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Anti-oppressive social work practice (book review)

Posted: June 18 2021

Student & staff projects, Social Work

Interested in Social Work and want to learn more about the subject? The book reviews written by our Social Work students and staff help you identify the best literature to advance your learning.

This week:

  • Title: Anti-oppressive social work practice 
  • Author: Prospera Tedam
  • ISBN:9781526476890
  • Publication: Sage, 2020
  • Reviewed by: Joe Burns, Social Work Department, Brunel University London, Uxbridge, UK (This review was originally published online in the Social Work Education: The International Journal: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/14733250211012896)

Prospera Tedam is an assistant professor of social work at UAE University and a visiting fellow of social work at Anglia Ruskin University. Her 23 years of invaluable experience really show through in what is an accessible, user-friendly guide to a topically relevant area of practice and social work education.

The release of the book seems particularly timely, given the context of the COVID-19 pandemic and its particular impact on the most vulnerable in society, as well as the Black Lives Matter movement and protests in the UK and the USA following the death of George Floyd last year. As explored in the book, AOP is an element of practice which even now appears so often overlooked, from teaching, through to placement and into practice.

As an introduction to this particular element of social work, this book does an excellent job for 1st year MA social work students, but should have enough detail to be valuable to practitioners and educators as well.

Every chapter of the book is mapped directly to relevant capabilities in the PCF and the subject benchmark statements for social work, which is so useful for SW students. The BASW code of ethics and the IFSW definition of social work are threads which run through the entire book, making it easy to understand exactly why each chapter is relevant.

The overall structure and unfussy writing style make it a compelling read, with each chapter building on and referencing each preceding one, which really helps with context and perspective.

The book is divided into three main sections. The introductions to each chapter within these sections challenge preconceptions from the outset, which is really useful for stimulating critical reflection:

(1)– Theories and Concepts

This section is an examination of some of the key theories and concepts in AOP. It explores the concept of oppression, discusses the importance of an understanding of diversity and also investigates power and powerlessness and the relevance of understanding their importance in social work practice. It goes on to discuss models of AOP including Tedam’s own MANDELA model, as well GRRAAACCEEESSS. These are only summaries of very complex concepts but give enough information to encourage the reader to learn more.

There is also an excellent chapter on Social Justice and its importance in social work.

(2) – Anti-oppressive practice with individuals, groups and communities

This chapter is the heart of the book and goes into some really important detail on how various groups within society experience oppression and how social workers can work to address it. It has stand-alone chapters on gender, age, race, ethnicity, disability, faith/belief/religion/spirituality and refugees/people seeking asylum. A key element across all of these is the concept of intersectionality, which explains to the reader that oppression can be experienced in many layers and contexts by one individual. It is not the job of society to determine how a person identifies and how they experience prejudice. An understanding of this concept has become invaluable across all learning since reading the book

(3) – Developing anti-oppressive practice through learning

The IFSW definition of social work is clear that “Social work is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline …”. In other words, social workers should never stop learning about their communities, societies and the thoughts and wishes of the people which inhabit them. This chapter highlights a dearth of knowledge of AOP in the current system and shows ways in which this gap can be filled with knowledge and understanding. It proposes the notion that in order to be effective social workers, students must strive to understand oppression and develop a culturally aware ethic.

The book doesn’t shy away from some very important subject matter. It’s thought provoking and challenging, yet explanatory. The case studies in each chapter are thoughtful and encourage reflection, while at the same time being designed to help the knowledge stick. What this student found particularly useful were the commentaries after each exercise which are so often missing from similar books which help guide the reader in understanding the reasons for the scenarios and questions posed. It can be frustrating to be left wondering if one has missed the point, something which this book really works to avoid.

As we all move into a post-Covid world, with all the changes and challenges it may bring, students will, as future practitioners need a clear understanding of oppression in our communities. This book will be useful for students, practitioners and educators alike. As the author explains in the conclusion to her book, social workers have “a moral, ethical and legal responsibility to challenge inequality and disadvantage regardless of where it comes from” and her book explains some useful tools with which to do so.