Evaluate the importance of anti oppressive practice in social work. Illustrate your answer using the PCS model. Within this essay the areas in which discrimination and oppression occur will be highlighted and then evaluated to show how ‘good’ anti oppressive/ discriminative practice within social work can ‘aid’ and empower service users who are in groups that experience oppression and discrimination to overcome their problems. Gil (1994) states that “the conditions that cause people to seek help from social services are usually direct or indirect consequences of social, economic, and political institutions, and… he profession of social work is ethically committed to promote social justice.
Insights into oppression and social justice, and into ways of overcoming them, are therefore essential aspects of the foundations of social work knowledge”. In addition to this, this essay will discuss the importance for social workers to have a clear understanding that “discrimination is the process (or a set of processes) that leads to oppression” and that in order “To challenge oppression, it is therefore necessary to challenge discrimination.
(Thompson 2001) This essay will draw attention to the importance of this understanding as within social work practice there is a danger that social workers could reinforce the oppression and discrimination against their service user, “ There is no middle ground: intervention either adds to oppression (or at least condones it) or goes some small way towards easing or breaking such oppression. ” (Thompson 1992)
Thompson’s PCS model is extremely useful in aiding social workers to accurately examine and understand the impact that oppression, discrimination and inequality has on the “social circumstances of clients” and on the “interactions between clients and the welfare state.
” (Thompson, 2001) The first level of Thompson’s PCS model ‘P’ relates to the importance that the personal “thoughts, feelings, attitudes and actions” (Thompson, 2001) of the service user are and it also represents how the service user’s interests and ideas should be at the centre of good anti-discriminatory/oppressive social work practice.
This level also demonstrates how personal prejudices (such as stereotyping) can influence the way in which social workers relate to their service user and can prevent social workers from practicing in an anti-discriminatory/oppressive manner. It therefore is vital that social workers understand the importance of eliminating oppression and discrimination from their lives as well as their practice as “There would seem to be little point in developing anti-discriminatory practice within a work context if we contribute to the continuation of discrimination and oppression through our actions and attitudes in our private lives. (Thompson, Men and Anti-Sexism, 1995). Social workers should remain aware that our personal “thoughts, feelings, attitudes and actions are to a certain extent unique and individualised, but we must also recognise the powerful role of culture in forming our opinions and guiding our actions” (Thompson, 2001) through tools such as the “media and political propaganda” (Thompson, 2001) which can cause social workers to form personal prejudices and prevent them from remaining neutral, as their opinions will be influenced and this will inevitably impact on how they relate to certain service users when practising.
Whitehouse (1986) supports this view, as he suggests that “if the social worker has stereotypical expectations and attitudes then he or she will tend to select information to confirm them. ” He further suggests that this will have implications on the assessment as, if a social worker does make the “persons under assessment perceive themselves to be the object of a categorical or stereotypical assessment, they will tend to withdraw from interaction, to give as little information and collaboration as possible. ” (Thompson, 2001)
The second level of Thompson’s PCS model ‘C’ is the ‘cultural level’ and represents how society (through socialisation) influences the way we think and behave by enforcing shared social values and cultural norms; “Society not only controls our movements, but shapes our identity, our thoughts and our emotions. The structures of society become the structure of our own consciousness. Society does not stop at the surface our skins. Society penetrates us” (Berger, 1966). Social workers must be aware about how “discriminatory culture can subtly but powerfully influence” (Thompson, 2001) them.
They therefore should ensure that they are culturally aware and also prevent their own social values and culture norms from attempting to influence, discriminate or oppress any service user. In addition to this, social workers must appreciate and avoid whenever possible ‘light-hearted’ discriminatory humour as it may influence their practice and illustrate to their service user that they are supporting and reinforcing societies oppressive ideologies; which for many service users may be seen as offensive and may cause communication and trust between the social worker and service user to deteriorate.
The third level of Thompson’s PCS model ‘S’ is the ‘structural level’ which “relates to the ways in which oppression and discrimination are institutionalised and thus ‘sewn in’ to the fabric of society. ” (Thompson, 2001) “Racism is oppression based on colour. ” (Bishop,1994) therefore social workers must be aware of the extent and impact that racism has on the wide range of ethnic minorities that they work with. They must be culturally aware and promote ethnically sensitive social work practice to ensure that the minority groups that they work with do not feel oppressed or discriminated against in any way.
Therefore to develop a strong anti racist social work practice base, social workers must first have a clear understanding of the concepts that underpin racism. Racism is “a social system in which one group of people exercises power over another group on the basis of skin colour” because of “an implicit set of beliefs, erroneous assumptions, and actions based on an ideology of inherent superiority of one racial group over another” (Henry, Tator, Mattis and Rees 1995: pg 10) (Thompson,1997). Dalrymple and Burke, (1995) support this view as they suggest that “Oppression itself is a powerful force. On a personal level it can lead to demoralisation and lack of self-esteem, while at a structural level it can lead to denial of rights”. Thompson’s PCS model also effectively stresses the complex nature surrounding the issue of racism within society and social work. Thompson’s ‘P’ level suggests that “personal prejudices… manifests itself much more subtly and we are not likely to be aware of it unless or until we are confronted”. Thompson, 2001) Thompson further implies that social workers may sometimes unintentionally perform racist acts simply by “reflecting dominant cultural values or carrying out routine institutional practices” (Thompson, 2001). Macpherson (1999) draws attention to this point even further, suggesting that “collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin.
It can be seen or detected in processes, attitudes and behaviour which amount to discrimination through unwitting prejudice, ignorance, thoughtlessness and racist stereotyping which disadvantage minority ethnic people. ” Another form of discrimination is sexism and “is the belief that one sex is superior to the other” (Dubois and Miley,1996) and this notion is based upon “a deep-rooted, often unconscious system of beliefs, attitudes and institutions in which distinctions between people’s intrinsic worth are made on the grounds of their sex and sexual roles (Bullock and Stallybrass,1977).
Thompson’s PCS model reflects the extent in which sexism can oppress women (at all three levels, personal, cultural and structural) through “The beliefs and actions of individuals, the cultural values and norms and the institutional or structural patterns” which “all tend to display inherent bias against women” (Thompson, 2001). It is therefore vital that as social workers we ensure that we do not reinforce these sexist stereotypes and aim to work anti-oppressively; to do this we must understand that “It is not possible to understand the personal or social world without taking a gendered perspective.
We are not able as professionals to intervene appropriately or justly in people’s lives unless we perceive the ways in which women are disadvantaged by an unequal dispersal of power and in which both men and women are constrained by over rigid and falsely dichotomised role and relationship expectations. ” (Thompson, 2001). Examples to which sexist stereotypes can lead to oppression can be seen in child abuse and neglect cases. The stereotypical response would be to direct all the questions towards the mother however this can lead to “mother blaming and reinforcing the notion that women carry the primary responsibility for the family. Therefore in two parent families social workers should address both of the parents to avoid any discriminatory and oppressive practice. Another example where social work reinforces sexist stereotypes is within community care, where women are encouraged to fill caring positions as “sexist ideology leads us to believe that it is ‘natural’ for women to be carers”. (Thompson, 2001). In addition to this as Rojek et al (1988) suggests, it common knowledge that social workers often represent women as “helpless and not coping in order to gain additional resources for them. Social workers should avoid this method as it can lead to the service user becoming dependant on this strategy of acting ‘helpless’ as a means of coping with any problem that they are presented with and therefore this is extremely oppressive and not empowering to the service user. Within the PCS model it is clear that in order to practice in an anti-sexist manner, social workers must challenge “dominant discriminatory attitudes, practices and structures” (Thompson, 2001) and highlight sexism in order to combat discrimination and oppression based on gender.
In addition to this, yet another area in which social workers must practice in an anti-oppressive manner is when working with the elderly. Thompson (1993) defines ageism as a “tendency to devalue older people and overemphasize the negative aspects of later life” Thompson (1993) and suggests that it is a “social process through which negative images of and attitudes towards older people, based solely on the characteristics of old age itself, result in discrimination. ” (Thompson, 2001).
Butler (Phillipson, 2000) suggests that oppression occurs at all three levels of Thompson’s PCS model through “stereotypes…discriminatory practices in housing and employment” and a “defined retirement age. ” Ontology explains the relationship between old age with the loss of meaning and selfhood in life. Through anti-oppressive social work practice it is vital that we allow old persons to keep their own values and dignity, and empower the individual (regardless of their age) to be independent and think for themselves whenever possible and encourage them to partake in outside activities that stimulate their minds and create a purpose in life.
Disablism relates to the “combination of social forces, cultural values and personal prejudices which marginalises disabled people, portrays them in a negative light and thus oppresses them” (Thompson, 2001). Oliver (1989) supports this argument when defining the social model that underpins the concept of disablism he suggests that, “The rise of the disabled peoples movement and, especially, its definition of the problems of disability as a social oppression has given rise to the concept of disablism, which simply means any ideas or practices which contribute to oppression of disabled people rather than their emancipation.
The individual model of disability, both as a set of idea and as a basis for practice, is itself disabilist in that it furthers the existing oppression of disabled people. ” Using Thompson’s PCS analysis, disablism can be seen to operate at all three levels. At the personal level, personal prejudice toward disabled people is an everyday occurrence and is reflected through the attitudes and assumptions that are made about disabled people.
At the cultural level, “Dominant cultural norms are usually geared towards the able bodied majority and popular notions present disabled people as either misfits or pathetic victims of personal tragedy” (Thompson, 2001) and as social workers we must not allow ourselves to participate in ‘light-hearted’ discriminatory humour (which is extremely discriminatory, oppressive, abusive and offensive) that reinforces these negative stereotypes.
At the structural level the lack of consideration for people with disabilities with regards to access to public services and buildings leads to disabled people feeling “structurally/institutionally defined as a marginalised group ; that is, they do not feel as part of the ‘general public’. ” (Thompson, 2001).
Shearer (1981) argues that “the focus should be less on how disabled people can or should adjust to their impairment and more on how society can adjust to the needs of disabled people. ” (Thompson, 1997). Traditional social work practice focuses primarily on practically “matching available services to assessed need” (Thompson, 1997). Oliver (1983) supports this view as he suggests that the practical approach is simply “the matching of resources within a legal and statutory framework. Social workers should therefore not simply use just the practical method without understanding the needs of the service user, as this can contribute enormously towards the discrimination and oppression of those with disabilities and therefore acts as “an additional form of oppression that is instrumental in constructing and image of disabled people as helpless and not able to contribute to mainstream society” (Thompson, 1997). Oliver (1987) goes onto further criticise “the ‘professionalism’ of service for disabled people, on the assumption that the professionals know best what disabled people need and are in charge.
The provision of services in such a way is at best at patronising, and at worst further disabling, since disabled people may be pushed into becoming passive recipients of the kinds of services other people think they ought to have. ” Therefore to work anti oppressively when working with service users with disabilities, social workers should create a partnership with their service users instead of treating them as “dependent or childlike” they should see them as “an oppressed group who are denied the assistance they need” (Thompson,1997).
In conclusion, the way forward for social work with regards to anti oppressive and discriminatory practice is to not follow the traditional social work guidelines which focus mainly on the “individual level with limited recognition to culture, values and shared meanings” (Thompson,1997); and to instead work in an anti discriminatory manner which focuses and is inclusive of all of Thompson’s (PCS model) three levels (personal, cultural and structural) and highlights and explains how they impact on one another and on the service user.
Social workers should understand the importance of having a wide sophisticated knowledge base when it comes to working with oppressed groups as they can either be seen to be “challenging and undermining… the discrimination that their clients are subject; or tactically condoning and thus reinforcing such discrimination. There is no middle road. ” (Thompson,1997) Therefore it is key that all social workers partake in awareness training so that social workers can at the P level be aware and identify their personal prejudices etc and at the C level work towards challenging oppressive culture. Awareness training therefore begins the process of challenging and confronting discrimination” (Thompson,1997). References: Neil Thompson (1993), Anti-discriminatory practice, Palgrave Neil Thompson (1997), Anti-discriminatory practice, 2nd edition, Palgrave Neil Thompson (2001), Anti-discriminatory practice, 3rd edition, Palgrave Berger P. L (1966), Invitation to Sociology, Harmondsworth, Penguin Bullock and Stallybrass (1977), Cited from Thompson Anti discriminatory practice/ Neil Thompson, 3rd ed, Palgrave, 2001, Date accessed: December 21st 2009
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