Social Justice Is for Everyone … An Invitation in Essays to Join a Conversation (Joan Beckwith, 2021)

The long winter of Covid-19 lockdown inspired projects that might otherwise have languished on the ‘gunna’ list. This book is one such. It brings together an edited collection of essays, written between 2012 and 2020, when this website was called 2020socialjustice.

Invitation to convoSocial Justice Is for Everyone opens up topics of racism, gender and sexuality, disability and refugee policy, abuse of workers, care of children and older people, death and euthanasia, health and mental health, economic inequality, and access to education.

It deals with complex ideas in everyday language, and raises questions  rather than providing ready solutions. Discussion is underwritten by commitment to social  justice, shaped by feminist theory, critical social theory, critical psychology, examination of power relations, professional and personal experience.

Dr Joan Beckwith (PhD) is a retired psychologist who has worked, lives, and writes at the intersection of the personal, professional, and political. Her book, Social Justice Is for Everyone, invites you to join a conversation – as seasoned activist, newly interested, or somewhere in between.

Get a free PRINT COPY of Social Justice Is for Everyone
via email to
. In return, donations are invited to the Wurundjeri Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Council.

Published by Busybird Publishing, ‘Social Justice Is for Everyone … ‘ is also available from online retailers as a paperback (various prices from $28.60 to $41.39) and Kindle eBook from Amazon for $7.33.

Reviews and readers’ feedback

This book is an invaluable opportunity to sit down with a knowledgeable writer and esteemed psychologist in the field of social justice. Dr Beckwith offers a gentle challenge to the way one perceives a wide ranging set of social justice issues, turning them over and viewing them from new angles. She exemplifies the curiosity and empathy that is pivotal to productive engagement with social justice concerns. No matter what stage of awareness about matters of social justice one has reached, we all have a lot to learn from this book.

Sam Stevens (they/them) (Poet; Editor at Busybird Publishing; Associate Editor at The Suburban Review; BA in Literature and Creative Writing from Melbourne University)


It’s a book that will have a big impact on readers because it raises issues about which we should all be concerned. The writing style is engaging, provocative, but non-judgmental to promote thoughtfulness and hopefully social change.

Dr Christine Baxter (two decades of teaching and research in disability studies at Deakin University)


Dr Joan Beckwith’s book has a rich variety of chapters on many areas of social justice including racism, gender and sexuality, disability, worker abuse, children, ageism, mental health, economic injustice and education.  It is an exemplary piece of work bringing together an edited collection of well researched essays.  I have found chapters informative, incisive and easily readable.  I congratulate Joan on this excellent book and many, many years fighting and writing about social justice for all.

Dr Lorraine Jessie Harrison (Social worker with experience in working with carers, elder abuse, and sexual assault)


Dr Joan Beckwith’s analysis is based on the impact of real power differentials and focusses on how to even them for the benefit of everyone. She places the least powerful at the centre of her analysis reversing the usual privileging. The book uses examples that are clear, compelling and concrete.

I found the chapter on the economic justice as a dimension of social justice particularly engaging and informative. Beckwith demonstrates how easily economic exclusion becomes social exclusion and thus an individual welfare problem.

I’ve very much enjoyed taking this journey with Dr Beckwith and look forward to the next iteration which   promises to provide a framework for the analysis of power. Let the conversations continue!

Ms Colleen Turner  (Fellow and former Director of Social Issues at the Australian Psychological Society; Feminist and Climate activist)


Dr Joan Beckwith has long been revered among feminist psychologists as both a practitioner and an academic whose work embodies the mantra ‘the personal is political’. Now her rich collection of essays reminds us in turn that the political can be deeply personal. Her fiercely critical observations are infused with genuine human connection: Chapter 2 on Racism includes a forensically compiled and grouped sample of responses to her own social media posts around the choice of January 26 as ‘Australia Day’; the two essays that make up Chapter 8 ‘And then you get old’ draw on the experiences of a woman for whom Joan had power of attorney while she was in an aged care facility. Just as she always strove to keep the discussions emanating from the blog that forms the basis for the essays respectful and inclusive, Dr Beckwith invites us all now to engage in a conversation (or many) about social justice. The context is primarily Australian, but I have already shared the book with like-minded folk overseas because the themes have global resonance.

Ms Heather Gridley (OAM; community psychologist; Honorary Fellow, College of Health and Biomedicine, Victoria University)


This book is about the issues we care about and talk about.

Mrs Judy McLean (OAM, for service to youth, and to the rural community in Tasmania; PHF Rotary Paul Harris Fellowship Award for community service)


A series of concise, clearly expressed essays, grouped broadly by subject. A very easily read book introducing discussion on a number of important topics.

Mr Ross Lander


Your book has made all the way to arrive in Hai Phong my home city. Your tireless effort in writing in and fighting for social justice is admirable. I still remember your first book that I had an opportunity to read with a very impressive title as ‘Swimming with Sharks’. This second book and your page Social justice is for everyone are very useful for me as a translator/interpreter because I translate/interpret many material/events related to social justice. Many civil society organizations in Vietnam are working very hard for social justice, and I believe that your books and interactive FB page are very valuable resources for them. My clients include United Nations agencies (UNDP, UN Women, UNESCO), Vietnamese CSOs, etc. I have been providing translation/interpretation service for “Investing in Women” (IW) – an Australia-funded project.

Nguyễn Duy Thăng (Translator and interpreter in Vietnam)


I had a book 30 years ago called ‘Social workers their Roles and Tasks’ … or something like that and it was an English publication and my bible for years. Yours in in this league. I hope you get it to a wide audience as it has a delightful narrative style. The other inspiration was ‘Bury Me in My Boots’ by Sally Trench an English writer and activist who, over the past 40 years, has gone from caring for London homeless as a 17 year old to establishing a mass movement of welfare programs in the UK and Africa.



Many people from different backgrounds could pick up this book and read it without being confused or intimidated by the language. It examines deeply complex issues without becoming unapproachable, which is exactly in step with the point of the book. It opens up conversations rather than prescribing particular opinions, and provides an excellent resource for those who want to review their engagement with social issues, and learn some well researched information along the way. Clearly a product of much time and effort.



I’m about halfway through the new book and thoroughly enjoying it on many levels.



I read your essays on child abuse first. They brought tears to my heart and mind. Your insight has value. I read your commentary and it resonated.



I enjoyed reading your book, especially the worker’s story and the older persons’ chapter.



It’s well written, thought provoking and enjoyable. I love your comment about ‘losing the plot’ because it is so easy for me to identify with. I also love your idea of a donation, and will follow through on that.



It reads beautifully. Straightforward and elegant.



I am totally enjoying the essays and finding I am in total agreement.



I have now read ‘Social Justice is for Everyone’.  Three times Chapter 9. What a concise mind you have to bring Social Justice into such clear focus. I drew a deep breath and gave you a BIG ‘Thank you’ for the clarity you have given me. I do not feel so alone now, when I see injustice. Great book for a readers’ group. They will converse all the night through!

When I finish my present read I will read your book again.



You have certainly achieved a lot in your life.  I admire your commitment to your causes and especially that you put your money where your mouth is  (e.g. your Social Justice Scholarship).  Glad you left that course when you left school (scrubbing with a tooth brush). What were you thinking?   Respect you for your opinions, but do not agree with all of them, and happy to agree to disagree.



Can’t express how much I enjoyed this book. Every essay was just absolutely superbly written and researched. It resonated so strongly with me, but of course I have always been far left leaning politically so I required no persuasion.

I particularly  liked how you reframed the worker abuse issue from simply ‘bullying’; the impact of meritocracy arguments about universities and the call for employers to do better; the analysis about ‘othering’, victim blaming etc. I could go on.

Oh and I loved the notion of having an academic focus on powerolgy. And your views about early child hood educators, I couldn’t agree more. Finally having been a bureaucrat for 20 or so years I could totally relate to the so-called response you got from the education minister’s office. One of my biggest frustrations was having to learn the art of replying to a constituent with a whole lot of words that say a whole lot of nothing and skirting around the author’s point.



You have renewed my activism, and inspired my best friend to study community services at TAFE and join the daily fight for community social justice.





Swimming with Sharks (Joan Beckwith, 2012)

Ria’s ideas about power-sharing within a community organisation are an obstacle in the path of progress for the new Executive Director who applies pressure to squeeze her out.

Ria is ill-equipped for the onslaught and no match for the Establishment. She finds herself grappling with echoes from childhood, and her fight for justice takes its toll.

Swimming with Sharks is a story of survival that moves from the despair of failed hope to healing, forgiveness and regrowth.



Download for Kindle readers.
Download for most other readers.

My techo-help (life-mate) has set up the download process and tells me there is no simple set of instructions that would work for everybody. If you have difficulties, he suggests you ask any teenager, or let us know (contact details follow) and we can attempt to problem-solve.


A few print copies are also still available (now free). You just need to provide your details for postage. My contact details follow.


You can use the contact form of this website (click here), or email me (Joan Beckwith) at

Endorsements of “Swimming with Sharks”

This is a fantastic book for anyone who is being, or has been bullied at work.

Moira Rayner, lawyer and former Victorian Commissioner for Equal Opportunity


A riveting read, especially for those who have seen their workplaces turn into alien environments and are struggling to understand what is happening. This book takes us on a personal journey through workplace change; the highs, lows and survival.

Pamela Curr, human rights campaigner and advocate for asylum seekers


Ria’s story is an uncomfortable unfolding of a common story for women in the workplace. This does not make for easy reading or a light book at bedtime. But this is a book worth reading by all women who devote their lives to their work, often forgetting to stop and smell the roses.

June Kane AM, Advisor to UN agencies on labour exploitation and human trafficking


My favourite part of the book is the middle section. I can really identify with the family’s grief. Ria’s mother reminds me of many women I knew of her generation and faith.

Judy Small, political singer, songwriter, guitarist


Reviews and readers’ feedback

I spent a few hours glued to this book…

From the start I was with Ria as she struggled with her own and other people’s demons. The intimate knowledge of the subject matter came through and made this totally believable and gripping.
I feel so sad at what we do to each other in the name of rightness and order – power games we play to confirm our places in workplaces; the damage that is inflicted by life, by parents, by our psyche; and the overarching drive to save face, to ‘put on a good show’.
It is reassuring to know that there is hope; that there are people who see a different picture. There are good friends and support networks when we feel on our own against an overwhelming problem or system.
There is a place for hugs and ritual and ‘time wasting’. Efficiency is not god.
Totally recommend this valuable contribution!



A moving story that will suck you in

Swimming with Sharks starts off in a community health organization which is going through a time of change. Once its main interest was the wellbeing of its clients, but now there are new funding rules and performance indicators, and also a new CEO. The main character (Ria) is both idealistic and bad at office politics, and she tries to support the wellbeing of her clients with unfortunately predictable results.
The title of the book is a metaphor, and the chapter headings expand the metaphor with useful advice: first, do not get into this situation; second, if caught out, try not to bleed. Ria fails on both these counts, once by chance and her own unawareness of danger, and again (and very badly) by trying to defend her clients interests against an immediately hostile administration.
The novel is in three parts, starting as I have described and followed by a central segment which is a kind of prequel set in Ria’s childhood many years ago. I found it interesting to tie this central section back to the first, finding some reasons why Ria behaved as she did, as well as reasons why she was so vulnerable to abuse from the CEO. The backstory also gave depth to my appreciation of the final third of the book (which covers the aftermath to part 1), allowing me to understand her stages of rebuilding in terms of their new foundations. Ria’s memories of her mother meant all the more to me when I knew where they were coming from.
Someone else who has read this book has told me that she thought the main character was too spiky, too inflexible, and that as a novel it would have been better if Ria had been more likeable and more able to bend with the wind. But I don’t think so. We are what we are, and some people will stand up to the system even if (as here) it is much stronger than they are. I believe that this is good. And Swimming with Sharks is not a depressing story: it ends with forgiveness and redemption, with humor and new growth, and it left me with feelings that were oddly satisfying.



About workplace injustice

Joan Beckwith’s book Swimming with Sharks gets the reader thinking from beginning to end, and would be a very good addition to book club lists. I enjoyed it enormously. It is a beautifully written novel in which the author cleverly develops the theme of social justice around her main character Ria. Readers will identify with Ria’s experience of workplace injustice and her various attempts to resolve the issue. The story graphically illustrates the conflict between a worker’s commitment to laudable client-oriented values, and a boss determined to implement her own views about how the service will be run and who will work in it. As in so many contests, it is power that determines the outcome. Ria engages in self-critical adaptation and finds consolation in family and friends, but does she ever achieve recognition and justice. And how do the clients fare?

Chris B


How to survive the modern workplace!

This is a beautifully written book with an unusual approach on the hot topic of organisational dysfunction and workplace bullying or harassment. The author has crafted an engaging story set in a busy community counselling agency that is undergoing major “change management” with the arrival of a new Business Manager, who immediately targets a well respected member of the counselling team. Her strong values around the rights of the client in her professional work are immediately interpreted as a threat to the new manager’s plans of delivering the cost cutting and organisational change plans she wants to implement at any cost!
Beckwith, engages us with her intimately drawn characters, and a tense setting that acts out the modern day workplace most of us dread going to each and every day. As we grapple with the tensions of keeping our values, personal and professional ethics, that are too often under siege from the constant demands from management to cut costs, rationalise our jobs and services, all in order to meet targets and efficiency goals often completely divorced from any reality on the impact of these demands on clients and workers.
The issues of workplace harassment and bullying are not new, but Beckwith’s approach and perspective is, as she teases out every bit of humanity she can from all the characters. Swimming with Sharks is not only a great read, but a valuable contribution to this field. Highly recommend.

Rui Santos


A great read about challenge, power and survival

Swimming with Sharks is an awesome read and although I cried in a few spots, it provoked many things for me (particularly family issues) and I am still mulling over some aspects of it (not just the family issues.) It answered a few questions but brought a few more to the surface. This is a book for anyone who has endured challenges within their family of origin or abuse of power in the workplace – or are close to someone who has.



Human Interactions and emotions, evolving and unravelling on the pages

Swimming with Sharks is one of those books I immediately feel an overwhelming sense of déjà vu and hear a little voice in my head saying “that’s what I should have thought, or could have done, or wished I’d done” when faced with the Lenas (and Lens) of this world. Yet I equally enjoy the unpredictability of how Ria’s (the believable and interesting protagonist) story unfolds, and often wonder how she’ll handle the subtle and not so subtle abuse, or how she’ll “play the game” without compromising her values or losing her sanity. I also love the rawness and realness in the different levels of relationships between the major players, cleverly reflected by a strong yet gentle and non-judgmental author’s voice as the “The Portal’s” eclectic staff evolve and unravel, all the while keeping the reader wondering how the plot and the characters will mould together. It is a book that I enjoyed immensely, would definitely read again, and would recommend to anyone perturbed or disturbed by social injustice, or who has been affected by toxicity in the workplace … in one way or another.

Annette O


A powerful book.

Heather Gridley


I found this book easy to read and could relate to working in an NGO, where workers need to be passionate, as Ria and her colleagues were, and do the work with, rather than for or to, their service users. Lena was power-hungry, and destroyed the spirit of The Portal. She didn’t belong in the NGO sector; I’m not sure where she did belong.

I found parts about the Catholic Church hard to believe, especially after reference to Catholic magazines with “photos of families on the cover, sometimes with more than twenty children” (p.143). Having been raised a Catholic in 1950s Melbourne, I came across a family of 16, but more than twenty? Also, I know there was too much emphasis on rules and regulations at that time, but one would have to come across one or two kindly nuns going through school, and it would have been more believable if Ria’s mother had been referred to as having a mental illness that manifested in her sad and shocking understanding of Catholicism. I’m appalled and disillusioned with the Church at the moment, but trying to believe the good outweighs the bad (although struggling).

Overall, this book is well written and held my attention. I read it in three sittings.

Barbara Peach


Swimming with Sharks is a fictional comment on the all-too-real dangers of rocking the boat in your workplace and trying to take on management head-to-head. It’s about the bottom line in this cutthroat modern world being money and not people. And it’s about people power and fighting back.



Don’t let the title fool you. You might think it has something to do with actual sharks…in a way it does, but not the ones that swim in the sea. An entertaining read about relationships.



A beautiful story of our journeys to be more human; I devoured it in two days, and hope many others will get a chance to read it.



A marvellous piece of writing, cleverly bringing together two painful parts of the main character’s life; yet it brings hope as well, and remarkable insights into the ability of people to survive and swim above the evil that exists.



Parts keep coming up weeks after reading it; always the sign of the power of a book. The structure is effective; the way the two stories reinforce each other and highlight the theme of ‘power over’. I like the recognition that there has to be an individual response to survive, but that it is structural power and also needs a collective response. It would have been easy for Ria to succumb to cynicism and hopelessness, but good for the story that she doesn’t. It’s pretty harrowing and the writing makes the emotion inescapable.

GaiM (1)


A really good read, very accomplished. Easy to keep turning the pages, relatable, and I wanted to find out what was happening to this character. Gave me the heebie-jeebies as well, though, all that management-speak and accountancy model and commodifying people. Reminded me of a place I have worked.



Couldn’t put it down; love the way the story and characters develop.



I really liked this book, and gave it to my sister who also liked it and found Ria a very sympathetic character.



I thought it was fantastic, and so did my partner. Riveting, courageous, strong, beautifully written, stories and emotions expressed so well. It has kept us talking long after we finished it. We both know a Lena or two so it had us captivated from the beginning. The link from past to present is brilliant; the childhood part evokes such strong emotion and the insight into the therapeutic process is brilliant.



I enjoyed the perspective, honest and courageous. Very engaging, and dealt with the emotions in an insightful and sensitive way. I had empathy for the Ria character, but it seems the people above her were mainly interested in protecting their own interests and egos. I particularly loved the middle section on childhood and the commentary on the unenlightened times and cruel way of raising children.



The writing is great; the way the main characters are introduced, the pace, foreshadowing, expression of emotions, and movement between settings. I liked that Lena is a bit of a shadowy figure, lurking behind everything but we don’t really ‘know’ her, which to me is part of her power; like a nightmare figure that can’t quite be shaken but can wreak an enormous amount of fear and damage. It also becomes clear, very economically, how someone like her can get away with what is obviously outrageous behaviour.

GaiM (2)


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