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

  • Introduction
  • Overview Works and Collected Volumes
  • Migrant Transnationalism and Social Protection across Borders
  • Social Work Transnationalism among Migrant Professionals
  • Social Work Transnationalism and Education

Social Work Transnational Perspectives in Social Work
Erica Righard, Paolo Boccagni
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 July 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 July 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195389678-0316


The transnational perspective contributes to the development of theoretical and practical knowledge of social work as this is conditioned and framed in contemporary dynamics of globalization. Social work transnationalism, also referred to as transnational social work, is related to but typically has a more limited and focused purview than international social work. More than a particular field of practice, social work transnationalism is based in particular understandings of social problems and interventions. In migration studies, the transnational perspective has contributed to a reframing of international migration as multidirectional and continuing mobility dynamics in people’s everyday life and in societies. More broadly in the development of the social sciences, the transnational perspective constitutes a critique of naturalized assumptions of “sedentarism” and of societies as nation-states. In the social sciences, this kind of critique is often referred to as a critique of methodological nationalism. For social work, it means that implicit assumptions of social problems and social work as “naturally” framed by nation-states and the reach of nationally organized welfare programs are questioned. Instead, transnational approaches to social problems and social work regard these as they are shaped, experienced, and needed in globalized societies. While the development of the transnational perspective is diversified, its ontological standpoint makes it a particular perspective. This is also why it has a more limited and focused purview than international social work: international social work is not limited to a particular theoretical perspective. The aim of this article is to organize existing literature on social work from a transnational perspective under relevant themes. Below, Overview Works and Collected Volumes are first presented, followed by five themes, which are divided into subthemes. The first theme, Social Work Transnationalism, includes literature developing the transnational perspective in social work, discussions on transnational social work as a set of practices, and implications for social policy. The second theme, Social Work with Transnational Populations, includes literature on social problems and social work in relation to particular populations of migrants, such as children and elderly. The third theme, Migrant Transnationalism and Social Protection across Borders, is a growing field of literature that regards informal social protection systems, often led by migrants through transnational networks. Finally, the fourth and fifth themes are about implications of Social Work Transnationalism among Migrant Professionals and Social Work Transnationalism and Education.

Overview Works and Collected Volumes

As noted in the Introduction, transnationalism is more of a perspective to social work, than a designated field of practice. It is in view of this that we can understand the relative lack of overview textbooks. Instead, we find a number of collected volumes that typically gather contributions from a broad variety of different fields within social work, but which have approached these from a transnational viewpoint. Such volumes bringing up a broad variety different social work topics from a transnational perspective include Bartley and Beddoe 2018; Chambon, et al. 2012; Good Gingrich and Köngeter 2017; Negi and Furman 2010; and Schwarzer, et al. 2016. Certain volumes with a broader scope, such as Noble, et al. 2014 and Sabates-Wheeler and Feldman 2011, also have relevance for discussions on the transnational perspective in social work. Likewise, there are no academic journals dedicated to the intersection of transmigration and social work. Relevant articles are instead found in many different journals, including both migration and social work journals. There is, however, one exception: Transnational Social Review: A Social Work Journal. This journal was edited under the lead of the Research Center for Transnational Social Support (TRANSSOS), University of Mainz, and published by Taylor & Francis from 2011 to 2018, when it ceased publication. Eight volumes with up to three issues per year are available. While the transnational perspective is a common thread in the journal, the articles focus on very different aspects and fields of social work. In this section we also include three special issues that contribute to the development of the transnational perspective in social work. While Boccagni and Righard 2015 and Williams and Graham 2014 are broader in scope, Boccagni and Righard 2020 focuses on social work in the light of refugee migration to Europe. We have not been able to identify any online resources on the transnational perspective in social work.

  • Bartley, A., and L. Beddoe, eds. 2018. Transnational social work: Opportunities and challenges of a global profession. Bristol, UK: Policy Press.

    This edited volume focuses on opportunities and challenges of transnational social work from the perspectives of social workers, employers, and recruitment agencies in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and the UK, including the Aotearoa New Zealand context.

  • Boccagni, P., and E. Righard, eds. 2015. Special issue: Social work and migration in Europe: A dialogue across boundaries. Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies 13.3.

    This special issue sets the focus on how cross-border mobilities and ethnic diversification challenge both formal and informal arrangements of social protection and seek to stimulate a dialogue across Europe. This is achieved through a combination of one conceptual article and four empirical case studies with an empirical focus on policy, organization, and social workers.

  • Boccagni, P., and E. Righard, eds. 2020. Special issue: Social work with refugees and displaced people in Europe. European Journal of Social Work 23.3.

    This special issue emanated out of the IMISCOE research group International Migration and Social Protection (IMASP). It consists of twelve articles besides the introduction to the theme. The included articles are both case studies and comparative, based in varying national and migration contexts, including both practice and education.

  • Chambon, A., W. Schröer, and C. Schweppe, eds. 2012. Transnational social support. New York and London: Routledge.

    In this edited volume, the introduction positions and discusses social support from a transnational perspective. It gathers ten chapters divided into five parts: on (i) transnational social policy, (ii) transnational social support and transnational organizations, (iii) transnational family care, (iv) transnational social support and biography, and (v) transnational social support—unintended consequences and future challenges.

  • Good Gingrich, L., and S. Köngeter, eds. 2017. Transnational social policy: Social welfare in a world on the move. New York and London: Routledge.

    This edited volume brings together case studies about the interrelation between social policies, mobile populations, and knowledge productions in transnational settings. It contains eleven empirical chapters divided into three parts: (i) Sharing knowledge—Setting the policy agenda, (ii) Beyond transfer—Translating policies and shaping welfare, and (iii) Lost in translation—The social repercussions of transnational social policy, and the reinforcement of global inequality.

  • Negi, N. J., and R. Furman, eds. 2010. Transnational social work practice. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

    In its introduction chapter, this anthology presents a rather fixed definition of transnational social work practices. The collected contributions discuss a variety of social work practice fields in the lights of this.

  • Noble, C., H. Strauss, and B. Littlechild, eds. 2014. Global social work: Crossing borders, blurring boundaries. Sydney: Sydney Univ. Press.

    This edited volume, containing twenty-seven chapters, identifies transnational social work as a new paradigm (chap. 2) and collects a wide range of contributions from various social work areas of specialization, including social work as a professional and educational field, and in many different national and welfare contexts.

  • Sabates-Wheeler, R., and R. Feldman, eds. 2011. Migration and social protection: Claiming social rights beyond borders. Basingstoke, UK, and New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    While this edited volume does not directly relate to social work, its way of approaching migrants’ social protection across borders is relevant for this article. It discusses the dynamics between informal and formal protection and applies a transnational understanding in its theoretical framework, arguing that migrants’ access to formal protection depends both on the country of emigration and immigration.

  • Schwarzer, B., U. Kammerer-Rutten, A. Schleyer-Lindenmann, and Y. Wang, eds. 2016. Transnational social work and social welfare: Challenges for the social work profession. London and New York: Routledge.

    This edited volume gathers thirty-seven contributions divided into four parts. The first part is conceptual, including one chapter conceptualizing transnational social work. Part II contains country cases, and Part III case studies. Part IV is conclusive, with one chapter discussing implications of the book.

  • Williams, C., and M. Graham, eds. 2014. Special issue: “A world on the move”: Migration, mobilities and social work. British Journal of Social Work 44, Supplement 1.

    In the introduction article, the editors to this special issue position social work in relation to transmigration. The eleven articles that follow cover a wide range of topics, including social work with varying groups of people and in varying national contexts.

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