In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Comparative Social Work

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Textbooks
  • Collected Works
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • History
  • European Comparisons

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Social Work Comparative Social Work
Steven M. Shardlow, Juha Hämäläinen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 March 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 March 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0193


Taken in an international context, social work is characterized by diversity of country-specific traditions, policies, and practices. Despite this global diversity, the investigation and analysis of social work through comparative research is underdeveloped theoretically and methodologically. In social work the term “comparative research” has generally been used to refer to cross-national studies that involve two or more nation-states. Although, logically, the term “comparative research” could also apply to other forms of comparison, for example, comparison: across different historical epochs, of different perspectives on social work—professionals and public, and of different regions. While there are a large number of articles in journals and anthologies that introduce different aspects of social work and social work education in individual countries, there are a relatively modest number of available publications that have been based on systematic comparisons of two or more countries and that are grounded in empirical study. The authors wish to acknowledge that they are both resident in Europe, one in England, the other in Finland. If that has engendered some bias in the selection of material that has been included, we offer our apologies to the reader. In our defense, this topic is of global reach and spans the full domain of social work—it is not possible to know or be able to access it all. Notwithstanding this reservation we hope that the reader will find this bibliography useful as a starting point from which to explore the nature of comparative social work.

General Overviews

International associations of social work, notably, the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) and the International Association of Schools of Social Work (IASSW), have promoted transnational interactions between social workers and social work academics and have also published varied materials about social work in different countries. Many of these publications are available on their websites IFSW and IASSW AIETS, respectively. Of particular interest is the definition of social work, which is available on the websites and is intended to provide a definition of social work that can be understood and is meaningful in all countries. These long-established organizations (IASSW was founded in 1928; IFSW in 1932) have connections with a number of international organizations. Thus, for example, IFSW has “special consultative status” with the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) of the United Nations and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). This special status has provided opportunities for the organization to press the interests of social work at a global level. Apart from the work of such bodies, members of the academic community have published works that have sought to collate and classify fragmented information about social work around the globe in a more or less systematic way. Most of these publications consist of several juxtaposed country-specific descriptions that illustrate selected aspects of social work in individual countries. These comparisons have explored both the conditions in which social work takes place and the characteristics of the philosophies, policies, and practices that underpin social work. For example, Anttonen, et al. 2003 compares the systems of social care in different welfare regimes, without commenting on the qualities of social work practice, while Bettman, et al. 2013 concentrates on providing a description of diverse social work practices in various country-specific contexts. Stein and Munro 2008 discusses methodological difficulties associated with comparative social work research. Healy and Thomas 2007 offers an overview of comparative social work by conducting a review of a journal that publishes material about international issues (International Social Work). Some publications focus particularly on questions about how social work is shaped and challenged through globalization and articulate the importance of developing an internationalized approach to social work; one of the earliest books of this type is by Lyons 1999. More recently, Cox and Pawar 2006 investigates the history and the current situation of international social work and social development. See also Hugman 2010.

  • Anttonen, Anneli, John Baldock, and Jorma Sipilä, eds. 2003. The young, the old and the state: Social care systems in five industrial nations. Globalization and Welfare 4. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar.

    This anthology consists of articles that discuss the systems for social care services in Finland, Germany, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States from a comparative point of view by drawing upon theories about welfare regimes.

  • Bettman, Joanna, Caren Frost, and Gloria Jacques, eds. 2013. International social work practice: Case studies from a global context. London: Routledge.

    This anthology introduced the notion of divergence and similarity in forms and practices of social work around the globe through a series of case studies on the following topics: child welfare, intimate partner violence, family conflict and communication, elder care, substance abuse trauma.

  • Cox, David, and Manohar Pawar. 2006. International social work: Issues, strategies and programs. Thousand Oaks, CA; SAGE.

    This many-sided overview of social work explores global social and ecological challenges through an exploration of educational and institutional factors that have influenced the development of international social work.

  • Healy, Lynne, M., and Rebecca L. Thomas. 2007. International Social Work: A retrospective in the 50th year. International Social Work 50:581–596.

    DOI: 10.1177/0020872807079916

    This article presents a history of International Social Work since the journal was founded, a period of fifty years. The articles fall into one of six categories: international social work, global issues, local or regional manifestations of global issues, cross-national comparative studies, country-specific analyses, and articles on more general social work topics.

  • Hugman, Richard. 2010. Understanding international social work: A critical analysis. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    This book provides an analysis of international social work; included in the chapters are case studies that are centered on practice issues, which have been grounded in various national locations.

  • Lyons, Karen. 1999. International social work: Themes and perspectives. Aldershot, UK: Ashgate.

    This is an introductory book that provides an overview of the fundamentals of international social work. There is discussion of the need for the development of both policy and practice as a response to globalization.

  • Stein, Mike, and Emily M. Munro, eds. 2008. Young people’s transitions from care to adulthood: International research and practice. London: Jessica Kingsley.

    This anthology illustrates the epistemological and methodological challenges of comparative research of social work by focusing on the transition of young people in care to adulthood. The approach taken is to compare policies in sixteen selected countries from different parts of the world.

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