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For the purpose of this assignment I am going to analyse my personal experiences relating to power, privilege and difference. I will discuss the P.C.S levels of power drawn on by Foucault’s interpretation of power. Together with an understanding of how my views have changed over the course of this module by reading examples from Peggy McIntosh’s White Privilege.
I currently work within a homeless hostel with service users who have different issues and reasons for living in a hostel environment. I was working with a nineteen year old woman who had a child from a previous relationship and prior to moving into the hostel. The child and her family were known to Social Services due to episodes of domestic violence within the family home. The service user came from a middle class family and lived with her mum and step father, who supported her in her decisions. However, her parents’ relationship had broken down due to the domestic violence and the service user returning to her partner who used extreme violence towards her in front of their child. The power that I had was ‘power of authority’ as I was a member of staff. I explained the consequences to her of her behaviour and that the way she was behaving could result in her losing her bed. If she lost her bed she also risked not getting her child back. As she was not showing any stability or commitment to show that she is capable to be a parent and has the ability and maturity to be a full time parent
At the time of working with this young service user I felt that I needed to be in a position of control and I used my power and privilege to ensure that this young woman did not perpetuate the cycle of deprivation, which had become her social norm due to her social influences. The power and privilege came from having a more in-depth knowledge and understanding to offer the right level of support and guidance.
Structurally, society is formed and controlled, by a set of institutions, these being government, the law, education, religion etc. Peter Berger (1966), states that “Society not only controls our movements, but shapes our identity, our thoughts and our emotions. The structures of society become the structure of our own consciousness.”
Since completing this module I now understand that my position of power, privilege and difference influenced my decision at that time. My practice could seen as oppressive, controlling and discriminatorily, completing this module has enabled me to recognise this and made me think about my practise in terms of the position of power and influence I have in people’s lives.
The difference between personal and professional values include, “professional values can be distinguished from personal values, in that personal values may not be shared by all members of an occupational group, for example, a person who works as a social worker may have a personal belief that abortion is wrong, but this is not one of the underlying principles of social work”. (Banks, 2006, pg 7).
Using power I was able to challenge an individual. Whilst working at the homeless hostel I have had to deal with a number of different people, there was one occasion where I had to deal with a particular client who came for a bed and told us he was homeless as we have to check our files and ban books, I asked the gentleman for his name, (he gave me a false name), I went and looked up his details and couldn’t find him in the ban book, (a ban book is where the names of people who are excluded from the unit can be found) or on file. I started to do the admission when he told me that he had a car parked on hostels car park, as the car park is privately owned by Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council I asked the gentleman for his driving license, insurance documents and a valid MOT certificate, he gave me these without hesitation. I went to photocopy his documents and noticed that the driving licence and insurance documents had a different name to the name he gave me on admission. To be on the safe side I went to double check the name and I came across his name in the ban book and on file, the gentleman was in fact banned from the hostel due to being a Schedule one offender and for assaults on residents and staff in various hostels. I went back into the interview room to confirm details and the gentleman told me that both his names where correct and in use. I called my colleague for assistance as the gentleman started to become a little aggressive and abusive towards me, I tried to calm the gentleman down but he started to become threatening, as there where another 28 people in the hostel I decided the best thing to do was to contact police to come and remove the gentleman from the unit.
At the start of this module I was oblivious to the ongoing issues within the society relating to power, race and religion and difference is a white global issue. As a white woman brought up as a catholic, I realise and understand that there are other religions and cultures and different beliefs and values. I understand that Christianity is not the only religion.
I can now understand the privilege of being white, some basic aspects of life have been taken for granted and this has now made me widen my knowledge and awareness through experience to appreciate the power and privilege a white person actually possess.
At the end of the module I have realised that we all believe in different values and opinions, which all roll into the same answer, we are all human who have their own power and privileges to make their own decisions, to be respectful and non-judgemental.
My personal values include life and family. The reason for this is because four years ago I had to make a decision that would change my life dramatically. I was informed by medical professions that I suffer from a heart condition and would require a heart operation. I discovered I was pregnant, which the hospital did not inform me that becoming pregnant could cause serious complications. 15 weeks into my pregnancy my world fell to pieces, my heart consultant gave me two options, terminate my baby or die giving birth. I had been empowered and had the knowledge of what resources were available to me for me to make the right decision. I contacted professionals who provided me with guidance and support. Thankfully I made the right decision; I gave birth to a healthy baby girl by emergency caesarean due to having preeclampsia. Six months after having my daughter I underwent heart surgery and being put on a life support machine due to complications and I recovered three months later. I had the power to stay strong and be there for my daughter.
After reflecting back on my experiences of powerlessness, it came apparent to me after reading Thompson (2006) on power the different levels of power that can be implemented, through the P.C.S analysis. This includes personal, psychological level, which include individual levels of thoughts, feelings and actions, which could be shaped by our own experiences. However, we could greatly be influenced by a powerful role of culture in forming our opinions. The cultural level helps to form a context in which our personal experience occurs and relates to the commonalities and values. The structural level compromises of a network of social divisions, it helps to relate in ways of oppression and discrimination so they can be institutionalised. It denotes the wider level of social forces, the socio – political dimension of interlocking patterns of power and influence, (p28 cited in Thompson N, 2006). It is also important to recognise that each level is embedded within the other and needs to be related to each other.
Foucault saw power as “something that people either did or did not possess, but as an aspect of all social relations, a feature of interactions between individuals, groups and organisations. It is a fluid phenomenon open to constant influence and change.” (Thompson 1998).
I feel privileged knowing that I am able to speak a second language. Having a second language also has its disadvantages, when I was at university studying my degree in Motor Vehicle and Transport Studies, I was writing my study notes in Polish as I found it easier, my lecturer challenged me using his power and authority by questioning my skills and knowledge of writing my notes in another language. I felt powerless trying to reason with him.
In conclusion, I can positively relate to power, privilege and difference to my own personal experiences and have a good understanding of these and how they are applied from my understanding of this module. In addition, I am beginning to understand how they can be applied within key social work skills. The P.C.S model of power that I have learnt has widened by learning on all possible aspects of power relations. I can positively say that I have gained a more in-depth knowledge and understanding about difference which I had no previous knowledge.
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