SCANZ2013:liberation starts right here

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A Pakeha social work view: liberation starts right here

Author: Lesley Pitt


Social work by it’s nature is ecological; the role of a social worker is to consider the person in their environment. Social work is about the “connectedness of the world” (Payne, 2005, p. 154), integration, relationships, developing safe and caring communities and working towards social justice.

Pākehā social workers have a tendency to focus on the human part of the environment rather than attending to the physical world people inhabit. This leaves out a crucial aspect of the totality of a client/s lived experience. The political context in which social work is practiced in the 21st Century encourages a narrow approach: the priorities of neo liberal governments are for service delivery which is cost effective and does not challenge of the dominant order.

Social work is about social justice; the link between social deprivation, social exclusion and environmental damage and decay is a significant issue. This is evident in this community (Taranaki) as it is in other parts of the world. Neo colonialism has impacted in this area on all inhabitants but some feel the impact more directly and harshly than others. For tangata whenua this process has been on going on since the contact period and continues its unrelenting march. For some non-Māori there is instant gratification to be gained from ‘progress’ however for the most marginalised in our community the impact of capitalism and it’s use, and destruction of, the physical world has a direct impact on their daily lives and well being.

For people who are on the margins of society and socially excluded the ideas of critical theory and feminism encourage the use of consciousness raising, and education in the broadest sense, as a way of making sense of the world they live in, both the physical and social and as a tool of liberation. Exploring the link between the abuse of the environment, of which there are examples within this area, and the abuse and oppression of people allows ‘space’ for people to consider their own lives within their political, social and historical context. Making the personal, that is the lived experience, political, creates an emancipatory force which seeks change (Freire, 1993). The wisdom of critical thinkers and feminists can be drawn on to liberate ourselves, our communities and our environments.