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Introducing social work: a starter kit
Introducing social work: a starter kit

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Session 3: Understanding social divisions and diversity


The allocation of resources and the access to opportunities in society have throughout human history been competitive and contradictory, at times being advantageous to some individuals and groups while being disadvantageous at times to others. Left to itself, this situation does not seem to change very much for the better, but as one of the many agencies designed and motivated to positively address these very familiar ‘human’ dilemmas, social work attempts to intervene proactively wherever possible.

Social work interventions and services are based on the values of social justice, the empowerment and liberation of human potential, and the assumption of universal human rights. However, in their direct work with service users, social workers encounter frequent examples where these socially orientated values and aspirations either go unacknowledged, are avoided, or are deliberately excluded. To prevent becoming part of the problem rather than part of the solution, therefore, social workers need a sophisticated understanding and critique of social systems and the forces that shape and sustain both positive and negative patterns of resource allocation and social opportunity. This includes the forces shaped and sustained by legal, political, community and group pressures.

These aspects of what social workers need to know are reflected in the five principal areas of this session:

  1. Poverty
  2. Social exclusion
  3. Social work with communities
  4. Social work and groups
  5. Social work and the law

You will begin by considering poverty.