Anti-oppressive practice

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Anti-oppressive practice is an interdisciplinary approach primarily rooted within the practice of social work that focuses on ending socioeconomic oppression. It requires the practitioner to critically examine the power imbalance inherent in an organizational structure with regards to the larger sociocultural and political context in order to develop strategies for creating an egalitarian environment free from oppression, racism, and other forms of discrimination in the larger society, by engaging at the legal and political level. In general community practice it is about responding to oppression by dominant groups and individuals. In social services it regulates any possible oppressive practices and helps in delivering welfare services in an inclusive manner.[1]


Anti-oppressive practice seeks to lessen the exclusion of certain social groups from social equality, rights and social justice. Social work generally is known to be a "caring" profession, but sometimes services provided that work for one person do not necessarily work for another or reflect the sensitivity required to work for another. Related to this there may be a 'care versus control' issue, because where there is care there is responsibility, and therefore control and power which can lead to exclusions (Humphries, 2004, p105). Knowingly and deliberately causing discrimination to another constitutes an oppressive practice, the behavior also matters as much as intent. The onus of the social worker is to show s/he exercised due diligence according to generally accepted practices and conducts him/herself in a manner generally accepted by society which constitutes as neutral/ordinary “humanity.”[2]

An imbalance in care and control of services may lead to oppression. Lena Dominelli (2002) defines Oppression as, "relations that divide people into dominant or superior groups and subordinate or inferior ones. These relations of domination consist of the systematic devaluing of the attributes and contributions of those deemed inferior, and their exclusion from the social resources available to those in the dominant group" (E.g. Xenophobia).[3] The Exclusion that results from oppression or vice versa, can affect an individual or a system greatly. This often evolves from an evaluative process, where the individual ends up measuring him/herself in a hierarchy against the other based on the personal values s/he holds. Disposing to this, results in one's identity or trait being regarded as superior to the other, thus creating an "us-them" dynamic (othering process) resulting in division and which creates risk for oppression.[4]

The anti-oppressive model[edit]

In social work, the anti-oppressive model aims to function and promote equal, non-oppressive social relations between various identities.[5] Dominelli (2002) defines it, "in challenging established truths about identity, anti-oppressive practice seeks to subvert the stability of universalized biological representations of social division to both validate diversity and enhance solidarity based on celebrating difference amongst peoples" (p. 39). It remains dedicated to principles of social justice, which is also upheld in BASW values, by acknowledging diversity within oppression and considering the intersection and hierarchies of the "isms" that construct people as victims or perpetrators.[6] The anti-oppressive model analyzes and advocates against macro & micro levels of oppression and emphasizes on social justice and social change along more empowering and emancipatory lines.[7]

The complex and unequal role of "power" and "isms" are considered as an immense complication in anti-oppressive practice. Those who benefit, as in most relationships, are those with most power.[8] Thompson argues that there are essentially three stacks of barriers in anti-oppressive practice. They are personal (P), cultural (C) and structural (S). P refers to personal and prejudice factors. C refers to culture, commonalities, consensus and conformity. S refers to Structural aspects like sociopolitical force or other social dimensions. Thompson refers to P being embedded in C and C in S, interacting with each other in continuum.[9][citation needed] Anti-Oppressive Practice seeks to identify strategies to construct power in a way that will address the systemic inequalities that are operating simultaneously at the individual, group and institutional level to oppose the production and reproduction of oppression. [10]

Personal / Individual Oppression: Personal / Individual Oppression includes the values, beliefs and feelings held by individuals that affect interpersonal relationships.[11] According to Dominelli (2002, p. 6), anti-oppression is “a methodology focusing on both process and outcome, and a way of structuring relationships between individuals that aim to empower users by reducing the negative effects of hierarchy in their immediate interaction and the work they do together.” [12]

Cultural Oppression: Language has a contribution to oppression in general, language with its marking function constructs social structure and an interplay in creating cultural values. Government records categorize people who are neither white or male, as ethnic presuming white people do not have an ethnicity but are the norm, and white people are often "de-raced" in discourses.[13][citation needed]

Structural / Institutional Oppression:

In 2004 Humphries stated failure to critically analyse legislation's and social policy led "failure to identify the inherent racism within immigration" systems, an example of structural oppression.[14]

In community practices, anti-oppressive practice functions to address problems that rise due to structural imbalance; Herbert Marcuse defined the state as: "Law and order are always and everywhere the law and order which protect the established hierarchy; it is nonsensical to invoke the absolute authority of this law and this order against those who suffer from it and struggle against it."[15]

Professional practitioners are aware of the power (im)balance between service users and providers that reflects in practice, though the aim is always using this differences legitimately to empower others and reduce the experience of powerlessness and the resulting learned helplessness or the "culture of silence".[16][17] Lois McNay in 1992 commented on this power (im)balance as "Oppressions have always dominated on how our lives are lived, they are central to the profit base of the economy. The big three of them are gender, race and class". McNay cites exploitive division of labour as an example.

Social work solutions to the problems of oppressed groups by model should include policies that address all elements of oppression. However, Social workers also have to be aware that these efforts may not be necessarily supported by partners in the process of social justice.[18]


Through anti-oppressive practice social work practice focuses on a more emancipatory form of practice which locates the individual people and their family within their social contexts and helps them with structural patterns of the society that perpetuate inequalities through promotion of choices.[19]

When discussing things with service users, practitioners can use jargon, abbreviations, and legal terms which may create unnecessary barriers by reinforcing power differences between the service user and the practitioner. [20] Speaking plainly and clearly is considered good working practice, where the client can not only understand but can become involved in making choices and decisions about their involvement with social services. More specifically, anti-oppression deals with the negative experience of people based on their race, their gender identity, sexual identity, their physical and mental ability, their choice of religion, their class background (whether growing up poor, working poor, working, middle or upper class), their physical appearance (fat or thin), and the list goes on. It also is a way to challenge the ways people are treated based on these identities. For example, when a woman is treated in a sexist way or a person of colour experiences racism. Anti-oppressive practice is about working with the service user to include them in facilitating a user-led and user-controlled service.[citation needed] Healthy professional relationships will help build the confidence of the service user to enable them to develop their own ideas about their level of involvement.

Anti-oppressive practice is a part of professional social work development schema. They are bonded by this to develop counter-hegemonic understanding of cross-cultural and personal differences.[21] Social work practitioners advocate against oppression by promoting increased respect for the "inherent dignity and worth of all people", and "social justice" (NASW, 1996). Acknowledging NASW values, along with "the importance of human relationships," remains an integral part of building empowering client-practitioner relationships (NASW, 1996).


Anti-oppressive practice is a current form of progressive social work which helps to identify psychosocial issues through an intersectional lens and act on the same. It bridges the practice-activism divide and leads the society in a transformative angle in human relations. Its reformative call has opened eyes of both public and leading private management regimes and the principles resonates in effective and harmonic utilization of resources. Anti-oppressive practice does not compromise the established and traditional 1970s Anti-Discriminatory Practice (ADP) which focuses on discrimination like the anti-racist perspective, gender perspectives and such whereas anti-oppressive practice deals with processes of oppression and exclusion.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Strier, Roni (July 2007). "Anti-oppressive research in social work: a preliminary definition". The British Journal of Social Work. 37 (5): 857–871. doi:10.1093/bjsw/bcl062.
  2. ^ Robert P. Mullaly (2010). Challenging Oppression and Confronting Privilege: A Critical Social Work Approach. Oxford University Press. pp. 128+. ISBN 978-0-19-542970-1.
  3. ^ Dominelli, Lena; Campling, Jo (16 September 2002). Anti Oppressive Social Work Theory and Practice. Macmillan International Higher Education. p. 8. ISBN 978-1-4039-1400-2.
  4. ^ Lena Dominelli, Jo Campling (2002). Anti-oppressive social work theory and practice. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9781403914002.
  5. ^ Lydia Hogewoning (2012). "Anti-oppressive practice and social trinitarianism: An interconnection of faith and social work principles" (PDF). Retrieved January 25, 2017.
  6. ^ Pitner, R. O.; Sakamoto, I. (2005). "The role of critical consciousness in multicultural practice: Examining how its strength becomes its weakness". American Journal of Orthopsychiatry. 75 (4): 684–694. doi:10.1037/0002-9432.75.4.684. PMID 16262524.
  7. ^ Dalrymple and Burke, 1995
  8. ^ McNay, 1992
  9. ^ "What Is The Thompson PCS Model? – Youth Workin' It". 6 November 2012. Retrieved 2016-08-18.
  10. ^ Yee, J.Y., H. Wong & A. Janczur. (2006). Examining systemic and individual barriers of ethno-racial minority social workers in mainstream social service agencies: a community project.Toronto, Canada: Funded by Canadian Heritage, Human Resources Skills Development and Ryerson University, Faculty of Community Services.
  11. ^ Jonathan Scourfield (23 October 2002). Gender and Child Protection. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 100. ISBN 978-1-4039-1403-3.
  12. ^ Dominelli, L. (2002). Anti-oppressive practice in context (2ndedition). In Social work: themes, issues andcritical debates(pp. 1-19). New York, NY: Palgrave.
  13. ^ Thompson, 2012
  14. ^ Derek Clifford, Beverley Burke (2008). Anti-Oppressive Ethics and Values in Social Work. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9781137130549.
  15. ^ Gerald N. Grob (1970). Ideas in America: source readings in the intellectual history of the United States. Free Press. pp. 532–. ISBN 9780029130209.
  16. ^ Freire, 1972
  17. ^ Hubert L. Dreyfus; Paul Rabinow (6 June 2014). Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics. Routledge. pp. 208–. ISBN 978-1-317-86732-6.
  18. ^ Steve Myers, University of Salford, 2015
  19. ^ Thompson, 2011
  20. ^ Thompson, Neil (2011). Promoting Equality. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 79.
  21. ^ Clifford, 1994

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