Examining Social Work as a Canadian Settler Colonial Project:

Edward Ou Jin Lee, Ilyan Ferrer


This article aims to challenge dominant narratives found within both mainstream and anti-oppressive scholarship about the historical origins of social work by exploring the crucial role of race and racialization in the development and maintenance of the social work profession. Mapping out the shifting ways in which the social work profession actively participated in the construction of colour lines to enforce and reinforce the dominant imagery of the valorized Canadian subject reveals simultaneous social processes we call circles of reform, civilization, and in/visibility. Through a critical race feminist theoretical framework, we explore the complex ways in which these circles allowed leading social workers to promote the social work profession as an important colonial mechanism for the consolidation of Canada as a white settler society. We conclude by critically reflecting upon the possible colonial continuities of these circles and the implications for current anti-oppressive social work practice.

Full Text:



Addams, J. (1893). The objective value of a social settlement. In C. Lasch (Ed.), The social thought of Jane Addams. (pp.44-61). New York: Irvington.

Addams, J. (1910). Twenty years at Hull-House. New York: The New American Library.

Addams, J. (1915). Twenty years at Hull House. New York: Macmillan.

Agnew, E. (2004). From charity to social work: Mary E. Richmond and the creation of an American profession. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Anderson, K. (1991). Vancouver’s Chinatown: Racial discourse in Canada, 1875-1980. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Austen, D. (2010). Narratives of power: Historical mythologies in contemporary Quebec and Canada. Race & Class, 52, 19-32.

Baines, D. (2007). Doing anti-oppressive practice: Building transformative politicized social work. Halifax: Fernwood.

Blackstock, C., & Trocme, N. (2005). Community-based child welfare for Aboriginal children: Supporting resilience through structural change. Social Policy Journal of New Zealand, 24, 12-33.

Carniol, B. (2005). Case critical: Social service & social justice in Canada. Toronto: Between the Lines.

Carter, S. (2008). The importance of being monogamous: Marriage and nation building in Western Canada in 1915. Edmonton: The University of Alberta Press.

Carty, L. (1999). The discourse of empire and the social construction of gender. In E. Dua & A. Robertson. (Eds.), Scratching the surface: Canadian anti-racist feminist thought. Toronto: Women’s Press.

Canadian and Immigration Canada (2012). Canadian multiculturalism: An inclusive citizenship. Ottawa, ON. Retrieved February 4, 2013, from: http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/multiculturalism/citizenship.asp

Cormie, J. (1929). The church and the European immigrant. Social Welfare, 1, 9-11.

Day, W. (1926). Some phases of the Indian problem. Social Welfare, 7, 156-158.

Este, D. (2004). The black church as a social welfare institution: Union united church and the development of Montreal’s black community, 1907-1940. Journal of Black Studies, 35(1), 3-22.

Fellows, M. & Razack, S. (1998). The race to innocence: Confronting hierarchical relations among women. Gender, Race and Justice, 1, 335-352.

Fournier, S. & Crey, E. (2011). 'Killing the Indian in the child': Four centuries of church-run schools. In M. Cannon & L. Sunseri. (Eds.), Racism, colonialism and Indigeneity in Canada: A reader. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press.

Galabuzi, G.-E. (2006). Canada's economic apartheid: The social exclusion of racialized groups in the new century. Toronto: Canadian Scholars' Press.

Harvey, D. (2005). A brief history of neoliberalism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Henry, F. & Tator, C. (2009). Racism in the Canadian university: Demanding social justice, inclusion and equity. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Heron, B. (2007). Desire for development: Whiteness, gender, and the helping imperative. Waterloo, Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier University Press.

Hick, S. (2002). Social work in Canada: An introduction. Toronto: Thompson Educational.

Hill-Collins, P. (1990). Black Feminist thought. New York: Routledge.

Iacovetta, F. (2006). Gatekeepers: Reshaping immigrant lives in cold war Canada. Toronto: Between the Lines.

Kongeter, S. (2012). Paradoxes of transnational knowledge production in social work. In A. Chambon, W. Schr er, & C. Schweppe (Eds.), Transnational social support (pp. 187-210). New York: Routledge.

Massaquoi, N. (2011). Crossing boundaries to radicalize social work practice and education. In D. Baines (Ed.), Doing anti-oppressive practice: Social justice social work. (pp. 214-228). Halifax: Fernwood.

Mawani, R. (2002). In between and out of place: Mixed-race identity, liquor and the law in British Columbia, 1850-1913. In S. Razack (Ed.), Race, space, and the law: Unmapping a white settler society. (pp.46-69). Toronto: Between the Lines.

McLaren, A. (1990). Our own master race: Eugenics in Canada, 1885-1945. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart.

McClintock, A. (1995). Imperial leather: Race, gender, and sexuality in the colonial contest. New York: Routledge.

Milloy, J. (1999). A national crime: The Canadian government and the residential school system, 1879-1986. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press.

Nelson, J. (2002). The Space of Africville: Creating, regulating and remembering the urban “slum”. In S. Razack (Ed.), Race, space, and the law: Unmapping a white settler society. (pp. 221-232). Toronto: Between the Lines.

Office of the Correctional Investigator. (2012). Annual report of the office of the correctional investigator 2011-2012. Ottawa, ON. Retrieved February 3, 2013, from: http:/www.oci-bec.gc.ca/rpt/annrpt/annrpt20112012-eng.aspx#s4.

Oikawa, M. (2002). Cartographies of violence: Women, memory, and the subject(s) of the “internment”. In S. Razack (Ed.), Race, space, and the law: Unmapping a white settler society. (pp.71-98). Toronto: Between the Lines.

Palmater, P. (2011). Beyond blood: Rethinking Indigenous identity. Saskatoon, SK: Purich. Price, J. (2011). Orienting Canada: Race, empire, and the transpacific. Vancouver: UBC Press.

Razack, S. (1998). Looking white people in the eye: Gender, race and culture in courtrooms and classrooms. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Razack, S. (2002). Race, space and the law: Unmapping a white settler society. Toronto: Between the Lines.

Reamon, E. (1921). Canadianization. Social Welfare, 3(5), 136-137.

Rooke, P. & Schnell, R. (1987). No bleeding heart: Charlotte Whitton A feminist on the right. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press.

Ross, M. (2011) Social work activism amid neoliberalism: A big, broad tent of activism. In D. Baines (Ed.), Doing anti-oppressive practice. Building transformative, politicized social work (pp.251-264). Halifax: Fernwood.

Serano, J. (2007). Whipping girl: A transsexual woman on sexism and the scapegoating of femininity. Berkeley: Seal Press

Social Welfare. (1922). Report on the oriental situation in British Columbia. Social Welfare, 4(7), 153-156.

Teelucksingh, C. (2006). Toward claiming space: Theorizing racialized spaces in Canadian cities. In C. Teelucksingh (Ed.), Claiming space: Racialization in Canadian cities. (pp.1-17). Waterloo: Wilfred Laurier University Press.

Thobani, S. (2007). Exalted subjects: Studies in the making of race and nation in Canada. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Ward, P. (2003). White Canada forever: Popular attitudes and public policy towards Orientals in British Columbia. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

Valverde, M. (2008). The age of light, soap and water: Moral reform in English Canada, 1885 - 1925. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Yee, J. & Dumbrill, G. (2003). Whiteout: Looking for race in Canadian social work practice. In A. Al-Krenawi & J. Graham (Eds.), Multicultural social work in Canada: Working with diverse ethno-cultural communities. (pp.98-121). Don Mills: Oxford University Press.


  • There are currently no refbacks.