Social workers and their understanding of neoliberalism, advocacy, and othering


  • Darren Renau Massey University
  • Dr Nicky Stanley-Clarke Massey University
  • Assoc Prof Tracie Mafile'o Massey University


Advocacy, neoliberalism, othering, ethical responsibilities


INTRODUCTION: Advocacy is a fundamental basis of social work and forms part of a social worker’s ethical responsibilities. As part of these responsibilities, it is a requirement for social workers to understand structures and power bases which sustain social injustices. The study was completed for a Master of Arts (Social Policy). The aim was to understand how neoliberalism affected the ability of social workers to provide support and advocacy to disadvantaged people.
METHODS: This article reports on the findings of a qualitative-exploratory study. The data was collected from eight participant interviews using semi-structured interviews. Thematic analysis then identified key themes within the data.
FINDINGS: A key finding of the research was that social workers have limited understanding of neoliberalism; are placing themselves at risk of sustaining neoliberalism; and engaging in ‘othering’ discourses towards their clients.
CONCLUSION: The research confirms the presence of neoliberalism, evidenced through increased compliance and a standardisation of social work practice. Social workers identify change as possible within their local communities but require greater leadership to engage in this advocacy. Further research into social workers’ understanding of neoliberalism and how this affects their worldview would offer further insight about their capacity to engage in social change.


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How to Cite

Renau, D., Stanley-Clarke, N., & Mafile’o, T. (2023). Social workers and their understanding of neoliberalism, advocacy, and othering. Aotearoa New Zealand Social Work, 35(3), 44–57. Retrieved from



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