Confronting Oppression, Restoring Justice: From Policy Analysis to Social Action/Emerging Perspectives on Anti-Oppressive Practice

By Clews, Rosemary | Canadian Social Work Review, July 1, 2005 | Go to article overview

Confronting Oppression, Restoring Justice: From Policy Analysis to Social Action/Emerging Perspectives on Anti-Oppressive Practice


Clews, Rosemary, Canadian Social Work Review


Confronting Oppression, Restoring Justice: From Policy Analysis to Social Action. By Katherine van Warmer. Alexandria, VA: Council on Social Work Education, 2004.

Emerging Perspectives on Anti-Oppressive Practice. Edited by Wes Shera. Toronto: Canadian Scholar's Press, 2003.

The new CASW Code of Ethics (2005) and the current Educational Policy Statement of CASSW (2000) both stress the importance of anti-oppression in social work theory, practice, and education. Recent books by Katherine van Wormer and by Wes Shera contribute to the scholarship available for social work students, practitioners, and educators on this important subject. Each book makes a useful contribution to Canadian social work literature and in many ways the books complement each other.

In Confronting Oppression, Katherine van Wormer providers the reader with a systematic approach to the analysis of oppression. The 233-page book is divided into two sections, the first about oppression and the second about injustice and restorative justice. In the first, van Wormer draws upon psychological and sociological literature as well as personal narratives and fiction to explore meanings of oppression as well as related concepts including social justice, restorative justice, social exclusion, exploitation, empowerment, and gender specificity and neutrality. The roots of these concepts as applied in social work are located in social science and social work literature. The conceptual exploration, followed by an articulation of assumptions underpinning the book, clarifies its theoretical base. Confronting Oppression then proposes strategies for challenging oppression-by the United Nations as well as national politicians and social workers. Several "isms" including classism, racism, and heterosexism are explored in depth. Agism, adultism, and ableism are also considered. The wide-ranging review of issues relating to oppression is not restricted to illustrations from developed countries such as Canada, the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom as one often finds in books of this nature. Comparative material from Middle Eastern, Far Eastern, and African countries is also included. The reader is provided with tools to conduct historical, international, political, and economic analyses to develop anti-oppressive strategies. Religious roots of an empowerment tradition in social work are traced in Protestant thought (particularly Quakerism), past political strategies including Roosevelt's "New Deal," and anti-discriminatory initiatives in the history of the social work profession itself. The contributions of the work of Freire, various feminist social workers and scholars, and the strengths perspective in social work are incorporated in the consideration of theoretical perspectives that can inform anti-oppressive practice.

The second section of the book considers injustice and restorative justice. Economic and social injustice across the world as experienced by women, children, welfare recipients, and incarcerated prisoners is reviewed. The author then turns her attention to the "war on terror." She recommends that radical policy analysis is a good starting point for restoring social justice and suggests methods for working within social, political, and legal systems. Confronting Oppression also explains how to go about grassroots organizing. A brief consideration of pedagogical implications of the ideas contained in Confronting Oppression is offered in short sections on teaching and learning concepts of justice and the education of allies. The book ends by reviewing four restorative justice models: victim-offender conferencing, family group conferencing, community conferencing and circle sentencing, and community reparation.

Basing his set of 27 readings on papers presented at the CASSW conference in Toronto in 2002, Wes Shera introduces 12 issues pertaining to social work's commitment to advocacy and the pursuit of social justice that are considered in the 487 pages of Emerging Perspectives.

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