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Structural Social Work

Maurice Moreau described structural social work as being "concerned with the ways in which the powerful in society define and constrain the poor and the less powerful" (1979, p. 78). In essence, structural social work examines and challenges the structures that create systemic inequities.

Structural social work considers multiple forms of oppression as being interwoven rather than cumulative (Carniol, 1992). Moreau's vision includes primary and secondary structures of oppression. "Patriarchy, racism, capitalism, heterosexism, ageism, and ableism" are primary and "personality, family, community and bureaucracy" are secondary (Carniol, 1992, p. 4).

Carniol (1992) described the major elements of structural social work as follows:

  • Defense.
    The social worker advocates for clients' immediate needs and rights.
  • Client-Worker Power.
    The social worker strives to remove power differentials between workers and clients and is open with information.
  • Unmasking Structures.
    Understanding of clients' primary structures of oppression are fostered by the social worker.
  • Personal Change.
    Clients' are encouraged to own their feelings behaviours and new narratives are created that associate those feelings and behaviours with primary structures of oppression.
  • Collective Consciousness.
    The social worker respects clients' uniqueness and fosters connectedness with groups of people facing similar structures of oppression.
  • Political Change.
    Social workers and clients become activists to challenge structural oppressions.

Much of what is described by Carniol and Moreau fit within the ideas taught in MSW classes. Structural social work is useful in micro, meso and macro practice and has much in common with anti-oppressive practice, feminism and queer theory.


Carniol, B. (1992). Structural Social Work: Marice Moreau's Challenge to Social Work Practice. Journal of Progressive Human Services, 3(1). http://dx.doi.org/10.1300/J059v03n01_01

Moreau, M. (1979). A Structural Approach to Social Work Practice. Canadian Journal of Social Work Education, 5(1), 78-94. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/41670012

“It is not enough to simply tell someone ‘to pull up their bootstraps” to gain access to the benefits of a neoliberal capitalist society.  We must actively work to change the structures of oppression created over the last 500 years.” (Pliszka, 2015).

Related links:
My Social Work Voice
OECS Research Proposal
LGBT & Neoliberalism