In This Article Social Pedagogy

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Encyclopedias and Handbooks
  • Anthologies

Education Social Pedagogy
Juha Hämäläinen, Elina Nivala
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 October 2015
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0125


The concept of social pedagogy has been used for different meanings and in different contexts. It refers, e.g., to a particular tradition of educational thought and theory building, a field of professional institutions and activities, a special area of civil affairs, mobilization of community development, and a reformist movement of education. The common element in all meanings is, generally speaking, viewing social and educational questions together in terms of combining homo socialis and homo educandus. The human being is seen, by nature, as being fundamentally social but in need of education to be able to live together with others in a society. Education is thus seen as a crucial factor in social development and well-being, and it is understood in its broadest sense as support for human development in a lifelong process. Social problems are believed to have an educational dimension, so that seeking educational means for the prevention and alleviation of social misery becomes essential. Interconnection between education and welfare is emphasized. Understandings of social pedagogy are influenced by different understandings of human nature and society, different social theories, philosophies of science, moral philosophies, and political interests. Social pedagogy has been developed, in theory and practice, in different country-specific contexts, and different countries have their own traditions of social-pedagogical discussion. The most important—and the oldest—tradition is in Germany. Therefore, German literature plays a big role in this article. Another important area of social-pedagogical discussion is the Romance-language area, especially Spain but also Latin America and France, as is shown in the selection of citations, too. During the 1990s and the first fourteen years of the 21st century the discussion has also become more and more lively in the Nordic countries, in the Slavonic language area, and finally also in the English-speaking world. (Tatiana Sklyarova, Professor of Social Pedagogy, has assisted in identifying and outlining the Russian-written publications displayed in this article.) In addition to these areas there is social-pedagogical theory building in some other countries, such as Japan. (Akiko Kosaka, MSW, has assisted in identifying and outlining the Japanese-written publications displayed in this article.) We have to admit, however, that the selection of literature in this article is Eurocentric. As for the content questions, we have tried to be comprehensive. As the article will show, the scope of the questions dealt with in social-pedagogical literature is wide, since the concept covers the whole human lifespan.

General Overviews

The ambiguity of the concept of social pedagogy makes it difficult to generalize about social pedagogy. Being developed “in the midst of diverse understandings, conceptualizations and activities,”(p. 10) as Hämäläinen 2012 puts it, social pedagogy expresses itself as a many-dimensional discipline and field of expertise. In spite of this multidimensionality, there have been many attempts to create an overview of the nature of social pedagogy. Scholars in German-speaking and Romance countries in particular have attempted this task. Hamburger 2003 gives a thorough presentation of social pedagogy as pedagogical help for people facing many kinds of social problems, thus giving social pedagogy a theoretically and historically justified place in the welfare system, close to social work, as it is in Germany. Pérez Serrano 2004 looks at social pedagogy from a wider perspective, as is common in the Spanish literature: social pedagogy is presented both as social education for the individual—helping him/her to live in society with others—and as a pedagogical theory of social work. Scholars in other countries have also produced general introductions to social pedagogy. The author of Mudrik 2009 in Russia connects social pedagogy closely to general educational sciences and analyzes the educational challenges with which social pedagogy deals. The author of Madsen 2006 in Denmark comes closer to the German tradition of social pedagogy, when he describes social pedagogy in particular as a theory and practice of social integration and inclusion. Gjertsen 2010 reflects on the way social pedagogy is understood in Norway by emphasizing work with children and young people, and defining social inclusion and normalization as central areas of social pedagogy. Hatton 2013 and Stephens 2013 are the first textbooks of social pedagogy in English. They both stress the importance of being familiar with the theoretical roots of social pedagogy, but their general orientation is very practical: they analyze what social pedagogy has to offer for the practices of social work, especially for social work in the United Kingdom. Hatton 2013 captures the core of the social-pedagogical approach in creativity, inclusion, and a shared interest, which the author calls the “common third,” (pp. 19–21) and these areas all should define the relationship between people working in and using welfare services. Stephens 2013 emphasizes social pedagogy as an approach in which both head and heart are involved in enabling perceived self-efficacy so that people can start changing their lives and society.

  • Gjertsen, Per-Åge. 2010. Sosialpedagogikk: Förståelse, handling og refleksjon. Oslo, Norway: Fagbokgorlaget.

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    This Norwegian-speaking textbook (Social pedagogy: Understanding, action and reflection) deals with the nature of social pedagogy in terms of educational theory and practice, thinking and action. Attention is paid both to the conceptual challenges and opportunities for developing social pedagogy as a functional professional system of modern society.

  • Hämäläinen, Juha. 2012. Social pedagogical eyes in the midst of diverse understandings, conceptualisations and activities. International Journal of Social Pedagogy 1:3–16.

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    Paying attention to historical, political, and professional issues, this article provides a general overview on the diverse nature of social pedagogy. Analyzing different ways to use the attribute “social,” the author introduces this term as a critical element in defining social pedagogy.

  • Hamburger, Franz. 2003. Einführung in die Sozialpädagogik. Stuttgart: Verlag W. Kohlhammer.

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    Outlining its theoretical foundations, the author introduces social pedagogy as a wide professional field providing social-pedagogical help in the different kinds of conflicts and crises that people experience at different stages of their lives. This help, dealing with both individual and micro-, mezzo-, and macro-social factors, contributes to both individual and social development. Social pedagogy is introduced as an integrated element of the modern welfare-state system, as it has been developed in Germany.

  • Hatton, Kieron. 2013. Social pedagogy in the UK: Theory and practice. Lyme Regis, UK: Russell House Publishing.

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    In spite of referring to “the UK” in the title, this textbook provides an overview of the nature of social-pedagogical thought and practice. The potential of social pedagogy within social-care work with different target groups and community development beyond residential child-care services (being emphasized in the British debate on social pedagogy) has been identified.

  • Madsen, Bent. 2006. Socialpedagogik: Integration och inklusion i det moderna samhället. Translated by Per Larson. Lund, Sweden: Studentlitteratur.

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    In this Swedish translation of Socialpædagogi: Integration og inklusion i det moderne samfund (Social pedagogy: Integration and inclusion in the modern society), a textbook that was first published in Danish (København, Denmark: Hans Reitzels forlag, 2005), social pedagogy is introduced as a theory and practice in education which deals in particular with the problem of social exclusion. Attention is paid to the history of the concept of social pedagogy, as well as features of modern society from the point of view of causes and consequences of social exclusion.

  • Mudrik, Anatolij. 2009. Sotsialnaja pedagogika. Moscow: Izdatelskij tsentr “Akademija.”

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    In this Russian-language textbook, social pedagogy is introduced in terms of a general theory of education that concerns educational challenges of modern society in general, covering in great breadth people’s educational needs in the context of modern lifestyles.

  • Pérez Serrano, Gloria. 2004. Pedagogía social, educación social: Construcción científica e intervención práctica. Madrid: Narcea, S. A. de ediciones.

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    This Spanish textbook is built on the interconnection of the two dimensions of social pedagogy: theory and practice. It looks both at the history, philosophical foundations, scholarly nature, and investigation paradigms of social pedagogy, and at different traditions, professional understandings, and working methods of social education, i.e., social-pedagogical practice.

  • Stephens, Paul. 2013. Social pedagogy: Heart and head. Studies in Comparative Social Pedagogies and International Social Work and Social Policy 24. Bremen, Germany: Europäische Hochschulverlag.

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    In this textbook, social pedagogy is outlined as a theory and practice of rational educational action (head) connecting with the values of compassion and human kindness (heart), aiming at bringing about social emancipation through dialogue-based communications and interactive operations.

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