Towards a Critical Understanding of Difference and Diversity



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University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work


Difference is the defining character of our globalizing and postmodern times. Difference is also the basis of oppression. Social work practitioners need to be cognizant that the way difference is deployed in public discourses is not benign. As such, a critical understanding of difference has crucial implications in anti-oppressive as well as social work practices. Furthermore, much of our understanding and perception of difference is implicit, subliminal, and often enmeshed with existing oppressive social relations. Not making visible and bringing to our critical consciousness how difference is understood and perceived would risk reproducing and perpetuating oppressive relations unwittingly in both daily and professional interactions. The objective of this article is, therefore, twofold. First, to understand the meaning of difference and its implications in anti-oppression from a critical social work perspective. The politicized meaning of difference will be further elucidated by being distinguished from a similar yet more diluted term of diversity. This more nuanced understanding of difference and diversity is important to social workers as they critically engage social critiques and social justice debates regarding issues of difference and diversity. Second, to foreground the meaning of difference to our consciousness, and thereby disrupt our unconscious complicity in oppressive relations. In bringing what may be an implicit acceptance of existing meanings of difference to the fore of our critical consciousness, one may be better positioned to resist participating in and reproducing oppression in daily mundane as well as social work interactions.



Perspectives on Social Work, Winnie Lo, Perspectives on Social Work, Social work