Recent years have witnessed an eruption of what have been termed culture wars, often converging around the messier aspects of interpersonal relationships and corresponding identity issues that are complex, sensitive, and contested. These are emotive topics that are often colonised by activist groups, and consequently have become enveloped in particular regimes of truth and assertive identity politics. They are often also, by their nature, the kind of issues that are central to social work practice. This can lead to pressure on social workers and social work students to think that these orthodoxies ought to underpin and define the profession, which in turn can lead to the silencing of alternative opinions and the closing down of dissent. This article seeks to locate identity politics in a political and cultural context. It goes on to set out classic arguments for free speech, viewpoint diversity, and for the need for social work to embrace and engage with such. It explores the notion that the closing down of debate about contentious issues, the disincentives that exist to expressing controversial opinions, and the uncritical adoption of ideological orthodoxies work against the development of the critical thinking skills that are essential for social work practice.
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License
which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited