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Connecting Theory to Social Work Practice

  • Demonstrates capacity to connect theory to social practice.
  • Demonstrated capability to reflect on own positionality in relation to issues of power.
  • Demonstrates capacity to extend thinking on power and marginality to students’ future role as a social work practitioner.

Solution:

Reflective essay

Introduction

To understand the interrelation between power and marginalization, I believe it is particularly important to have a precise idea regarding the development of the concepts of power and marginalization individually. My positionality also plays a part in the development of my career as a social worker as it has given me a first-hand experience regarding power dynamics and marginalization.

Discussion

The two dynamic and earliest views of power; developed by Nicollò Machiavelli and Thomas Hobbes were of completely different natures- with the former focusing on the decentralization of power and the latter focusing on the centralization of power and its focus on sovereignty. (Sadan, 1997) The two different discourses on power propounded in the early 16th and 17th centuries have continuously decided the future of discourses on power. Power has always been, without any doubt centralized in the hands of some- thus proving the rationality of Hobbes’s line of thought regarding power. Theories on power such as the Marxian class theory of power and elite theory of power refer to the centralization of power in the hands of the capitalist class and the few elite people in the society respectively. The gender theory of power focuses on the patriarchy present in our society and how power is concentrated in the hands of the male population. The pluralist theory of power on the other hand states that various groups having varied interests compete for power in the society. For example, power is concentrated in the hands of the white people due to the history of centuries of oppression and colonialism inflicted by the white man on ethnic people all around the world. (Clegg, 2000)

Marginalization comes in hand with the rise of power in the hands of few. The marginalized are distanced from power and resources that determine their economic, social or political worth. Marginalization can be social, political, economic and psychological. Examples of socially marginalized people are the Dalits or lower caste people in India or the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Australia. (Bennett, 2019) Social marginalization is also faced by homosexual people all around the world. These groups are at the risk of deprivation from social opportunities and are often found to bear the brunt of negative public attitudes due to their lack of social capital. Economic marginalization prevents certain groups from being fully integrated into the market system. For example, women, in general, have lower pay than men all across the world and globalization is not beneficial for the small business having little resources. Political marginalization prevents groups from fully participating in the political processes of the country. The biggest example of political marginalization I can think of at this moment is the Afghanistan crisis, in which the people of Afghanistan had no say regarding the change of power in the government. The apartheid practice was also a big example of political marginalization.

I am a female Indian student of colour studying at a university. That puts me in a position of power with respect to other Indian females of my age as I am enjoying a position of privilege with respect to the vast number of opportunities and resources available to me. I have the power to make my own financial and educational decisions despite being a female in this patriarchal society. Many Indian women are still marginalized in Indian society, and they still struggle to assert their own independence and power in terms of finances, political opinions and social decisions. However, I stand as a marginalized member of the Australian society as Indians have been subject to racism and discrimination in Australia for a long. The racially fuelled attacks on Indian students in Melbourne in 2009-10 was an instance of racism against Indians in Australia. (Economic Times, July 19, 2012) The ban imposed by the Australian government has caused harm to many Indians who were stranded in India and were not allowed to enter Australia despite them having Australian citizenship. It is interesting how I am in a position of power if I compare myself to the Indian community in general, but I become a part of the marginalized group if I consider my position as a part of the Australian student community. If I leave my racial identity aside, I’m a part of the marginalized gender.  

While pursuing an education to become a social worker, I am aware of the power dimensions associated with social work. Social work comes with its dimensions of power and marginalization. Social workers have immense power when it comes to their reliability or opinion regarding social issues. A social worker and the client share power relations which influences the outcome of the social work being undertaken. The outcome of social work is highly dependent on the power resources available to the client and on the other hand, the ultimate motive of social work is to enhance the power resources available to the client. (Hasenfeld, 1987) A ‘situated model of power’ for social work has also been developed based on the writings of Michael Foucault which puts together the concepts of subjectivity and power within the critical space of social work. (Grosz, 2013) I believe that the social worker has the power to improve the conditions of society by empowering those who are powerless. The social worker can create a real impact because of the legitimate powers he or she has because – her knowledge skills, legal powers and recognition given to her professional status. (Webb, n.d.) The social worker has a substantial say in matters of social policymaking by the government because he or she is the one who works on the ground to see the real condition of people. The collective experience of the social workers gives them a structural power, which when misused may lead to dire consequences on the empowerment of the powerless people. (Sakamoto & Pitner, 2005) A social worker may be an integral part of activism too because a social worker has the most in-depth knowledge in his or her field. Claims raised by the social worker is bound to have legitimate grounds.

Conclusion

Keeping these following points in mind while embarking on the journey as a social worker would be wise for me. While reflecting on my positionality is important, I must ensure that it does not cloud my judgement as a social worker. I am well aware of the perils of a biased social worker, given the immense power a social worker holds. I want to become a social worker who is truly committed towards empowering the powerless and truly try and understand the subjectivity of my actions as a social worker.

References:

Bennett, B. (2019) ‘Acknowledgement in Aboriginal Social Work Research’, ch. 3 in Disrupting Whiteness in Social Work: Decolonising Epistemologies for Practice. London: Routledge

Clegg, S. (2000). Theories of Power. Theory, Culture & Society, 17(6), 139–147. https://doi.org/10.1177/02632760022051545

Economic Times, (July 19, 2012).  Indian students affected badly after Australia attack in 2009-10, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/nri/nris-in-news/indian-students-affected-badly-after-australia-attack-in-2009-10-report/articleshow/15039802.cms?from=mdr

Grosz, E. (2013). Contemporary theories of power and subjectivity. In Feminist knowledge (pp. 59-120). Routledge.

Hasenfeld, Y. (1987). Power in social work practice. Social service review, 61(3), 469-483

Sadan, E. (1997). ‘Theories of Power’ in Empowerment and community planning: Theory and practice of people-focused social solutions. Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad.

Sakamoto, I., & Pitner, R. O. (2005). Use of critical consciousness in anti-oppressive social work practice: Disentangling power dynamics at personal and structural levels. The British Journal of Social Work35(4), 435-452.

Stephen A. Webb, The Politics of Social Work: Power and Subjectivity

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