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Theory Guides - Anti-Oppressive Practice

Exploring anti-oppressive practice: Thompson’s PCS Model

According to Thompson (1997), the workings of oppression can be analysed using a model that examines three levels – P (personal) C (cultural) and S (structural):

Personal (P) Level

This is normally concerned with an individual’s views, particularly in the case of a prejudice against a certain group of people. For example, this could relate to a young person who makes racist comments. It is purely related to individual actions and you are likely to come into contact with this in practice. The ‘P’ is located in the middle of the diagram, because that individual has his beliefs and ideas supported through two other levels...

Cultural (C) Level

This analysis relates to the ‘shared values’ or ‘commonalties’. For example, shared beliefs about what is right and wrong, good or bad, can form a consensus.

Structural (S) Level

This analysis demonstrates how oppression is ‘sewn into the fabric’ of society through institutions that support both cultural norms and personal beliefs. Some institutions such as sections of the media, religion and the government can cement the beliefs.

Example: Homophobia Legalised

P: Young man in the club you work at makes offensive and derogatory comments about a gay man who attends also. He says that ‘gay people are not natural’ or ‘normal’.

C: Gay people largely repulse the community around him, and many of the community members are involved with the local church, holding firm views about 'sexual morals'.

S: Popular tabloid media berates the ‘abnormal’ activities of gay people. Religious leaders of all faiths support the instatement of laws to stop equal rights for gay people. Legislation is passed by parliament that compromises the rights of gay, lesbian and bisexual people. There is an overwhelming 'consensus' of power used in all forms of structural life.

How this analysis can help youth workers

This analysis may help you to build an idea of why young people behave in certain ways – or why they carry out such actions. It can also give you ground for challenging inequality. By first fully identifying what drives people to hold ‘prejudices’. It reminds us that society enforces a lot of our beliefs – helps us to understand how something can become a ‘norm’ and how best we can go about explaining, and challenging, oppression.

Testing the model

Try to think of a commonly held assumption that you, or someone you know, hold to be true. From this, see if it is a shared view in anyway. Then begin to see how national institutions, such as the newspaper you read or a television programme you watch could help to support your views.

Further reading

On the site:

Agents of Surveillance by Jason Wood explores the PCS model in relation to youth work

Anti-oppressive case-study by Jay Patel shows how anti-oppressive practice can be implemented

Change Agent in Conflict by Jason Wood explores the conflicts facing youth workers in terms of the 'structure'

In print:

Thompson, N. (1997) Anti-discriminatory Practice (2nd Ed), Basingstoke: Macmillan Chapter 2 deals particularly with the theory base of oppression and explores the PCS in some length. There is now a third edition of this book.

Written by Jason Wood, August 2001

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