Antiracism Discourse: The Ideological Circle in a Child World

By Yan, Miu Chung | Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare, March 2003 | Go to article overview
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Antiracism Discourse: The Ideological Circle in a Child World

Yan, Miu Chung, Journal of Sociology & Social Welfare

Antiracism is a dominant discourse in contemporary societies. The understanding of antiracism, however, varies. Government, through its own textually mediated organization of apparatus, tends to homogenize the discourse. This paper is to demonstrate, by employing institutional ethnography, how a child's act can ignite the socially organized textual engine to include the children's world in the ideological circle of antiracism discourse dominated by the government. Institutional ethnography, as demonstrated in this paper, is a useful tool for social workers to deconstruct the textual condition in which social work practice is embedded. The ideological circle is a powerful concept to help social workers to understand our social location in the ruling relations of the society.


Antiracism is a dominant social discourse in contemporary societies. The state with its control apparatus, a powerful player, tends to homogenize this discourse by containing the politicization of social discontentment rising from racism within a social administration paradigm. The intention is to maintain the existing power balance among different racial groups (Steinberg, 1997). However, as many scholars have pointed out, the understanding of race, racism and antiracism is far from homogenous (e.g. Bulmer & Solomos, 1999; Gilroy, 1999). In fact, different understandings of antiracism are always in competition. For instance, Payne (1997) notices that the pluralists' and radical structuralists' understanding of social work anti-racist practice conflict. Therefore, Gilroy (1999) contends that strategies against racism need not be homogenized either.

This paper will not discuss the actual meaning of antiracism nor will it address which strategies are more useful. Instead, the purpose of this paper is to demonstrate how the governmental discourse of antiracism trickles down as a bureaucratic response to a racist incident in the children's world through a textually mediating process, and ultimately how governmental discourse homogenizes the social understanding of antiracism within its administrative parameter.

The analytic approach of this paper is based on institutional ethnography developed by Dorothy Smith, a Canadian feminist sociologist. O'Neill (1998) has demonstrated how institutional ethnography can be useful in understanding social work. In O'Neill's (1998) article, he discusses a few major concepts of institutional ethnography, such as texts, ideology, social relations and discourse. Yet the concept of an ideological circle, which is the major analytic tool to be employed in this study, has not been fully explored. Ideological circle is largely a textually coordinated circular process, through which governmental ideology is filtered down to all levels of the society. Social service practitioners, who are a part of the ensemble of the governmentality of the state, i.e., means of control (Johnson, 1993; Popple, 1992), inevitably become actors who (very often unintentionally) help complete the ideological circle. Indeed, the social control function of social service practitioners is always intertwined with the ideological circle embedded in governmental policies.

The Case Study

The ideological circle of antiracism to be studied in this paper was triggered by an incident in the childcare center (the Center) of a multi-service community agency (the Agency) in a city of southern Ontario, Canada. One day, a girl about eleven to twelve years old came to the center to visit her stepbrother. The girl was black-white bi-racially mixed. A black child about four years old went to her and said, "I don't like your face." The incident was seen by a childcare worker who thought it childish behavior and ignored it. However, the girl shared the remark with her stepmother at home, who felt that it was a racist incident. She came to the childcare center and talked to the workers there. The alarm bell was rung.

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