Informed Outrage: Tackling Shame and Stigma in Poverty Education in Social Work

Liz Beddoe and Emily Keddell

Outrage: ‘An extremely strong reaction of anger, shock, or indignation’

(Oxford Dictionaries online)

Resistance is not futile

The journal Ethics and Social Welfare will publish a special issue entitled ‘Engaging with Outrage! Social work, social welfare and social justice’ in June, 2016.  The guest editors are Professor Charlotte Williams (RMIT); Professor Linda Briskman (Swinburne University ) and Associate Professor Donna McAuliffe (Griffith University ) and Associate Board Editor of the Australasian Board of Ethics and Social Welfare.

  The brief for the special issue was as follows:

“The notion of moral ‘outrage’ evokes the responsibility of social work and social welfare practitioners to respond to matters of social injustice. Social work/social welfare practitioners are critically placed as ‘practice ethnographers’ to bear witness to injustices and are morally obligated to speak out, act up and resist. Their practice experiences and case studies demonstrate the ethical terrain they traverse in pushing forward the frontiers of activism and speak to their personal investments. What might this mean for a new politics of social work/social welfare practice? What are the possibilities and potentials for harnessing the politics of moral outrage and what are the risks?

This special issue [will focus] on the nature of such moral engagement and the political and ethical issues it throws up for social work and social welfare practice. The notion of political rebellion has a long tradition in social work/welfare and more recently theorists and researchers have sought to capture the nature of these strategies and actions. Others reject such notions arguing that it overstates the role and remit of social work/welfare practice and is ethically contestable.

Themes of moral distress, moral responsibility, moral practices, ambivalence, ethical champions, activism, sabotage and circumvention are nevertheless appearing in professional circuits and raise complex ethical issues for social work, social welfare and social work publics”.

Emily and Liz have published an article based on these themes as they impact on social work education.

The experience of poverty as shameful is often felt by people living in poverty due to the internalisation of stigmatising neoliberal discourses which construe poverty as the consequence of individual failings of effort, competence or morality. A critical response requires an analysis of poverty as primarily caused by structural factors, as without this critical perspective, social workers can become complicit with a responsibilisation agenda based on stigma. Many social work students were raised in the neoliberal era where the post-war consensus on welfare had diminished and thus may be blind to the assumptions embedded in current discourse about people in poverty. Increasing inequalities in many western countries may mean infrequent contact between people from different class backgrounds and exposure to the realities of poverty.

To address the potential risk of social workers reinforcing poverty stigma we propose in our article that social work education incorporates teaching which explicitly addresses the discrepancies between a structural analysis of poverty and the current dominant discourses.

We argue for the inclusion of such topics as moral panics, surveillance, social abjection and social control which underpin welfare policy. Understanding these concepts equips social work students and practitioners to critique current welfare policies and see beyond the stigmatising language and practices in contemporary welfare politics and systems.

Beddoe, L., & Keddell, E. (2016). Informed outrage: tackling shame and stigma in poverty education in social work. Ethics and Social Welfare, 1-14. doi:10.1080/17496535.2016.1159775

Read  our full article here

PS When free e-prints are gone, if you can’t access via your institution please contact me via ResearchGate 

Emily is a senior lecturer in social work  at the University of Otago and has blogged about Poverty and child abuse: never the twain shall meet?

Liz is an associate professor in social work  at the University of Auckland and has blogged about Feral families, troubled families: The spectre of the underclass in New Zealand

They are both members of the Re-Imagining Social Work Collective – visit here.

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About socialworknz

I'm a social work researcher in Aotearoa New Zealand
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2 Responses to Informed Outrage: Tackling Shame and Stigma in Poverty Education in Social Work

  1. David McNabb says:

    This looks like an excellent article and a great upcoming edition. I agree with the importance of a critical approach to addressing poverty in social work education. My own learning and solidarity with anti poverty work includes involvement with the current Benefit Impact by Auckland Action Against Poverty: http://www.aaap.org.nz/queues_for_mangere_beneficiary_impact_start_at_6_30am

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