Social Work Theory in Action
Updated: Oct 21, 2022
Soapbox is a humanistic social movement that aims to cultivate positive mental health changes in society through meaningful communal projects. The Soapbox model operates on the belief that people can create positive changes in society, and the collective effect of that change could lead to developing positive norms in the community. Soapbox can be explained in the light of critical social work theory, which explains how social work complements the values and change soapbox wants to achieve. This essay builds on the concept of connecting social work theory to the Soapbox model and relates the application of anti-oppressive practice to the Soapbox context.
Anti-oppressive practise is a social work theory that fits into the overarching tradition of critical social work. This approach came out of the UK and Canada in the 1980s, emerging in response to a critique of earlier class-based approaches and targeting ‘the failure of individualistic theories of social work to recognise the impact of discrimination against minority groups in society (Payne, 2014). The salient features of anti-oppressive practice include listening to experiences of oppression, consciousness-raising, empowerment, advocacy, and structural activism (Strier, 2007). Listening to experiences of oppression is important as it recognises the structural and systemic inequities that affect people’s lives. Anti-oppressive practise involves awareness raising—or ‘consciousness’—of the interpersonal and structural injustice. It also includes dialogical relationships, meaning conversations aiming to share power require critical reflection to identify and address oppression. Another major feature of anti-oppressive practice is empowerment through validating and normalising individual’s behaviour in the face of oppression, because an individual may feel a sense of powerlessness due to personal, social, economic, and political situations. It also involves advocating for the service users or community. Lastly, it covers engaging in structural activism to achieve community change, which is done by analysing how privileged people in power construct social problems and encourage social change through collective action. Most of these features overlap with the Soapbox model and its projects.
Soapbox aims to help communities by promoting social change. It works to support the betterment of society through cultural changes, including meaningful projects, healthy competition, and encouraging self-fulfilment. Soapbox encourages open dialogue and honest conversations in the community. The model mandates a person-centred, humanistic approach, and targets society on an individual level. In short, the Soapbox model proposes that the world is our responsibility. Humans can create change; together as a community, we can collectively create betterment for Sydney (Soapbox, 2021). Soapbox’s anti-discriminatory stance and emphasis on critical social work values of empowering communities and advocating for individual wellbeing and fulfilment directly align with the essence of anti-oppressive practice. As soapbox highlights the importance of meaningful projects for the well-being of communities, an overview of soapbox projects and correlating anti-oppressive practice values is provided in the essay. Soapbox model relates to the anti-oppressive practise of social work in the following ways:
1. Consciousness Raising:
Consciousness-raising aims at altering societal conditions through raising people’s and communities’ awareness of dehumanising social structures and oppression (Baines, 2017).
Social workers educate service users about their own oppression and how to combat it, asking 'critical questions’ to explore stereotypical or socially conditioned assumptions.
Similarly, Soapbox helps the community by educating the public and promoting social change through publishing research articles on social issues along with the recommended solutions
2. Dialogical Conversations:
In dialogical relationships (relationships where there is dialogue or talk) all participants are equals, learning from each other and teaching each other.
Of course, the social worker will have some skills and insights that the community member does not have, but the service user has experiences and insights that the worker does not (Baines, 2017).
Social workers reject the expert position and instead collaborate with the service user
This value lies at the very heart of the Soapbox model in practice, where hierarchy is discouraged, and people are encouraged to work in collaboration with each other as a team. This is well reflected in the Info session/Pizza night conducted by Soapbox, along with the work ethics observed.
3. Advocacy: Listening to experiences of oppression through conducting case studies.
Advocacy is the process of taking action to help people say what they want, secure their rights, represent their interests, and obtain services they need.
Social workers can advocate with and for an individual, also known as case advocacy, or in the case of many people, cause advocacy (Dalrymple & Boylan, 2013).
Advocates promote social inclusion, equality, and social justice.
Advocates work in partnership with the people they support and take their side.
At Soapbox, a similar model of advocacy is followed by sponsorship of articles and interviewing individuals or service providers by conducting case studies.
4. Validating and normalising experiences of oppression by providing a supportive space to people and promoting resilience.
Normalisation can assist service users in seeing that their problems and/or situations are not unique.
Validation recognises that outside institutional social pressures such as dominant societal messages, lack of material resources, lack of money, lack of good quality institutions of support, stigma, labelling induce you to think, feel and act in a particular way- eg self-doubt (Morley, Ablett & Macfarlane, 2019)
Social workers affirm service users that their feelings, thoughts and behaviours are understandable given outside pressures they experience.
Soapbox social workers strive to create this atmosphere and supportive environment that can meaningfully validate people’s experiences
To conclude, the Soapbox model is complemented by the critical social work theory of ‘anti-oppressive practice’. The core principles overlap, and as such, we can interpret the Soapbox model in the light of critical social work.
Baines, D. (2017). Doing anti-oppressive practice: Social justice social work (3rd ed.). Fernwood.
Dalrymple, J., & Boylan, J. (2013). Effective advocacy in social work. Sage.
Morley, C., Ablett, P., & Macfarlane, S. (2019). Engaging with social work: A critical introduction (2nd ed.). Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
Payne, M. (2014). Modern social work theory (4th ed). Lyceum Books Inc.
Soapbox. (2021). Soapbox. https://www.soapbox.sydney/
Strier, R. (2007). Anti-oppressive research in social work: A preliminary definition. British Journal of Social Work, 37(5), 857-871.