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British Journal of Social Work (2009) 39, 936–949

doi:10.1093/bjsw/bcm144 Advance Access publication January 17, 2008

Choosing Language: Social Service Framing and Social Justice
Colleen Vojak
Dr. Vojak has a Ph.D. in Educational Policy Studies from the University of Illinois where she holds an Adjunct Professor appointment. In this essay she draws from her experiences as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) and guardian ad litem for children in the state of Illinois. Her research interests include: children’s rights and interests, autonomy facilitating curriculum; religion and education, and the influence of market ideology on student behavior.
Correspondence to Dr Colleen Vojak, Ph.D., 4201 Summer Field Road, Champaign, IL 61822, USA. Email:

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Traditional social service language is embedded in an ideological framework that views individuals as the primary source of their predicaments and the solution to their problems, ignoring racism, poverty and other structural inequities. Stigmatizing language serves to maintain those inequities and reduce the collective sense of responsibility to address them. Social service providers who care about social justice, but do not understand the relationship between language and the larger social vision they want to help create, may unwittingly undermine their own project by reinforcing the language of hegemony. Keywords: stigma, language, social justice

Social service language and frames
[T]he institutions of society have systematically ‘blinded’ and ‘deafened’ themselves by the formalisation of rhetoric, policy, and legislation to the very existence of [socially marginalized] children (Hollitt, 2003).

Language is seldom neutral; it is infused with meaning, power and status. Language can be a powerful ideological tool that embodies assumptions about how our world is ordered, and how it may be changed (Hawkins et al., 2001). It frames worldviews, sets the parameters of acceptable

# The Author 2008. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Association of Social Workers. All rights reserved.

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discourse and preserves existing power differentials in ways that ‘may go undetected by those with less power’ (Heffernan, 2006, p. 140). Social service practitioners and theorists studying the use of language in the helping professions have noted how institutionalized jargon reflects prevailing ideological, political and economic interests, and thus maintains existing power relations (Throssell, 1975). Raymond Williams, in his landmark book, Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society, examines the dynamic interconnectedness between language and culture, and demonstrates how terms are constructed, shaped and reshaped by the dominant class within a particular social and historical context (Williams, 1976/1983, p. 24). Likewise, the language of social services has evolved—sometimes enlisting a new lexicon and at other times changing the meaning of existing terms—but, as we shall see, consistently reflecting the core ideologies and economic interests of the dominant class. For example, the once value-neutral category ‘dependent’ became stigmatizing as women entered the workforce and cultural and economic expectations of women began to change (Fraser and Gordon, 1994). Gregory and Holloway examine the evolution of modern social work terminology in Great Britain, and identify three historical frames based on the language used to describe people and services (Gregory and Holloway, 2005). Although this article was written about the social welfare system in Great Britain, the themes and language are equally recognizable in the USA. Both countries have common linguistic and cultural roots, and share a history shaped by Protestantism, Capitalism and the Industrial Revolution. The first frame portrays social work as a moral enterprise—one in which there are implied moral and status differences between the helper and the recipient, or, in Howard Becker’s terms, the superordinate and the subordinate. In his view, ‘the social work recipient is seen as morally weak and in need of guidance’ (Becker, 1967, p. 240). Dependency is viewed as a sign of weakness, and ‘[t]he role of the state is residual, returning the responsibility to the individual as soon as possible’ lest the recipient be made too comfortable’ (Gregory and Holloway, 2005, p. 41). This discourse implies that recipients lack sufficient moral fortitude, industriousness and, devoid of all other aspirations, might become addicted to government assistance. According to Gerhard Falk, this theme, which is very much present today, is deeply embedded in the Protestant work ethic within which ‘behavior . . . is judged by assuming that we are all responsible for our own actions, social standing, achievements, or lack thereof’ (Falk, 2001, p. 333).
The belief that poverty was self-made and that it reflected deviance from righteousness not only persisted as a religious conviction but was also reinforced by social Darwinism (Figueira-McDonough, 2007, p. 111).

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In a recent example, the US House of Representatives Report that accompanied the 1995 Welfare Transformation Act (H.R. 1157) echoed

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this sentiment, declaring that ‘welfare has become a narcotic’ which ‘induces dependency’ (Mills, 1996, p. 392). In a critique of this narrative, Frederick Mills reveals the hidden assumptions, and shows how language can constrain discourse through framing: ‘Notice that [according to the language of the report] welfare itself and not poverty induces dependence’ (Mills, 1996, p. 392). The second frame—the therapeutic enterprise—portrays the social concern as a kind of illness requiring treatment. ‘The social work task is . . . to diagnose and treat, to enable the client to return to society’s fold’ (Gregory and Holloway, 2005, p. 42). Again, there is an implied power differential. ‘[T]he client – worker relationship is one in which the personal superiority and professional authority of the worker is confirmed, not least in the language used to describe that relationship—the casework relationship which is a “form of treatment”’(Gregory and Holloway, 2005, p. 42). Psychiatrist Niranjan S. Karnick suggests that ‘therapeutic approaches themselves can be a form of violence’ (Karnik, 2001, p. 103). Through the use of case studies, he demonstrates how the language of pathology attached to children is often cemented into place through an unrelenting process of categorizing and labelling during the ‘therapeutic’ intervention. Children who have been victims are at risk of being labelled victimizers should they act out any of the aggression they previously experienced; and children whose lives have been disrupted or turned upside-down are at risk of becoming labelled disruptive, ADD/HD or behaviourdisordered. It may take only a single incident followed by the attachment of a pathological label to shift the child from victim to victimizer; and once a child is labelled as such, the frame for response shifts from one of care to containment—from protection of the child to protecting others from the child. Similar to the moral enterprise frame, the therapeutic frame emphasizes individual responsibility for problems and solutions. Psychological problems and personal economic instabilities are thought to be the root of the individual’s predicament, and treatment involves bringing the individual’s worldviews, expectations and behaviours into alignment with ‘reality’. Absent from this frame and the accompanying language is any acknowledgement of contributing societal factors, such as structural inequities, poverty and racism; and because this is not part of the discourse, neither is the strong sense of community responsibility and action to address these problems. A third frame—the managerial enterprise—enlists the language of market and business management (Gregory and Holloway, 2005, p. 46). Gregory and Holloway note that the language of ‘risk prediction and management . . . market economy and care . . . and the language of consumerism dominate the social work discourse’ (Gregory and Holloway, 2005, p. 47). Under this model, ‘care is a commodity to be managed like any other, and the recipients of care are ‘consumers’ of the product’ (Gregory and

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Holloway, 2005, p. 48). This tracks with recent trends in education and health care, and is marked by an increased emphasis on managing outcomes rather than helping people: ‘Interventions and outcomes are specified as precisely as possible in order to monitor impact and cost-effectiveness.’ Social service programmes aim ‘to target professional interventions to provide just the right skills and resources, to just the right clients, just in time’ (Eheart et al., 2005/2007). This minimalist approach ‘focuses exclusively on finding and repairing deficits. It is crisis-driven and reactive— remedial rather than preventive. Its implicit goal is to target limited services to those most in need’ (Hopping et al., 2001, p. 13). The language of business transmits a concern for efficiency and accountability, while dulling the concern for real people by objectifying and quantifying their lives. For example, risk management prioritizes the avoidance of high risk, and, by doing so, it suggests that caring about community members who need assistance is not a primary motivating factor; keeping them from interfering with the lives and economic interests of others is the key concern. This frame suggests that people with problems requiring community assistance are in a separate category from the rest of the community. Their interests are on one side, while the community’s interests are on the other side, entirely separate. Risk management language fails to appreciate how individual and community interests are overlapping and interwoven; it therefore neglects the bigger picture, ignoring possible long-term, systemic and preventative solutions. It also focuses on immediate and high risks, while ignoring low-risk situations that could later become high-risk (Gregory and Holloway, 2005, p. 48). And it takes a ‘glass-half-empty’ approach by treating people as ‘liabilities to be managed, rather than resources to be developed or tapped’—resources that could enrich the entire community (Hopping et al., 2001, p. 10). The discourse of business management reduces social problems to economic considerations, rather than concern for people, families and communities. It also mutes discussion about underlying social causes, again limiting the community’s obligation and ability to fully respond. The 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) (Pub. L. No. 44– 103) is a good example of how business/ market language is enlisted to do just that. The law’s language ‘construct[s] families as independent economic entities rather than as sites for the rearing and protection of children [and] childcare services are constructed as commodities to be purchased and businesses to be regulated rather than as safe havens for children’ (Finkelstein et al., 1998, p. 173). The words ‘personal responsibility’ and ‘work opportunity’ in the Bill’s title euphemistically obscure the fact that the Bill is ‘an instrument of budget reduction’ that ‘cuts medical and social benefits, and recalibrates the levels of care to which children are entitled’ (Finkelstein et al., 1998, pp. 173 and 180). PRWORA stipulates that federal grants decline by $55 billion over the first six years, after which Congress may slash federal contributions,

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leaving states to bear the brunt of financial support. ‘In one stroke, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) reversed six decades of federal social legislation’ (Figueira-McDonough, 2007, p. 183). These are some of the meta-narratives that have historically influenced social service vocabulary, and informed social service practices. Strong threads of individual culpability and limited community responsibility are woven throughout, as well as implicit support for traditional institutions and practices. Solutions occur when individuals, not systems, change. The themes also evoke a language of exclusion—marginalizing individual ‘deviants’ while ‘keeping the [existing] social order intact’ (Erickson, 1964, p. 12). Stigma is a social construction that has two components—the recognition of a difference, and the consequent devaluing of a person(s) due to that difference (Dovidio et al., 2000, p. 3). The simple act of assigning social service categories and labels is stigmatizing because it recognizes undesirable differences (Abrams et al., 2005, p. 19).

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Exclusionary language and stigma
Many social work professionals and academics today understand the power of stigmatizing language and avoid its use; nevertheless, such terms continue to litter the social service, legal and political landscape and thus serve to reinforce the politics of exclusion. Words commonly used to refer to people—recipient, subject, ward, client, applicant, case, patient, dependent, juvenile and charge—and words used to describe their concerns—’behavior disordered, dysfunctional, deviant, disruptive, disordered, disturbed, delinquent, debased and depraved’ (Seita, 2000, p. 80)—stigmatize and exclude. They separate, objectify, impose hierarchy, assign blame and create shame. Even language that, on the surface, does not appear to have negative connotations can in fact be stigmatizing. For example, the word ‘foster’ has positive connotations outside the realm of social services; however, it takes on a whole new meaning when attached to a specific child.1 The term ‘foster child’ may seem innocuous; however, ask such a child what s/he thinks. In Keeping it Secret: Teens Write about Foster Care Stigma, young authors write personal stories about the stigma attached to their foster label and how they desperately tried to hide this fact from friends:
Hiding my identity, especially from my friends, is difficult, and unless you’ve been in my shoes, you don’t know how difficult. You don’t know how many stories and lies I’ve told people. I’ve had to lie about why me and my foster sister look nothing alike, about why I never talk about my family much, and about how I suddenly appeared in my home out of nowhere at the age of 10. (Shaniqua Sockwell, Youth Communications, 2005, p. 12).

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The embarrassment and fear of being ‘found out’ is not entirely unwarranted:
For as long as I’ve been in foster care (which is about four years), I’ve been faced with comments like, ‘You’re in foster care? You don’t look like someone in foster care!’ or ‘Awe, sorry to hear about it,’ and ‘What did you do to get put in foster care?’ These questions make me so furious! (Giselle John, Youth Communications, 2005, p. 28).

In 2004, Pew Charitable Commission on Children in Foster Care commissioned a study entitled ‘The Cost of Foster Care’. The word cost typically evokes monetary images; however, this report focuses on the emotional and psychological costs of foster-care. The study concludes that the use of the ‘foster’ label takes a large toll on children. ‘All participants in the focus groups said they feel stigmatized. Youth previously in foster care even insisted that a new word be identified to replace ‘foster’ because the image and its implications are so negative’ (Hochman et al., 2004). The Vera Institute of Justice also conducted a study on children in fostercare and concluded that:
The perceived stigma of being in foster care prevents many foster children from interacting normally with other students. Many don’t like to reveal to their peers that they are in care. Some isolate themselves socially because of this. Expectations that foster children will be labeled troublemakers can be self-fulfilling, as these children continue to see that adults expect them to fail (Finkelstein et al., 2002).2

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The ‘foster’ label may suggest that the child is different and possibly damaged or at fault for his or her foster-care status; or that s/he comes from a family that is abnormal, irresponsible, abusive and perhaps criminal. Although the child did nothing to earn the stigma attached to his or her foster status, the tendency to internalize ‘stigma by association’ is strong (Page, 1984, p. 39; Becker and Arnold, 1986, p. 48). In an individualistic culture, there is the tendency to assume that all personal misfortune is the result of personal irresponsibility (Mills, 1996, p. 2), as evidenced in the Vera Institute of Justice’s finding that these children tended to blame themselves (not biological parents, foster-care or the schools) for their poor academic achievement (Finkelstein et al., 2002). The stigmatized person expends considerable energy either managing information in order to conceal the stigma, or managing the stress and tension resulting from public knowledge of the stigma (Goffman, 1963/ 1990, p. 161). However, even if the stigma remains hidden, the weight of internalized societal opinion can exact a toll, as explained by Erving Goffman:
Given that the stigmatized individual in our society acquires identity standards which he applies to himself in spite of failing to conform to them, it is inevitable that he will feel some ambivalence about his own self (Goffman, 1963/1990, p. 130).

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The psychological effects of that ambivalence may include contraction of self, a threatened self-concept, lowered self-esteem, anger, frustration, emotional denial and cognitive impairment (Abrams et al., 2005, p. 15). A recent overview of more than twenty studies reveals that social exclusion consistently leads to negative outcomes:
Socially excluded people are more aggressive, even toward innocent targets, are less willing to help or cooperate, engage in self-defeating behaviors like risk-taking and procrastination and perform poorly on analytical reasoning tasks (Twenge and Baumeister, 2005, p. 27).

Furthermore, negative labels often dominate self-perception (Page, 1984, p. 10); a stigma can take on ‘master status’, eclipsing all other attributes to become a defining identity (Ainlay et al., 1986, p. 6). Children are particularly vulnerable to identity damage from stigma because they do not understand the mechanics of stigmatization until long after it has become a solid feature of their identity. ‘Such individuals would have thoroughly learned the concepts of “normal” and “stigmatized” long before they came to view themselves as deficient’. When they do realize how stigma has affected them, they must learn to ‘reorganize their view of the world’ (Martin, 1986, p. 152)—not an easy task. Stanley Pinker sums up the insidiousness of stigma:
The imposition of stigma is the commonest form of violence used in democratic societies. Stigmatization is slow, unobtrusive and genteel in its effect. . . . Stigmatization is a highly sophisticated form of violence in so far as it is rarely associated with physical threats or attack. It can best be compared to those forms of psychological torture in which the victim is broken psychically and physically but left to all outward appearances unmarked (Pinker, 1971, p. 175).

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Even seemingly simple terms can be loaded with damaging implications because they signify that the labelled person is outside of the norm, not a regular member of the community, not ‘one of us.’ Whether a particular term is culled from the medical or business field or is a label like ‘foster’, the main purpose is to set that person apart for special treatment by society. But, as with the term ‘special education’, the exceptional status is not necessarily an asset, for it daily serves to remind the individual and everyone else that s/he has problems—problems that exact a cost on the rest of the community. Official labelling (labelling by authorities) may be even more damaging than lay labelling, because it carries the weight of public opinion (Pinker, 1971, p. 11). In addition to the direct effects of stigmatizing language on its recipients, there are profound indirect effects as well. The psychological effects of such language are not lost on those who make laws, those who make policies and those who decide how community resources should be allocated. It is difficult to regularly use such language without coming to believe that the language may somehow be true. The underlying

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frame and the language used to reinforce the frame permit community members to think of the person needing services in a different way than they would tend to think of themselves, a family member or a close friend. For example, most parents would not label their own child as behaviour-disordered, illegitimate, juvenile delinquent or a ‘case’, yet they accept this routine labelling of other people’s children. Nor would most parents put their son or daughter out on the street with few financial resources at age eighteen; however, when children ‘age out’ of foster-care, this is frequently what happens.3
For as many as 20,000 teenagers annually who ‘age-out’ of foster care, there is little help in meeting the challenges of paying their own rent, affording health care and covering their living expenses.4

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Living expenses are not the only consideration. Successful transition into adulthood also includes career plans and often post-secondary education. Young people ageing-out of foster-care who do not have adequate financial resources for basic living expenses surely do not have the resources for tuition. The systematic use of stigmatizing language—language that implies power and status differences, language that assigns blame or moral deficiency, language of illness and abnormality and language of ‘otherness’—colours the community’s perceptions and consequent sense of responsibility. For example, language that assigns individual blame lessens the community’s ownership of the problem and its obligation to fully respond. Language that talks of ‘risk management’ and ‘accountability’ encourages the community to view social work as a business, in which success is measured in dollars rather than the quality of human lives, and in which the allocation of minimal services and resources is deemed sufficient.

The language of social justice
John Rawls envisions a just political system wherein basic freedoms and fundamental goods necessary for equal access to life opportunities are equally distributed. He emphasizes that ‘economic goods . . . are not the only goods that are subject to considerations of distributive justice’. Nonmaterial socially produced goods such as ‘opportunity, power, and the social bases of self-respect’ are important because they are the ‘goods every person requires in order to pursue his or her life plan at some minimal level of effectiveness’ (Wakefield, 1988, pp. 193 and 208). We have seen, however, that stigmatizing labels work against the attainment of primary social goods such as self-respect and empowerment and, therefore, according to Rawls’ theory of justice, diminish one’s ability to live a good life.

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Rawls singles out self-respect as perhaps the most important primary good, and describes it as a sense of self-worth and the confidence to fulfil one’s intentions (Rawls, 1999, p. 386). Stigmas particularly harm children’s life prospects because they inhibit the development of self-respect, ‘which is foundational to many other important goods such as success in school, positive peer relationships, future career opportunities, and selection of a life partner’ (Vojak, 2006, p. 101). Rawls’ veil of ignorance concept demonstrates how a society might develop laws and policies that are just. He explains that ‘each person finds himself placed at birth in some particular position in some particular society, and the nature of this position materially affects his life prospects’ (Rawls, 1999, p. 12). Considering the arbitrariness of this fact, the fairest method for deciding the distribution of goods (for example, goods emanating from laws, policies, services, and the allocation of resources) is to do so as if one had no prior knowledge as to their own particular status or place in society:
The principles of justice are chosen behind a veil of ignorance. This ensures that no one is advantaged or disadvantaged in the choice of principles by the outcome of natural chance or the contingency of social circumstances. Since all are similarly situated and no one is able to design principles to favor his particular condition, the principles of justice are the result of a fair agreement or bargain (Rawls, 1999, p. 11).

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In essence, laws and policies should be such that people from all walks of life and socio-economic statuses would accept them as fair should they be applied to them. Rawls’ theory of justice is, in part, derived from Immanuel Kant’s moral maxim of universality: ‘Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law’ (Kant, 1785/1993, p. 30). Plainly speaking, Kant believed that justice would be best served if people behaved only in ways that they would wish others to act. Both Rawls and Kant espouse an ethic of reciprocity—the same ethic that has served as the moral basis for all major world religions.5 Language that systematically reinforces the moral superiority and socioeconomic advantage of one group over others is neither reciprocal, nor just. As Rawls and Kant suggest, the litmus test for individual and collective justice would be that all community members could readily accept the policies and laws, even if, by some quirk of fate, the tables were suddenly turned. The labels described earlier in this paper are not ones that most would find appropriate if applied to their own family life; therefore, they do not meet the criteria of reciprocity, universality and social justice. Stigmatizing language not only erodes self-esteem directly, but it also encourages the community to look upon those who are stigmatized with less regard and lowered expectations, which, in turn, impacts the community’s willingness to provide services and resources. The language of exclusion works against social justice by reinforcing the legitimacy of a system

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that accords unfair advantage to certain members by marginalizing other members. Robert Page summarizes that ‘Clearly, if public welfare services become tainted by stigma they are unlikely to advance the cause of social justice to any great extent’ (Page, 1984, p. 131). The language of social services offers a lens through which community members needing assistance are viewed, and suggests parameters for providing that assistance.6 Stigmatizing language focuses attention and blame on the individual and/or family unit as the source of the problem, and away from the idea that institutional and structural inequities can also cause problems. Locating fault in the individual or family leads to a number of beliefs and practices that can work against a successful and socially just outcome. When problems are framed as individual rather than collective, the solution is similarly framed as a matter of individual rather than collective responsibility (Hawkins et al., 2001, p. 8). Those aimed at social justice must take every opportunity to de-stigmatize and normalize the language. Words denoting hierarchy or moral superiority may be abandoned in favour of more neutral terms; for example, the words ‘person’ ‘or individual’ could be used instead of ‘client’, ‘patient’ and ‘recipient’. Better yet, the actual names of people may be used instead of assigning categories and labels. Particularly in work with children, labels such as ‘foster-child’, ‘ward’ and ‘case’ should be replaced whenever possible with the kind of words one would use to describe one’s own family members, such as girl, boy, child, kid, Amy or John. Labels should not be used in an all-defining manner. For example, a child is not ‘behaviour-disordered’—s/he is a child exhibiting certain behaviours in particular contexts; and children are not ‘placed’ with ‘foster-parents’—rather, they live with the Smith family. Figure 1 shows how exclusive and inclusive language frames differ. Social worker John Seita, having been through the welfare system as a child, argues that ‘re-naming and reclaiming our children’ and ‘emphasizing

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Figure 1 How exclusive and inclusive language frames differ.

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communities, not agencies’ are two necessary steps toward helping children and families. These steps do not only protect children’s best interests; they protect our collective best interests (Seita, 2000, p. 77).

Social justice as an organizing principle
The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) and the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) ‘exhort social workers, in their role as change agents, to correct and undo injustice’, and describe the core tasks of social work as: pursuing social justice, challenging oppression, promoting the personal dignity and worth of individuals, and ensuring equal access to opportunities, services and resources (Figueira-McDonough, 2007, pp. 3– 5). Using John Rawls’ theory, Wakefield similarly argues that distributive justice is the organizing value of social work—that is, ‘social work strives to ensure that no person is deprived of a fair minimum level of those basic social goods to which each person is entitled’ (Wakefield, 1988, p. 187). David Gil, noting the tension between social work as an institution and social work as a practice, argues that from their early inception, social work and social services were ‘never meant to eliminate inequalities, oppression and injustice, and their consequences’. They were only meant to moderate the worst effects without challenging the system within which they operate (Gil, 1998, p. 14). Gil contends that while social workers have always worked with victims of injustice and oppression, they often lack ‘theoretical insight into the causes of suffering and into the strategies necessary to transform oppressive socioeconomic and political institutions’ (Figueira-McDonough, 2007, p. 11). Traditional thinking and social service practices have helped to maintain power inequities, whereas the transformation of unjust and oppressive societies requires the disruption of these traditions and behaviours, and the emergence of ‘critical consciousness’ (Gil, 1998, pp. 39). Gil maintains that critical consciousness ‘can be communicated to others, and can lead to collective actions aimed at social and cultural transformations’ (Gil, 1998, p. 41). While language is primarily constructed by dominant social groups, it is generally apprehended by society as a non-constructed objective reality. However, reconstructing social service language from the ground up reverses that ‘knowledge’ flow, and works toward building a more inclusive framework—one that reflects social justice ideals. Social workers are in a particularly good position to further the cause of social justice by using language that helps individuals to overcome socially constructed stigmas and other barriers and impediments to freedom and opportunity. The idea that a shift in language can reshape longstanding beliefs and habits may seem like wishful thinking; however, there are examples in which this has been the case. We need to only look at recent sexual

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harassment legislation and policy changes to see how language surrounding this issue, prompted by judicial confirmation hearings in the USA in the late 1980s, began a dialogue that powerfully influenced laws and policies (Hawkins et al., 2001, p. 2). The use of normalizing and inclusive language may be a small step, but not necessarily an insignificant one. Hawkins, Fook and Martin argue that language is practice in social services ‘since language is [the] main vehicle for communicating what we do’. They also point out that language is something that is ‘immediately accessible to change’ (Hawkins et al., 2001, p. 2). Service providers who do not understand the relationship between language and the larger social vision that they want to help create may unwittingly undermine their own project by reinforcing the language of hegemony:
[B]eing aware of the terminology we choose, and the way in which we use it can be critical in determining whose view of ‘reality’ we are accepting, what power relations we wish to reinforce, the sort of world we wish to adopt, and in identifying the type of social work we wish to create (Hawkins et al., 2001, p. 3).

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Rejecting stigmatizing terms, whenever possible, and adopting a language of inclusion are a first step towards the kind of community response that we would want for our own families and friends. It is one step towards a more just society.
Accepted: October 2007

1. To promote the growth or development of; further; encourage; to care for or cherish; to feed or nourish. These definitions were taken from Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language (New York: Gramercy Books, 1996). 2. Summary available online at Full report available online at 3. A May 2005 documentary entitled ‘Aging Out’ produced by the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) states that of the 500,000 children currently in the foster-care system in the USA, approximately one-quarter (125,000) will leave foster-care as adults. See 4. From a report by National Public Radio (NPR) on 23 May 2005. See templates/story/story.php?storyId=4662990 5. Judaism: ‘What is hurtful to yourself do not to your fellow man’ (Talmud); Taoism: ‘Regard your neighbor’s gain as your own gain; and regard your neighbor’s loss as your own loss’ (T’ai Shank Kan Ying P’ien); Confucianism: ‘Is there one single word that one can practice throughout one’s life? It is perhaps like-hearted considerateness. What you do not wish for yourself do not impose on others’ (Analects 15:24); Christianity: ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you’ (Luke 6:31); Buddhism: ‘Hurt not others with that which pains yourself’ (Udanavarga 5:18); Zoroastrianism:

948 Colleen Vojak ‘That nature only is good when it shall not do unto another whatever is not good for its own self’ (Dadistan-I-dinik 94:5); Islam: ‘None of you believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself’ (Sahih al Bukhari 13 and Sahih Muslim 45). 6. Tozer et al. (2002) describe the relationship between cultural hegemony theory and language: ‘Institutional elites who share common economic and political interests control the dominant political and economic institutions in the United States. . . . Through such institutions as the government, workplace, the school, and the mass media, the general populace is socialized into accepting [the ideas and interests of the ruling class].’ These ideas ‘serve to limit discussion and debate, prevent the formation of alternative social explanations, and promote a general acceptance of the status quo’ (Tozer et al., 2002, pp. 264 – 5).

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