Skip to main content

About this book

For years anti-discriminatory and anti-oppressive practice have been embedded in the social work landscape. Thinking beyond the mainstream approaches, this book critically examines some of the core concepts and issues in social work, providing fresh perspectives and opportunities for educators, students and practitioners of social work.

Table of Contents

Introduction: Rethinking Anti-Discriminatory and Anti-Oppressive Practice in Social Work; Time for New Paradigms?

Introduction: Rethinking Anti-Discriminatory and Anti-Oppressive Practice in Social Work; Time for New Paradigms?

The concepts of anti-discriminatory practice (ADP) and anti-oppressive practice (AOP) have been part of the social work landscape since the late 1970s. Learning how to be effective in promoting ADP and AOP are essential and fundamental areas within social work education, practice and research. These terms are embedded within the language used to describe the values underpinning social work practice, but, whilst once they may have offered an alternative critique of individual and societal relationships, they have now become part of ‘status-quo’ thinking, and have long since lost their political edge. Substantial structural changes, various cultural shifts, new social movements and contemporary contests from within the critical tradition of social work continue to challenge the core assumptions of social work theory and practice to develop new thinking (Healy, 2000; Powell, 2001). These evolutions have given rise to a relatively small, yet consistent and developing voice in academia, arguing for social work to think beyond the mainstream and to critique existing approaches (e.g. McLaughlin, 2005; Ferguson, 2007a; Millar, 2008; Ferguson and Woodward, 2009; Hicks, 2009, 2011; Brown and Cocker, 2011; Featherstone and Green, 2010). It is timely to look again at how social work understands the complexity of human experience and to explore different theoretical discourses to challenge assumptions and values.
Christine Cocker, Trish Hafford-Letchfield



1. Social Work Identity, Power and Selfhood: A Re-Imagining

Power, in social work, has been conceptualised through the application of particular narratives about selfhood. For example, the concept of antidiscriminatory social work practice relates to areas of difference in the individual (Thompson, 1993). In this area of scholarship, differences such as those brought about by gender, sexual identity, culture and race, disability, class, age and other aspects of identity are manifest in the exchange between social workers and their clients (Thompson, 1993). This chapter focuses on power, social work identity and selfhood. It is in understanding selfhood and identity as it relates to power and inequality in social work that new theoretical positions can emerge which help to critically frame and account for structural and individual oppression. As it stands, a critical and robust notion of selfhood is missing from existing social work literature (Dunk-West, 2013b). In this chapter, I propose that the Foucauldian appreciation of power, alongside the generative self offered by George Herbert Mead, have much to offer in developing a social work understanding of selfhood. In combining these theoretical traditions, we can re-imagine the social work role in relation to inequality and oppression. Despite the historical and geographical divide between Foucault and Mead, as we shall see, there are many synergies between what we might term the poststructural self and the Meadian perspective which is often aligned with symbolic interactionism.
Priscilla Dunk-West

2. Judith Butler, Power and Social Work

This chapter explores some of the key ideas from Judith Butler’s work. The aim is not to present a template for how to practise, as Butler would balk at this. She rejects totalising categories such as those embraced in social movements rooted in identity politics (for example, women in early feminist activism), seeing such movements as unable to capture/represent the experience of all within them or to respond adequately to changing situations. Were Butler writing for a social work audience, she would seek to deconstruct categories such as ‘black’, ‘woman’, ‘self’ and ‘Other’ and challenge us to question routinely accepted beliefs that may do unseen and unacknowledged harm. She is not an easily accessible writer, but she is thought-provoking.
Lorraine Green, Brid Featherstone

3. The Law, Professional Ethics and Anti-Oppressive Social Work

This chapter explores problematic aspects of mainstream anti-oppressive theory and practice in Britain. It focuses on the dilemmas and challenges for social workers as they endeavour to abide by the law and standards of professional competence in order to protect and empower members of disadvantaged minorities. Court judgements, public inquires and serious case reviews (which constitute detailed investigations into the circumstances surrounding maltreatment of adults and children) are examined to interrogate the limitations and contradictions posed for social workers by current anti-oppressive models of practice. Commencing with an outline of key statutes in force in the United Kingdom, this chapter presents a précis of each case followed by critical commentary identifying the issues raised for established anti-oppressive approaches. New departures from conventional anti-oppressive theory and practice are proposed.
Siobhan E. Laird

4. Working with Young Separated Asylum Seekers

This chapter draws on our research findings with separated young people seeking asylum, and outlines the ways in which separated young people and social work practitioners might resist convention and dominant immigration rhetoric to go the ‘extra mile’ to support young people as new arrivals to the UK. Evidence shows that separated children and young people seeking asylum experience acute feelings of vulnerability (Hek, Hughes and Ozman, 2012), confusion and disorientation. There is great significance for their well-being in establishing a trusting relationship with at least one supporting adult (Hendry, 2012). As loco-parentis, social workers are in a powerful position to be able to provide such support, but the quality of support provided to this group of young people remains varied (Kohli, 2013). This chapter draws attention to the different rationalities that influence these practices and draws on Foucault’s ideas (1988) about structural factors and ideological presuppositions to explore how social workers might avert their gaze from the technical aspects of decision making in health and welfare matters in order to contribute to genuine empowerment of separated children.
Shamser Sinha, Rachel Burr, Alex Sutton



5. Ableism as Transformative Practice

There has been an assortment of ways to think about and designate disability and corporeal difference. We are familiar with the biomedical approach and more recent concept of the social model of disability which links the designation ‘disability’ to capitalist economy and social organisation. In the past decade, these approaches have been revised and developed into a relational—cultural model which sees disability and abledness in terms of an evolution; an interaction between the impairment and the environment, the person and others, the individual and their current and remembered selves (Goodley, 2013). Much of the research in Western countries has taken as its focus disability as a problem and has studied the disabled person in individualised modes instead of uncovering the processes of abledness that sustain the existence of disability as an operational difference (Campbell, 2011).
Fiona Kumari Campbella

6. A Critical Analysis of Service User Struggles

This chapter seeks to offer a critical analysis of issues of power and oppression in relation to what in the UK has become known as ‘service user involvement’. Over the past 25 years, a series of major policy changes has significantly raised the profile of service user involvement in the delivery of public services. Beginning with the National Health Service and Community Care Act (1990), which placed statutory duties to consult service users, to more recent developments such as Putting People First (Department of Health, 2007), service providers have been mandated to ensure full user involvement in the planning, commissioning and delivery of services. However, if institutional responses are relatively recent, the struggles of service users and citizens over health and welfare provision are not. Therefore, in this regard, any discussion that seeks to uncover the challenges and possibilities in ensuring effective participation of service users needs to be situated in a broader examination of the history of service user movements.
Stephen Cowden, Gurnam Singh

7. Research Ethics: An Indigenous Fijian Perspective

This chapter focuses on discourse in the research ethics process and practice from an Indigenous Fijian perspective. It aims to illustrate how Indigenous epistemological frameworks may be adopted in both traditional and non-traditional research settings. Indigenous ways of knowing offer valuable lessons for social work and community development practice, as exploring the underlying values and norms of Indigenous population groups enables practitioners to work more effectively within these communities. Examples from original research relating to relational networks, forms of collaboration and communal resilience will be used to explore governance processes within Indigenous community groups, and the associated values that embrace localised forms of social and cultural capital.
Litea Meo-Sewabu



8. The Subject of Social Work: Towards a New Perspective on Discrimination

Subjectivity inevitably involves the human subject. It has been an important concept for research, and for intervening in social and political life, since the 1970s. The concern over the meaning of subjectivity has spawned debate across a range of disciplinary fields including studies of the ‘political subject’, ‘white subjectivity’, ‘gendered subjectivities’, ‘workplace subjectivity’, ‘colonial subjectivities’ and ‘embodied subjectivity’. As we shall see, any consideration of discrimination and oppression will inevitably make either direct reference to or assumptions about the nature of subjectivity.
Stephen A. Webb

9. Critical Perspectives on Intersectionality

Social workers... they can get the physical disability side but they can’t get the mental health side. Or they can get the mental health side but not the physical disability, so when you’ve got both AND you’re gay as well... it’s almost too much for them to take in at any one time... (Alison Gray, quoted in Social Care TV, Social Care Institute for Excellence, 2008)
Sarah Carr

10. Racism, Sectarianism and Social Work

This chapter is the product of a number of discussions we have had about our identities and experiences of teaching anti-oppressive practice to social work students over 20 years. We share a common interest in using critical lenses to explore issues of inequalities and social justice which affect the profession but these are, understandably, framed differently given the contrast in our biographies, in terms of race, gender, religion and class. The first author is a black, British woman of Caribbean descent who has taught English social work students on the subject of anti-racist practice. The second author grew up in Northern Ireland, born into a Protestant, working class unionist family, becoming a social worker, then later social work educator (Campbell, 2013c).
Claudia Bernard, Jim Campbell



11. Deconstructing the Language of Anti-Oppressive Practice in Social Work

Social work is an activity that is irreducibly dependent on language, whether in the form of talking, reading or writing — so the way in which language is used matters. Since the late 1980s, different theoretical approaches have been used to develop a range of ‘linguistically grounded’ models of social work (Rojek et al., 1988, p. 137). For example, Rojek and colleagues (1988) turned to Foucault, while Humphries (1997) and Jack (1997) drew on the language of discourse analysis to frame their respective discussions of social work education and child protection practice. Elsewhere, hermeneutic (Whan, 1986; Turney, 1997) and deconstructive approaches (Solas, 1995; Turney, 1996) have also been explored to inform understanding of different aspects of practice.
Danielle Turney

12. Transcending the Politics of ‘Difference’ and ‘Diversity’?

The chapter begins by outlining some of the key developments relating to anti-discriminatory social work practice and related themes in England and the Republic of Ireland. Both countries are currently governed by coalition administrations intent on pursing neo-liberal policies resulting in cuts to services and the undermining of social protection. Nevertheless, not surprisingly, there are certain national defining characteristics. An interest in anti-discriminatory practice appears to have been quite prominent within the discourse of social work in England, whilst there has been a relative lack of interest in the Republic of Ireland (see also Garrett, 2012). After sketching in some of the main preoccupations, mostly as they relate to questions pivoting on ‘race’ and ethnicity, the chapter will examine how social theorists associated with the political left have endeavoured to disrupt talk centred on notions of ‘difference’ and ‘diversity’.
Paul Michael Garrett

13. Deconstructing the Family

Social work has an intimate relationship with ‘the family’, since many aspects of practice are concerned with family life and family problems. Child protection, adoption, support for older people, interventions with young people in trouble, residential, kinship and substitute care, helping people cope with dementia or providing support to disabled people, for example, draw upon ideas and expectations about family life. This means that social workers are not only involved in negotiations with families about difficult issues, but that their interventions have powerful effects, since they rely upon and involve claims about family. So, what does this imply for social work? Isn’t ‘the family’ obvious? Why should social workers want to ‘deconstruct’ it, and what does this mean?
Stephen Hicks

14. Deconstructing Sexuality in Anti-Oppressive Practice

This chapter uses deconstruction in order to examine the underlying concepts, assumptions and contradictions in explorations of sexuality in anti-oppressive literature (AOP). Although I use the term AOP, the discussion in this chapter is just as relevant for anti-discriminatory practice (ADP) texts. While oppression and discrimination are different things, social work texts which state that they are about either AOP (for example, Dominelli, 2002a; Dalrymple and Burke, 2006) or ADP (for example, Thompson, 2012) all discuss instances of discrimination and their occurrence in wider contexts of oppression and so have the same broad focus.
Dharman jeyasingham
Additional information