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Anti-oppressive practice, AOP is an attempt within social work to acknowledge oppression in societies, economies, cultures, and groups, and to remove or negate the influence of that oppression. Anti-oppressive practice does not comprise an established and traditional mode. It is innovative, evolving and contentious. It's aim's at empowering client relationships in the context of existing oppression in society and practice.
Social work generally is known to be a 'caring profession' but when providing services what works for one person does not necessarily 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.(Humphries, 2004, p105)
An imbalance in this care and control service 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” (p. 8). The Exclusion (E.g. Xenophobia) that results from oppression or vice versa, can affect an individual or a system greatly. This process is often evaluative, 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 posing risk for oppression.
“Being oppressed means the absence of choices”—Bell Hooks, 
The Anti-Oppressive Model
In social work, the anti-oppressive model aims to function and promote equal, non-oppressive social relations between various identities. 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 NASW values, by acknowledging diversity within oppression and considering the intersection of the “isms” (Pitner & Sakamoto, 2005). The Anti-Oppressive model analyzes and advocates against macro & micro levels of oppression that emphasizes social justice and social change along more empowering lines.
AOP is a part of professional social work development schema. Hence 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).
Discussing issues in abbreviations and legal terms can be disempowering to clients and considered oppressive. 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. 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.
AOP is a current form of progressive social work which helps to identify psychosocial issues through a 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.
Practitioners need to be fully aware of the power (im)balance between service users and providers in order to work in an anti-oppressive manner. Otherwise, so-called anti-oppressive practice can be criticised as ‘a gloss to help social work to feel better about what it is required to do’..
- Dominelli, L. (2002). Anti-oppressive social work theory and practice.
- Lydia H, Anti-Oppressive Practice and Social Trinitarianism (2012)
- Strier, Roni (2006). Anti-Oppressive Research in Social Work: A Preliminary Definition. British Journal of Social Work. doi:10.1093/bjsw/bcl062
- Jones,R. (1995) ‘Disability, discrimination and local authority social services: the social services context, in G. Zarb (ed), Removing disabling barriers. London: PSI pg 108-115
- Maidment, Jane (2004). Practice Skills in Social Work & Welfare. Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin.
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