Journal Article

‘Anti-Oppressiveness’: Critical Comments on a Discourse and its Context

Malcolm Millar

in The British Journal of Social Work

Published on behalf of British Association of Social Workers

Volume 38, issue 2, pages 362-375
Published in print February 2008 | ISSN: 0045-3102
Published online October 2006 | e-ISSN: 1468-263X | DOI:
‘Anti-Oppressiveness’: Critical Comments on a Discourse and its Context

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This paper identifies and aims to explain an apparent dissonance between the dominance in Britain of ‘anti-oppressive’ social work discourse and the socio-political context surrounding its use; a context often claimed to feature excessive regulation and control. Pursuing this, some politically radical aims associated with ‘anti-oppressiveness’ are spelt out, and the difficulty of achieving these in an unconducive climate is discussed. Then, a distinction made by Robert Merton between ‘latent’ and ‘manifest’ functions is used to suggest that the manifest radicalism of ‘anti-oppressive’ discourse can helpfully be distinguished from some latent largely unrecognised consequences of its use – not consequences with politically radical impact, but with a social meaning congruent with a climate of control. It is concluded that the ‘success’ of anti-oppressive discourse might well be viewed as requiring more of the kind of critical analysis that the discourse itself was supposed to espouse.

Keywords: anti-oppressive; discourse; social work

Journal Article.  5992 words. 

Subjects: Social Work

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