Examining Social Work as a Canadian Settler Colonial Project:

  • Edward Ou Jin Lee School of Social Work, McGill University
  • Ilyan Ferrer School of Social Work, McGill University


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.