A Violent History of Benevolence traces how normative histories of liberalism, progress, and social work enact and obscure systemic violences. Chris Chapman and A.J. Withers explore how normative social work history is structured in such a way that contemporary social workers can know many details about social work’s violences, without ever imagining that they may also be complicit in these violences. Framings of social work history actively create present-day political and ethical irresponsibility, even among those who imagine themselves to be anti-oppressive, liberal, or radical.
The authors document many histories usually left out of social work discourse, including communities of Black social workers (who, among other things, never removed children from their homes involuntarily), the role of early social workers in advancing eugenics and mass confinement, and the resonant emergence of colonial education, psychiatry, and the penitentiary in the same decade. Ultimately, A Violent History of Benevolence aims to invite contemporary social workers and others to reflect on the complex nature of contemporary social work, and specifically on the present-day structural violences that social work enacts in the name of benevolence.
About the authors
Chris Chapman is an associate professor of Social Work at York University.
AJ Withers has been an OCAP activist for twenty years, is a former paid organizer and is currently a member of the Executive Committee. They are the author of Disability Politics and Theory and co-author (with Chris Chapman) of A Violent History of Benevolence: Interlocking Oppression and the Moral Economies of Social Working, as well as numerous other chapters and articles. AJ recently completed a PhD in social work at York University.