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About this book

This book, by one of the leading theorists of social work, tackles a subject of crucial importance to students and practitioners alike: how social workers can enable their clients to challenge and transcend the manifold oppressions that disempower them (whether through poverty, disability, mental illness, etc.). It moves from a discussion of social work's purpose and ambitions to an exposition of theory and, from there, to the practice arenas of working with individuals, in groups, within organisations, and within a wider social and political context.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
Eradicating oppression and asserting their right to self-expression in a world that they control has become a key concern of peoples1 across the globe as they engage with one another to realise their hopes for a better tomorrow. Their demands for autonomy and empowerment, coupled with the creation of more egalitarian social relations amongst and between different populations, have challenged prevailing definitions of citizenship and participation within the nation-state, including its welfare component, and civil society (Dominelli, 2000). Together, these forces have had a major impact on the theories and practices of the caring professions, of which social work is one.
Lena Dominelli, Jo Campling

Chapter 1. Introducing Anti-Oppressive Theories for Practice

Abstract
Popular understandings of ‘oppression’ tally with dictionary definitions of the word as ‘the exercise of power in a tyrannical manner; the cruel treatment of subjects, inferiors; the imposition of unjust burdens’ (The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, Vol II, 1967, p. 1376). These definitions depict a binary division between peoples: those who oppress and those who are oppressed. And, they focus largely on the interpersonal interaction between these two groups. Useful as these insights into oppression are, they are inadequate for painting a full picture of oppression: how it works; how it is experienced; how it is reproduced; and how it might be resisted and eradicated.
Lena Dominelli, Jo Campling

Chapter 2. Oppression, Social Divisions and Identity

Abstract
Identity has been a major arena in which oppressive relationships have been elaborated. This is because identity is intricately bound up with people’s sense of who they are and who others are in relation to themselves. Connected to this is what they look like. Identity formation uses difference to mark one individual or group off from another. These differences can emanate from a number of sources including the physical, psychological and sociological terrains. However, identity differentiation picks up on these differences to distinguish one person or group from the others in an evaluative sense which usually sets one in a binary opposition to another. This allows one trait to be identified as superior or more desirable than another. Thus, differences become politicised by being used to differentiate between people on the basis of a superior-inferior polarity, creating borderlands that can be policed by those on both sides of the binary divide that is established between them.
Lena Dominelli, Jo Campling

Chapter 3. Anti-Oppressive Practice as a Legitimate Concern of Social Work

Abstract
Practitioners adopting neutral approaches to their professionalism have, like many amongst the general public, deemed tackling oppression a political activity best undertaken within the political arena controlled by politicians (see Culpitt, 1992) and of little concern to them except in their roles as citizens. This position is best represented by the maintenance school of social work (Davies, 1985) which often sees itself as in opposition to the views posited by those in the emancipatory one (Dominelli, 1997). Those in the latter support anti-oppressive social work and question the relegation of tackling oppression to electoral politics because oppressive relations can be practised within professional relationships and activities as well as outside these. Oppressive behaviours and practices perpetrated by professionals in their work with clients have been well documented in a range of professions including social work (Corrigan and Leonard, 1978; Dominelli, 1988; Dominelli and McLeod, 1989; Langan and Day, 1989; Morris, 1991), education (Swann, 1985) and health (Fernando, 1991; Boxer, 1998). These may be intentional or otherwise. But if their impact on either clients or co-workers is oppressive, intentionality is immaterial.
Lena Dominelli, Jo Campling

Chapter 4. Anti-Oppressive Practice in Action

Working with Individuals
Abstract
To successfully address issues of oppression, anti-oppressive interventions have to encompass social relations at the personal, organisational and cultural levels, although a social worker may concentrate a particular involvement primarily on one of these. Social workers tend to work with individuals and include others when it seems necessary. Thus, securing individual change by working with individuals in therapeutic relationships has been a key aspect of practice. Traditionalists or proponents of the maintenance school of social work have worked with individuals in the hopes of getting them to adopt accepted social norms, and pathologising them when their endeavours fail.
Lena Dominelli, Jo Campling

Chapter 5. Anti-Oppressive Practice in Action

Group Interventions and Collective Action
Abstract
Oppression individualises people in ways that isolate them and fragment their experience, leaving an individual feeling uncertain, without alternatives or incapable of taking action to change his or her situation. Coming together in groups is a major way of reversing this fragmentation. Realising their power within a group setting engaging in collective action can be a response that empowers an individual and enables him or her to work with others to redefine their state of being and develop a greater range of options within which to live. By coming together to enact power of relations, group dynamics enable people to enlarge the scope of activities within which they can accomplish their objectives. Where appropriate, social workers can assist in the process of mobilising people into collective entities that aim to improve their living environment and well-being as part of the normal process of their work.
Lena Dominelli, Jo Campling

Chapter 6. Engaging in Organisational Change

Abstract
Globalisation is having a substantial impact on the personal social services (Dominelli and Hoogvelt, 1996; Dominelli, 1999; Khan and Dominelli, 2000). Much of its impact on the social work profession has been articulated through the ‘new managerialism’, which has subjected welfare states in Western countries to market-oriented, regulatory regimes including that of becoming cost-effective businesses. The pressures emanating from market discipline have profoundly altered working relations in the welfare arena. These include having practitioners:
  • make better use of existing resources within a residual welfare framework;
  • target provision on those designated as the most deserving of poor people;
  • become more accountable for their use of resources, time and expertise;
  • exercise fiscal responsibility;
  • negotiate with a broader range of service providers; and
  • engage their clients more fully in the decisions made about their lives.
As organisations, voluntary sector welfare providers have become more business-oriented and the state’s role has focused primarily on purchasing services and, through that, enabling services to be created and accessed.
Lena Dominelli, Jo Campling

Chapter 7. Beyond Postmodern Welfare

Establishing Unity Between Content, Process and Outcomes
Abstract
Postmodern welfare values diversity but, in eschewing meta-narratives, it fragments and individualises society to produce atomised persons, each of whom looks after him or herself. Postmodern theorists argue that it is no longer possible to change society in substantial ways, if doing so relies on having a grand vision that requires meta-level analyses, changing macro-level structures or asking people to organise collectively to undertake change in these arenas. Consequently, providing welfare on an individual basis is inappropriate in an interdependent world, regardless of the tenets of neo-liberalism. In my view, postmodern welfare can be appropriated easily for profit-making by unaccountable entrepreneurs and the vagaries of the market. Postmodern critics of modern welfare states have engendered a sense of despair in people’s capacity to alter their environment, if it is based on dreams that seek to encompass everyone or encourage them to work in solidarity with each other.
Lena Dominelli, Jo Campling

Conclusions

Abstract
Anti-oppressive practice, with its commitment to egalitarian relations, is an important way of thinking about social work interventions in an inegalitarian world. Its aims of improving social relations for marginalised and excluded peoples and securing social justice within an egalitarian and democratic framework remain important, despite postmodern attempts to destabilise the relevance of these objectives for practice. Although their realisation is fraught with difficulties, their continued endorsement is crucial to social well-being at both individual and collective levels. Thus, continuing to pursue the objectives of anti-oppressive practice has to remain on the social work agenda for the foreseeable future.
Lena Dominelli, Jo Campling
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