Taking a sociological approach to oppression in the neoliberal human services and education workplace: The practice gains

van Heugten, Kate, Kelly, Stephanie and Stanley, Tony (2013) Taking a sociological approach to oppression in the neoliberal human services and education workplace: The practice gains. In: The interaction between sociology and social work: Creative, Cooperation and Knowledge’ International Conference on Sociology and Social Work, , 30-31 May 2013, Department of Sociology and Social Work, Aalborg University, Denmark. (Submitted)

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Workplace bullying has become internationally recognised as a major and costly problem. Meta-analyses generally suggest that around 10-20% of the workforce experience moderate bullying in any one year. The problem appears to be particularly prevalent in the hospitality industry, health, social services and educational institutions. At around 50-80%, top down bullying by managers and supervisors is considered to be the most common form of bullying. There is now evidence that upward bullying of managers, especially female managers, and horizontal bullying between peers are significant and underreported phenomena. Much research into bullying has been carried out by academics in the fields of human resources, law, and psychology. This research tends to focus on the negative psychological impacts of bullying. Despite growing recognition that workplace bullying is a consequence of organisational and macro-structural problems, rather than being the result of individual pathology on the part of an easily identifiable “bully” or a “target”, there have been few attempts at any sociological analysis of bullying. The lead author of this paper has undertaken research into workplace bullying amongst social workers. All of us have observed increasing issues around institutional bullying impacting on people at all levels in human services and education settings, including in particular on those in middle management. As a result, we have joined forces in an effort to create new knowledge in this area of mutual interest. To do so, we draw on our sociology and social work academic and practice backgrounds, and our current management practice in global locations of Australia, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand. We think realistic analyses and interventions into institutional bullying require an application of sociological perspectives that begin from wider understandings of power than simply power as authority, to consider bullying in new ways. Sociology invites a critical questioning of neo-liberal working contexts to consider the institutional and historical, political, social, and economic influences, in order that we bring challenge to traditional power relations and hierarchical structures. In this paper we review the extant literature that has made reference to sociological theory in discussions of workplace bullying. We then present our thoughts on using the ideas of C. Wright Mills to underpin a theoretical and methodological toolkit for helping managers of human services cope with institutional bullying, with particular consideration of the capacity of Mills’ ideas to assist practitioners to connect the “personal troubles” experienced in their own daily practice with wider “public issues.”

Item Type: Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)
Keywords: workplace bullying
Field of Research (2008): 16 Studies in Human Society > 1607 Social Work > 160701 Clinical Social Work Practice
16 Studies in Human Society > 1608 Sociology > 160801 Applied Sociology, Program Evaluation and Social Impact Assessment
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Date Deposited: 20 Jan 2016 23:13
Last Modified: 20 Jan 2016 23:13
URI: https://eprints.batchelor.edu.au/id/eprint/414

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