Power and Dominace

This essay will talk on the definition of privilege and dominance, the application and importance of anti-oppressive practice and the theoretical frame work of Thompson’s Personal, Cultural and Structural (PCS) models of oppression, Burnham’s social ‘GRRAACCEESS’ and Fook’s Micro and Macro approaches. It will also cover my reflection on the article ‘To Address Privilege and Dominance’ and how it influences my social work practice and a reflection on challenges that might arise in my practice.
Bailey (1998:109) defines privilege as ‘systematically conferred advantages individuals enjoys by virtue of their membership in dominant groups with access to resources and institutional power that are beyond the common advantages of marginalised citizens’. Tillner (1997:2) defines dominance as ‘a form of identity practice that constructs a difference which legitimises dominance and grants the agent of dominance the illusion of a superior identity’. Anti-oppressive practice is the cornerstone of ethical social work practice.
It is very important and central to learning in social work practice how to challenge the focused abuse of power and mistreatment of others using specific legislation where applicable and to consider the particular disadvantages resulting from a precise social difference. Dominelli (2002:36) denotes that ‘anti-oppressive practice addresses the whole person and enables the practitioner to relate to his or her client’s social context in a way that takes account of the ‘allocative and authoritative’ that both the practitioner and the client bring to the relationship.

Thus, anti oppressive practice takes on board personal, institutional, cultural and economic issues and examines how this impinges on individuals’ behaviour and opportunities to develop their full potentials as persons living within collective entities’. Parker (2007) states that anti-discriminatory approaches highlight disadvantage by association experienced by people with whom social workers practise as the discrimination is directly related to the particular characteristics identified within the legislation.
Parker (2007) further explains that anti-oppressive pursue to change systems that upholds the status quo at the expense of carers, service users disadvantaged or marginalised people due to their social division and statuses. Thompson (2006) identifies three levels that can make us better understand the ways oppression or discrimination works in society. These are Personal, Cultural and Structural (PCS) models of oppression. The personal or psychological level is concerned with an individual’s thoughts, feelings, views, attitudes and actions towards a particular group, person, race, gender, sexuality, religion or community.
The cultural level centres on ‘shared ways of seeing, thinking and doing’ (Thompson, 2009). That is: cultural levels of interaction within society and shared ways of seeing, thinking and doing, the same values and patterns of thought and behaviour, conformity to social norms and humour as a vehicle for transmitting and reinforcing culture. Culture is also very influential in determining what is regarded as ‘normal’ in any given circumstance. The structural level refers to the network of social divisions and power relations that are so closely associated with them.
It also relates to the way in which oppression and discrimination are ‘sewn in’ to the fabric of society or institutionalise. It also relates to the level of social forces; ‘interlocking patterns of power and influence’. Hugman (2009:1142) notes that ‘Fooks approach shows how working at the micro level can be informed by structural understandings of the causes of social needs’. Micro pertains to individual, domestic unit and small groups whilst macro relates to community, organisation and policies.
It is important to work with macro minded in micro practice as most difficulties faced by service users can easily be identified at that level. Burnham (2005) claims that power and privilege relates to an individual’s gender, race, religion, age, ability, class, culture, creed, ethnicity, education sexuality and sexual orientation. Hence, social workers need to understand their own identities in order to understand the identity of service users. This will facilitate better interaction and good engagement. The aspect of the article that stood out for me is the privileges or advantages enjoyed by males.
If we look back in history of time we will see that woman have come a very long way fighting for equality. It is obvious that men enjoy certain privileges based on the fact that they are males as compared to their female counterparts. There are other informed observations that propose that the male dominance in present day society is a function of culturally-installed patriarchy that not only favours men but also oppresses women in society. Robinson (2003) claims that patriarchy enthusiasts would argue that society enjoys most benefit because of male dominance and our respective gender roles.
Feminist philosophers and activist are quick to point out the great suffering women have experienced over the years and the discrimination they faced every day in present day society. It is a truism that woman have suffered over the years and are still suffering today due to some aspects of male privilege and dominance in society. It will be of great help to the society if social workers focus on the visible and invisible mechanisms of power, privilege, and influence that males have over females. This will be of great help to fight against inequality and other social ills.
There are privileges that that come to some people simply because of the fact that they are males. For example, it will be very difficult for a man be discriminated at his place of work on the ground of his sex. Most females are and have been discriminated against on the ground of their sex. To add to the above, men are paid higher than women doing the same job especially if the employer knows that the man has a family. During recruitment, some employers are very reluctant to recruit female workers as they are concerned that she will need time off for maternity, time to take her child to the hospital and other family commitment.
Most service users will do what they are asked to do by a male social worker as compared to a female social worker due to the fact that they are male. Most service users especially when it comes to child protection will be more confrontational and verbal with females as compared to males. I have worked with cases that when it came to difficult and confrontational service users, the cases where transferred to male social workers. As soon as the cases were transferred to a male social worker the service user’s attitude towards the male social worker changed.
Another aspect in the article that stood out for me is the privileges enjoyed by heterosexual couples over same sex or gay couple. I have a friends and colleagues who are lesbians and they will remind from time to time that I should understand they are lesbians and it is extremely difficult for them to kiss or hold hands in public like heterosexual couples. I have also worked with service users that are gays and lesbians and I have to always remember to use the term partner when I am referring to their boyfriend or girlfriend.
They have also explained to me that they do not feel free to communicate with colleagues or people because they feel that they will not be taken serious or they will be perceived as social misfits. The above mentioned facts about privilege and dominance will certainly influence my social work practice in a positive way. Social work is a profession that provide help and valuable support to people who are facing some forms of oppression and social exclusion and other social ills. It is very essential that social workers empathise with service users as they are in the position of power whilst the service users may sometime feel powerless.
It should be recommended that much work be done in order to bridge the gap between male and female. The work should be centred towards extending privilege, power, dominance and influence to women. Men also need to assess themselves in order to address the concerns of open oppression of women. This could also include talks and seminars on issues like domestic violence, workplace disparity and other issues related to gender equality. It will ease communication and understanding when a social worker explains to service users their concerns and what they will do in order to address the concern.
Some service users believe that social workers are baby snatchers, community police, a tool for the upper class, a control mechanism and in such situations service users can become abusive and confrontational. Social workers need to explain the reasons for their visit and what they will do and what they will not do. This will enable service users and other family members to engage with social workers. Worthy of mention is the fact that social workers should be aware of the area of privilege and dominance and as they can discuss this with people who enjoy certain privileges as a way forward.
For example, always hold conversation with men about the privileges enjoyed by them. As a social worker you have to be aware of the challenges that you might face whilst trying to address the issue of privilege and dominance. Advocacy is a means of emancipation and it is often not easy to advocate for certain group of people. It might be very difficult for information to penetrate some communities. Again, some people use religion as a defence for not accepting other people’s values, sexuality and religious in society.
The fact that social workers need to be polite, speak cautiously and professionally at all times might lead to some service users taking them for granted. It is of immense importance for social workers to reflect on the issue of privilege and dominance as they work with service users who have been marginalised or oppressed. This will serve as emancipatory given the fact that the lack of critical reflection on the privileged flank of social division permits members of dominant group to strengthen their dominance. This will enable social workers to best understand issues revolving around privilege, dominance, power and influence.
A good understanding of these issues will pave a good way for social workers to work better with service users and also instigate change when and where it is needed. Reference Bailey, A. (1998) ‘Privilege: Expanding on Marilyn Fry’s oppression’, Journal of Social Philosophy. 29, 3: 104-119. Dominelli. L. (2002) Anti-Oppressive Social Work Theory and Practice. London: Palgrave Macmillan Hugman, R. (2009) But is it Social Work? Some Reflection of Mistaken Identities. British Journal of Social Work, 39, 1139-1153. Parker, J. (2007) Social Work, Disadvantage by Association and Anti-Oppressive Practice. In P.
Burke and J. Parker. (eds. ) Social Work and Disadvantage: Addressing the Roots of Stigma Through Association, London: Jessica Kingsley. Robinson, M (2003) Gender, Power and Privilege. Charles Pfeffer: WetWare, Inc. Rochester, NY. Tillner, G. (1997) ‘Masculinity and Xenophobia: The identity of dominance’. Paper presented to the UNESCO conference, Masculinity and Male Roles in the Perspective of a Culture of Peace, Oslo, Norway. Thompson, N. (2006) Anti-Discriminatory Practice (2006) 4th ed, Palgrave, Macmillian. Thompson, N. (2009) Promoting equality, valuing diversity. Lyme Regis: Russell House Publishing.

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