Home Anti-Oppressive Practice – Part 1 What is Anti-Oppressive Practice?

What is Anti-Oppressive Practice?

Anti-Oppressive Practice is both a theory and an approach that has a very broad scope. When defined as an approach to social issues, it focuses on how larger systems create and protect the unearned privilege and power that some groups have while at the same time creating, maintaining, and upholding difficult and unequitable conditions for other groups of people (Baines, 2017). These inequitable conditions created by larger systems lead to power imbalances between them. Anti-Oppressive Practice centres the experiences of equity-deserving groups in order to build structures and systems that work for everyone.

Anti-Oppressive Practice vs Anti-discriminatory Practice

Anti-discriminatory Practice is an approach which calls for people to be treated with respect and holds that people should not be treated badly or unfairly because of their race, gender, sexual orientation, impairment, class, religious belief or age. It also champions the implementation of policies that fight against discrimination (Okitikpi & Aymer, 2012).

Anti-Oppressive Practice recognizes the oppression that exists in our society/space and aims to mitigate the effects of oppression and eventually equalize the power imbalances that exist between people. It also recognizes that all forms of oppression are interconnected in some way, shape or form (Aquil et al., 2021).

Anti-Oppressive Practice primarily traces its roots back to the realm of social work where it has been applied at the micro, mezzo, and macro levels in order to do things like mitigate power imbalances between social workers and their clients as well as the power
imbalance between their clients and society at large. As it is a broad concept, Anti-Oppressive Practice draws on several different disciplines in order to deepen our understanding of the world and enable us to think more critically. These disciplines include areas like anti-racism, decolonization theory, feminism, queer theory and disability justice among others. Anti-Oppressive Practice strives to use these disciplines to give people the tools needed to better understand how power and privilege work within society at all different levels (Aqil et al., 2021). It also supports the development and facilitation of programs and practices that can shift our societal dynamics in ways that decrease and eliminate oppression (Aqil et al., 2021). Like many theories, Anti-Oppressive Practice is one that is continually evolving. In as such, it is a theory that requires continuous learning and engagement.

Equity deserving groups

Equity deserving groups are communities that identify barriers to equal access, opportunities, and resources due to disadvantage and discrimination, and actively seek social justice and reparation. This marginalization could be created by attitudinal, historic, social, and environmental barriers based on characteristics that are not limited to sex, age, ethnicity, disability, economic status, gender, gender expression, nationality, race, sexual orientation, and creed.

Oppression works at three interacting levels within our society – structural, cultural and personal (Scammell, 2016).

Type of OppressionWhat it IncludesExamples
StructuralThe entities and organizations that are responsible for distributing resources and delegating power in societyLegislative bodies, government policy, cultural institutions (education systems, health care systems, justice systems, houses of worship, libraries)
CulturalHow language and categorization can contribute to oppression by influencing cultural values and creating structures that label groups of people as either dominant or other

White vs. Racial minority

Heteronormative vs.

Neurotypical vs. Neurodivergent

PersonalIndividual interactions, everyday work practices and the values we hold and may share with others

Discrimination against a person based on prejudicial thoughts

A microaggression enacted against a Black person

Sources: Baines, 2017; Scammel, 2016.

Anti-Oppressive Practice also aims to help those who engage in it to improve their skills in critical consciousness. Critical consciousness is the combination of critical action and reflection (Aqil et al., 2021). It requires that we step back and think about our practices or policies and ask probing questions about how they impact those around us and those we work with and then act on the conclusions of these thoughts in tangible ways (Department of Education and Training – Victoria, 2007). Through this sort of practice, we see changes occur not just in systems, but within individuals as well.


Microaggressions are everyday, subtle, intentional — and oftentimes unintentional — interactions or behaviors that communicate some sort of bias toward historically marginalized groups (Nadal in Limbong, 2020). Although these actions are labeled as being micro, they can have an extensive impact on a person’s life and can happen towards any equity deserving group.

Key Point IllustrationAnti-Oppressive Practice is a complex and broad approach that aims to bring many important lenses into one space. By considering the many levels at which oppression acts and how we can question it, we can begin to better understand how our campus structures operate.

Guide: PDF Version