The concept of social pedagogy has been used for different meanings and in different contexts. It refers, for example, 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 (Philipp Sandermann, Professor of Social Pedagogy, and Onno Husen, Research Assistant at Leuphana University, have assisted in identifying and outlining the German publications displayed 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 (Xavier Úcar, Professor of Social Pedagogy at Universitat Autónoma de Barcelona, has assisted in identifying and outlining the most recent Spanish-written publications, and Sanna Ryynänen, Senior lecturer at the University of Eastern Finland, the Portuguese-written publications displayed in this article). 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. (Lisbeth Eriksson, Senior lecturer at University West, has assisted in identifying and outlining the most recent Swedish publications; Tatiana Sklyarova, Professor of Social Pedagogy, the Russian-written publications; and Claire Cameron, Professor of social pedagogy at University College London, the most recent British publications displayed in this article.) In addition to these areas there is social-pedagogical theory building in some other countries, such as Japan. (Lan Xiao, Assistant Professor at Hokkaido University; Yaka Matsuda, Assistant Professor at Kochi University; and Akiko Kosaka, MSW, have 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 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.
The ambiguity of the concept of social pedagogy makes it difficult to generalize about social pedagogy that expresses itself as a many-dimensional discipline and field of expertise, as stated in Hämäläinen 2015. 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. Two more recent Spanish examples of a similarly wide understanding of social pedagogy are Melendro, et al. 2018 and Úcar 2016. 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 2001 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 Bildung. 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. Stephens 2013 is one the first textbooks of social pedagogy in English (the other one is Hatton 2013, referred to in the section Descriptions of Social Pedagogy in the United Kingdom and the United States). It 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. Santos Graciani 2014 represents a strongly political understanding of social pedagogy, following the tradition of pedagogy of liberation of Paulo Freire, thus presenting an overview of social pedagogy in Brasil.
Gjertsen, Per-Åge. 2010. Sosialpedagogikk: Förståelse, handling og refleksjon. Oslo, Norway: Fagbokgorlaget.
This Norwegian-language 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. 2015. Defining social pedagogy: Historical, theoretical and practical considerations. British Journal of Social Work 45:1022–1038.
Paying attention to historical, political, and professional issues, this paper provides a general overview on the diverse nature of social pedagogy. The paper illustrates the development of social pedagogy among different traditions of thought, policies, and practices.
Hamburger, Franz. 2003. Einführung in die Sozialpädagogik. Stuttgart: Verlag W. Kohlhammer.
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. The book was translated into Japanese in 2013 by Ryukichi Ogushi.
Madsen, Bent. 2001. Socialpedagogik. Translated by Birgitta Amstrand Frisk. Lund, Sweden: Studentlitteratur.
This Swedish translation of a Danish textbook (Socialpædagogik og samfundsforvandling: En grundbog [Social pedagogy and societal change: A groundwork], originally published in Copenhagen: Munksgaard, 1993) discusses the historical development of social pedagogy, looking at social conflicts and emergency situations in the modern society. It defines social pedagogy as an answer to the new problems of integration, but it also questions the role of social pedagogy as a vehicle for adaptation and control for the deviant members of society. It introduces a more critical understanding of social pedagogy as education, supporting not just socialization but also Bildung.
Melendro, Miguel, Angel de-Juanas Oliva, and Ana Eva Rodriguez Bravo. 2018. Pedagogía social: Retos y escenarios para la acción socioeducativa. Madrid: Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia.
Presenting both the theoretical foundations of social pedagogy and the most central fields of social-pedagogical practice, this textbook gives an overall understanding about the field, discussing also new social challenges and emerging responses to these. In addition to basic contents, access is given to recommended complementary materials.
Mudrik, Anatolij. 2009. Sotsialnaja pedagogika. Moscow: Izdatelskij tsentr “Akademija.”
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.
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, that is, social-pedagogical practice.
Santos Graciani, Maria Stela. 2014. Pedagogia social. São Paulo, Brazil: Cortez Editora.
This Brazilian textbook rebuilds the concept of social pedagogy from a Latin American perspective, taking as a reference Paulo Freire’s political concept of education aimed at the transformation of unequal social realities. It constructs a de-colonial understanding of social pedagogy and of social-pedagogical practices.
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.
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.
Úcar, Xavier. 2016. Pedagogías de lo social. Barcelona: Editorial UOC.
In this first book of a trilogy by the same Spanish author, social pedagogy is seen as a broad pedagogical, critical-reflexive field that is committed to education for all and that strives for possibilities for everybody to improve their ways of being and finding themselves in the world. Discussing, for example, paradigms, axiological principles, and methodological processes and practices, it builds up an understanding of the “pedagogies of the social.”
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