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Article

Youth Empowerment  

Katie Richards-Schuster, Suzanne Pritzker, and Amanda Rodriguez-Newhall

Youth empowerment examines young people’s agency, action, and engagement in change efforts to improve their situations. Its scholarship builds on empowerment constructs and frameworks to focus on the strengths that young people possess as they interact with other individuals and systems in their lives. In particular, youth empowerment rests on a core belief that young people are experts on their lives, with unique perspectives to bring to their communities. Empowerment functions on three core levels, focusing on strengthening individuals’ personal, interpersonal, and political power. This article explores key concepts that underlie personal, interpersonal, and political empowerment, while most deeply examining the core principles, practices, and strategies specific to young people’s political empowerment. Challenges commonly faced when seeking to empower young people are identified as well.

Article

Voter Participation  

Lorraine C. Minnite and Frances Fox Piven

Compared to other rich, capitalist democracies in the contemporary era, the United States has a record of low voter turnout. Even as the right to vote was finally won by African Americans and the Civil Rights Movement a century after racial discrimination in voting was formally banned by the Civil War Amendments, voter turnout has failed to reach levels achieved in the late nineteenth century. Scholars offer two strong explanations for this. Some argue that the voting process has been encumbered by procedures that make actual voting difficult. Others favor an alternative explanation that voters must be mobilized by political parties and other activist groups. The dynamic interplay of electoral rules and political action have mobilized and demobilized the American electorate since the 1970s. Recent collective initiatives of social work faculty and practitioners in promoting nonpartisan voter registration campaigns are central to social work’s core values and social justice mission.

Article

Social Justice  

Janet L. Finn, Jen Molloy, and Ashley Trautman

The concept of social justice is significant as a core value of social work. Conceptualizations of social justice are diverse, with important philosophical underpinnings. A range of philosophical perspectives influences social work’s conceptualization of social justice, including those of John Rawls, Amartya Sen, Martha Nussbaum, Nancy Fraser, and Iris Marion Young. The roots of social justice are traced through social work history, from the settlement house movement to the rank and file movement, the civil rights movement, and contemporary struggles in the context of globalization and neoliberalism. Challenges for social justice-oriented practice in the 21st century are addressed. Examples are provided of ways in which social workers are translating principles of social justice into concrete practices.

Article

Social Exclusion and Inclusion  

Karen Lyons and Nathalie Huegler

The term social exclusion achieved widespread use in Europe from the late twentieth century. Its value as a concept that is different from poverty, with universal relevance, has since been debated. It is used in Western literature about international development, and some authors have linked it to the notion of capabilities. However, it is not widely used in the social work vocabulary. Conversely, the notion of social inclusion has gained in usage and application. This links with values that underlie promotion of empowerment and participation, whether of individuals, groups, or communities. Both terms are inextricably linked to the realities of inequalities within and between societies and to the principles of human rights and social justice that feature in the international definition of social work.

Article

Political Social Work  

Suzanne Pritzker and Shannon R. Lane

Political social work navigates power in policymaking and politics to elicit social change. It is grounded in core social work values and ethics, including the professional responsibility to challenge systemic discrimination and institutional inequalities through political action. Political social workers address systemic barriers to social, political, economic, and racial justice, and engage in political action to promote individual and communal well-being through policy processes and outcomes. This article discusses the five domains of political social work: engaging individuals and communities in political processes; influencing policy agendas and decision-making; holding professional and political staff positions; engaging with electoral campaigns; and seeking and holding elected office. It also examines social workers’ political activity in the United States and globally, the role of social work education, and challenges for political social work, including the profession’s legacy of supporting injustices and tensions around the role of political social work, and identifies opportunities to address these barriers.

Article

Community Economic Development  

Steven D. Soifer and Joseph B. McNeely

The basic concepts and history of community economic development (CED) span from the 1960s to the present, during which there have been four different waves of CED. During this time period, practitioners in the field have worked with limited resources to help rebuild low-to-moderate-income communities in the United States. There are particular values, theories, strategies, tactics, and programs used to bring about change at the community level. The accomplishments in the CED field are many, and social workers have played a role in helping with community building at the neighborhood, city, county, state and federal levels.