“Liberty by definition is not the magic of one person, it is much more like an ecosystem.”
     Ravyn Stanfield

Anti-Oppressive Social Work

Oppression is the denial of power and equality, disproportionally affecting oppressed people and communities via overt and subvert socially constructed means. The assignment of power is based on assumed and actual social/racial/cultural/gender/socioeconomic and other identifying human and community associations. Oppression is both systemic and institutionalized, and perpetuates human inequality while also being a direct cause of inequality. Anti-oppressive social work practice reflects our specific commitment to being intentionally anti-oppressive in each aspect of our work.


Social workers committed to this philosophy must regularly ask ourselves how we resolve the inconsistencies between our commitment to social justice and our agreement to work within systems that often contribute to systemic inequity. Rather than passively maintaining the status-quo, we strive to co-create personal and community healing with social work service recipients.  We acknowledge and account for the institutionalized hierarchy that permeates social work systems and strive to minimize the power and privilege differentials that pervasively influence social work systems, policies and interventions.


Our comprehensive understanding of the human impact of injustice, racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, body-hatred, classism and poverty, ageism, historical trauma, colonization, ecological degradation, genocide—and other unnamed forms of oppression—informs each step of our practice as we strive to combat  inequality with justice centered, liberatory interventions. We share our professional voice with those whose own voices have been silenced; we use our education, skill, compassion and ability to co-create healing and justice through the practice of social work.

Keystones of Anti-Oppressive Social Work Practice

 co-written by Heather Horizon Greene and Sheila Walker

As practitioners of anti-oppressive practice, we know that the lens through which we view our work and the knowledge that informs our practice is always growing, shifting and evolving. We practice from the belief that everyone has a corner of the garden to care-take--everyone has their own sparkly contribution to make, their own passions, inspirations, and gifts to offer.  In this way, we are continually offering of ourselves in ways we feel called and where, from our unique vantage points, we are able to see and understand the need--and beyond that understanding, to begin to offer solutions.

We can, and should, use ourselves and the tools of our practice to humanize, honor, and acknowledge people's strengths, abilities and resiliencies--including our own! We can, and should, do the continual work, as the call of liberatory humyn service practice requests, of attempting--to the best of our ability--to align our values of justice with the manifestation of all areas of our practice. Each  unique contribution we make to this work is but one of many ways for us to create change, support transportation and invite justice into our work and world. 

Recognizing that this wisdom is ever evolving, it may not be helpful to set in stone firm rules about what that work will continue to look like. We can, however, share with you some foundational commitments that have informed our own justice-centered practice.

1)      An evolving understanding of justice, oppression and privilege, and our relationship with them

2)      An awareness of how justice, oppression and privilege affect the dynamics of social work systems, policies and practice

3)      A working historical context to inform our present day understanding of privilege and oppression

4)      A commitment to self-reflection, persistence, and the understanding that it’s OK to be uncomfortable at times in this work

5)      A commitment to being justice-centered in our practice, balanced with kindness to ourselves (and our learning process) and a willingness to continue the work

6)      A community of practitioner-allies (mentors, colleagues to bounce ideas off, folks who kindly challenge us in learning to reveal our blind spots, and those who are allies in this work and offer the validation, support and friendship so necessary for our sustained commitment to justice-centered work)

7)      A willingness to bring our "blind-spots" into the forefront of our practice

8)      A working skill-set in empowerment work, intentional/nonviolent communication, and consensus-based decision making

9)      A foundational understanding of feminist, multicultural, progressive, anti-racist, anti-oppressive, justice-centered, earth-centered, and deconstructive social work models of practice

10)   A dedication to our social work practice and a willingness to make unique contribution to this work