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The Uncomfortable Edge

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1 The Uncomfortable Edge
A teaching tool for anti-discriminatory practice Courtney Jones and Amanda Thorpe University of Bedfordshire

2 Research evidence and practice experience
Despite anti-racist and anti-oppressive practice being clearly and explicitly a part of social work education from the mid-1980’s much of the research and academic writing since the late 1990’s still identifies real gaps in students’ knowledge and application of the principles of anti-racist and anti-oppressive practice, [Maidment & Cooper (2002), Heron (2004)].

3 A missed opportunity? There is anecdotal evidence however that many social work courses continued to include anti-racist practice in the curriculum alongside more generic anti-oppressive practice (Thorpe,1999, Chand et al,2002, Heron, 2004). Nonetheless the new requirements for the degree do not require students explicitly and actively to engage with anti-racist practice (QAA 2002 & 2008, DH 2002 , TOPSS 2003).

4 Curriculum content and teaching methods
“anti racism has provided social work with a critique that paved the way for other forms of domination to enter the discourse on oppression in Social work” (Keating, 2003 p.79) Our choice to focus on race throughout the module but use the teaching tool and input on other ‘isms’ to demonstrate the connectedness, allows students to do the work to connect the two concepts and begin to integrate this into their thinking about practice.

5 “Another challenge is to translate such an integrated understanding of oppression into a theory for anti-oppressive practice" (Keating 2003 p.85). The uncomfortable edge seeks to do this and results, as Keating predicted, in a “realisation that some elements of our world view may no longer be valid or applicable in the same way as before” (Keating 2003 p.85)

6 The teaching tool In using the tool there is a tension as noted by others “Of maintaining the importance of explicit reference to anti-racism without this being seen as creating a hierarchy of oppression, with racism claiming some kind of priority" (Butler et al 2003 p. 272)

7 The diagram The model draws on a number of familiar theoretical models, e.g. Thompson’s PCS analysis, and Donald and Rattansi’s insights into the social construction of oppression, i.e. “The structures of power, the institutions and the social practices that produce racial oppression and discriminatory outcomes” (Donald and Rattansi 1992 cited in Thompson 1998 p17) .

8 Black and White identity formation
Our teaching places a specific emphasis on the interconnectedness of the development of Black and White identity, in order to enable both Black and White students to understand the theoretical and developmental processes involved in in developing a cultural identity. “Anti- racist training which looks at Black experience without exploring Whiteness and White dominance may be contrary to its anti oppressive objectives by colluding with the focus on Black individuals and groups” (Butler et al, 2003, p 276).

9 Commonalities and divisions?
Black people share a common oppression which can unite them …………. White people’s common position as oppressors divides those fighting racism from white compatriots (Dominelli, 1988 p13) “….. whilst the White Practice Teachers are aware of the sharp edge of racism, their frequently isolated position as White anti-racist workers in predominantly White organisations draws them back from this 'edge'. Their experiences of being different to 'ordinary social workers' can make them retreat to where it is 'safe' amongst the cultural norms”. (Thorpe, 1999 p102)

10 Joining the oppressed? The proponents of anti-oppressive practice view it as a political activity siding with and promoting the good of oppressed service users, ……… However we have seen little to indicate that the proponents acknowledge their own political role within the structures and apparatus of the ‘anti-oppressive‘ machine”. (Wilson and Beresford, 2000 p558)

11 Leaving the edge In the diagram the figure on ‘the edge’ is looking back for support but seeing it withdrawn, by those urging one to step back. ‘On the edge’ does not, in this case, refer to a place that one jumps off from as a starting point but rather a position that is achieved and maintained, despite the discomfort it imposes. Once the stance is understood, the only way off the uncomfortable edge is back into collusion, but at this point it becomes a conscious rather than unwitting collusion.

12 Questions ? We will be very happy to answer questions or talk later about reflected thoughts on this presentation. Thank you Courtney Jones and Amanda Thorpe

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