Date of Award


Publication Type

Doctoral Thesis

Degree Name



Social Work

First Advisor

Angell, G. Brent


phenomenology; power; praxis; privilege; reflection; social constructionism




The social work knowledge base is steeped in discourse about oppression in terms of how it is created, sustained, and experienced, but there is less knowledge about privilege and how it is experienced. The purpose of this study is to explore how social workers in direct practice experience their privilege. To achieve this, the study utilizes the framework of social constructionism and the phenomenological method to describe, interpret, and understand the experiences of 20 social workers who have face-to-face interactions with their clients. Data analysis of the semi-structured interviews resulted in six themes, which are: (a) moving target, (b) the embeddedness of power, (c) variegated experiences, (d) assorted emotions, (e) reflection is not a priority, and (f) the pyramid will always exist. Findings indicate that privilege is not a uniform sociological phenomenon. By proposing privilege as a moving target, the study recognizes the different but fluid categories of social identities, professional status, sense of personal agency, and the contexts of social work practice, as well as the multiplicity of experiences of social workers. As the demographics of social workers become increasingly diverse, there is the need to recognize the privilege and vulnerabilities which simultaneously play out in therapeutic encounters. Social work agencies and organizations should provide space for open dialogue regarding privilege and power, and mitigate against the possibility of oppression of social workers.