relation to disability, this trend has been particularly marked with dramatic changes in a number of countries regarding the way in which support is funded and controlled (Glasby et al., 2009; Green and Mears, 2014; Hutchison et al., 2006; Laragy et al., 2015). The development of consumer-directed and consumer-controlled care in disability policy represents a significant paradigm shift, from services receiving funding and monitored to meet targets and outcomes to (in principle at least) funding and decision making about who provides support and how now resting with the person living with disability. This shift appears to represent a greater level of attention to difference and diversity as policy and funding is reshaped to place individual needs and preferences at the centre of decision making (this idea underpins person-centredness).
Donna Baines, Bindi Bennett, Susan Goodwin, Margot Rawsthorne, Amanda Howard

15. Collisions between the State and the Evil Spirit: Home Care in Indigenous Communities

This study started with Frank Wang’s long-term friendship with the Tao nurse Si Yabosokanen, who devotes her life to elder care for Tao people. Based on the trust between Wang and Yabosokanen, Wang’s student, Sheng-Pei Tsai, was able to conduct her fieldwork and finish her master’s thesis. This chapter is written by Wang based on data collected by Tsai. Wang, a Han Chinese gay man, holds a position as a critical activist scholar and a social work educator, honouring the person’s experience, perspective and strengths, and developing critical reflection for collective actions. Tsai, a Taiwanese woman and Social Work master’s student, developed her passion for Indigenous people during her college years. Being aware of our privileged position as academics and Han Chinese, the authors continue to learn to listen to the unspoken and unheard voices of the Tao people with openness and modesty. As non-Indigenous activist researchers, we position ourselves as partners with the Tao communities to honour their perspectives and strengths in order to produce alternative discourses that challenge the colonial relations. Our study is an invitation to you as practitioners, researchers and students to enter the world of the Tao people, whose culture and perspective are systematically ignored and stigmatised by the state, and daily practices of front-line workers are excluded as illegal acts. Reframing these acts as creative and important resistance to the colonial relations among the Tao workers is the key to future transformation, a gift that we as academic can and should contribute in the process of future change.
Donna Baines, Bindi Bennett, Susan Goodwin, Margot Rawsthorne, Frank T.Y. Wang, Sheng-Pei Tsai

Resistances and Reflections


16. Concepts, Theories and the Politics of Difference: A Discussion of Select Terms

The critical interrogation of taken-for-granted terms, concept and categories has been central to social justice politics: what people, things, places and institutions are labelled, and by whom, has been shown to matter. Indeed, the chapters in the book attest to the significance of knowledge and knowledge practices in shaping experiences of difference and inequity. This chapter provides an opportunity to interrogate and elaborate some of the key concepts that are used in the project of working across difference. In this chapter, I have assembled a selection of related concepts and ideas in use in the book to consider where they have come from and the work they do in establishing ways of thinking about difference and inequity. The idea is to explore ‘how, when and why they emerged and became popular’ (Talburt and Lesko, 2012, p. 11) and to discuss how they link to knowledge practices in social work and social policy more broadly.
Donna Baines, Bindi Bennett, Susan Goodwin, Margot Rawsthorne, Susan Goodwin

17. Afterword: Resistance, White Fragility and Late Neoliberalism

Xenophobia, anti-immigrant backlash and racism are an increasingly present aspect of our society and growing more acute in the context of more than 30 years of neoliberalism, rising disparity between rich and poor countries, and growing polarisation between the rich and poor within most nations. Some have termed this era ‘late neoliberalism’ and associated it with permanent austerity and the inter-group tensions that are exacerbated by inadequate resources for social programs and supports, a weak economy, growing unemployment and social explanations that blame the victims of policies that vilify those who cannot compete successfully in the unregulated private market (Evans and Albo, 2010; Peck, 2010; Pierson, 2002).
Donna Baines, Bindi Bennett, Susan Goodwin, Margot Rawsthorne, Donna Baines, Fran Waugh
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