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The Role of Social Work in Advocating for Social Justice

Mark Ezell offered a useful definition of the defense of social justice when he stated that it “consists of those intentional efforts to change specific existing or proposed policies or practices on behalf of or with a specific client or group of clients.” That’s where social workers come in. They ensure that the voices of vulnerable groups are heard, and to do so, they must persuade. In Rhetoric, Aristotle described three components of effective persuasion: logos, reason based on content and logic; pathos, reason based on passion and emotions; and ethos, reason based on the merits and character of the speaker. Today the defense is still informed by Aristotle’s views. There is a great reliance on all three components of persuasion, and any advocate would do well to use all three when presenting an argument. A healthy dose of nerves is also relied on, as the invincible is questioned and the inevitable defied. Based on assessment and analysis, defenders use a variety of tactics to achieve their goals. There are four key areas of advocacy: arguments, engagement, relationships, and coalitions. Aristotle’s three components of persuasion can help in each of these areas.

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Social workers rarely have the financial resources to influence policy with money. Still, their ability to build and maintain relationships can be just as effective as the benefits served by corporate lobbyists. Social exchange theory offers a useful perspective for understanding relations in the political realm. Social workers often have the opportunity to do favors, such as when a legislator asks for information or advice, a candidate asks for a contribution or endorsement, a colleague asks for moral support, or an administrator asks for a testimonial of support. These requests are opportunities to build relationships and influence those who establish and have social policies in favor of the most disadvantaged.

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