Whilst studying a social work MA module at Salford University, I developed an interest in anti-oppressive practice, due to my interest in working with disabled and ethnic minority children. A leading thinker in this area is Lena Dominelli, and if you are studying social work, I strongly recommend her books.  Siobhan Laird is also an excellent writer on this topic. 

This article focuses on what is oppression, and how can it be overcome in the profession. 

Anti-Oppressive Social Work Theory and Practice
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What is Anti-Oppressive Social Work?

Oppression, or the devaluing of people, can be seen on three levels – personal, institutional and cultural.  Personal oppression is rooted in individual beliefs.  Institutional oppression is embedded in the policies and practices of social authority by being enshrined in legislation.   Cultural oppression through the values and norms that a society recognises as acceptable at a particular historical time, which are unlikely to be challenged (Dominelli, 2008).  This fits in with Thompsons PMS (Personal, cultural, structural) model (Thompson, 1993).

These forms of oppression are interative are likely to feed off each other, and therefore oppression should be dismantled at all aspects (Dominelli, 2008). Discrimination is just one aspect of oppression.    In fact, defining oppression as discrimination could be used as a tool by those who are not oppressed to restrict or deny that oppression is taking place. Oppressive dynamics are based in a world view of superiority and inferiority, and the dynamics of oppression can and should be resisted (Dominelli, 2008).  Therefore, social workers should be proactive in challenging social inequalities, undertaking research and forming alliances with others to eradicate systematic oppression.

Anti-Oppressive Social Work: A Guide for Developing Cultural Competence
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Good Social Work is Anti-Oppressive Social Work

But does this mean that everyone should be treated the same?

Good practice is anti-oppressive practice (Thompson, 2005). However, in my opinion, acting anti-oppressively to avoid inequalities does not mean treating everyone the same. If we did this, some people would be disadvantaged.  Therefore, while practicing anti-oppressively, we sometimes need to utilise binaries and categorisation as I have done in the children’s centre in order to improve provision. 

For example, it does not seem right to treat a disabled child exactly the same as an able bodied child. Anti-oppressive social work would involve supporting the disabled child by ensuring access to special equipment or facilities to enable that child in order to give them the same opportunities as able bodied children.

Anti-Oppressive Practice on a Global, National and Local Scale

Anti-oppressive practice can work on local, national and global levels.  For example, I volunteer with a charity called Faith Victory Association in Rwanda every year.  I have utilised my theory of anti-oppressive practice to make links between a Yorkshire children’s centre and one in Kigali.

Please Leave your Comments

If you were in this field, or have experience and insight that you would like to share, please comment on my article below.