Working with diversity in a neoliberal environment


  • Lyndon Gordon
  • Carole Zufferey University of South Australia


diversity, neoliberal environment, social justice, social work


Social work is a profession dedicated to working with diverse population groups from a social justice perspective. This research examined the influence of neoliberalism on social work in South Australia and how it impacted on the practice of South Australian social workers with service users. Whilst the structural impacts of neoliberalism on social work in Australia are well documented, the perspectives of social workers about the impact of neoliberalism on their social work practice have received little critical attention. In this qualitative, exploratory study, semi-structured interviews were conducted with seven South Australian social workers employed in government and non-government organisations. A significant finding of this research was that economic imperatives increased pressures on social work practitioners and limited their ability to take into account the complexities of the material problems experienced by disadvantaged families and community groups. This pressure impacted on their capacity to work in culturally competent ways with diverse population groups. The study raises awareness of the political contexts in which social workers are employed and the importance of social workers being more engaged in challenging neoliberal organisational policies.


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