Developing social pedagogy as
an academic discipline
I strongly believe that our society is in dire need of social interven-
tion. A ‘perfect’ society is conceived as lying largely in the remote
future because the problems enveloping society render it difficult
to make society ‘perfect’. The intervention of social pedagogical
educative values will secure the continuity of the growth of society
and not throw it into the past or cramp or deaden it.
Social pedagogy at a glance
The concept of social pedagogy is used in different contexts and in
different meanings: as a tradition of thinking and action in which
social and pedagogical points of view are combined, as a field of
professional activities that developed from this tradition, as a branch
of study in the area of social and educational sciences and as an
autonomous academic discipline. These different contexts of use
of the concept are connected with each other although there are
interpretations of social pedagogy which are mutually exclusive. My
purpose in this paper is to outline social pedagogy as an academic
discipline and its meaning for development of social pedagogical
activities in society.
The diversity of contexts often complicates the concept. In gen-
eral, social pedagogy is regarded as thought and action related to
social and pedagogical matters, especially preventing and alleviat-
ing social and moral distress and helping people, who are under
the pressure of social problems, through pedagogical methods and
frames of reference. Actually, there are two main lines having their
origin in the concept of social pedagogy: the tradition of practical
activities and the tradition of theoretical discussion, i.e the profes-
sional tradition and the scientific tradition. These two lines are
connected with each other although they have obviously different
characteristics. Social pedagogy as an academic discipline arises
from the line of theoretical discussion but is not independent of
the tradition of practical activities and professional development.
The development of social pedagogy as a professional institution
and educational system depends on its development as an academic
discipline. Developing social pedagogy as an academic discipline
includes scientific discussion on the ontological, epistemological
and axiological basis of social pedagogical research and theory
formation and interpretation on its relation to other disciplines.
The main point here is to sketch out the characteristics of social
pedagogical thinking and action.
Social pedagogy as a discipline
Describing social pedagogy as a discipline requires a systematic con-
sideration of the questions social pedagogy deals with. This leads
us to define the themes and concepts which are important in the
theory of social pedagogy.
Social pedagogy is not easily identified as a distinct branch of
study. It is usual to claim that social pedagogy is a multi-disciplinary
field based on theories of different sciences as though it does not
have an own theory formation. Thus, it is maintained that social
pedagogy applies and integrates sociological, social psychologi-
cal, psychological etc. theories in order to fulfil its function (e.g.
Hämäläinen 1989; Eriksson & Markström 2000). Social pedagogy
as a discipline can hardly flourish on this idea.
Sometimes some certain methods of action are emphasized as
the basic content of social pedagogy. Although, it is right to say
that some methodological issues are central in social pedagogical
practice, social pedagogy as a discipline is not constructed on its
work methods. Rather a certain way of thinking is emphasized. The
choices of methods and work stiles are consequences of thinking,
It is reasonable to analyse the characteristics of social pedagogical
practice and methods used therein. According to my interpretation,
the three main elements of social pedagogical practice are creative
working stiles, community orientation and experience orientation.
But social pedagogy as a discipline is not reduced to these. As a dis-
cipline, social pedagogy is an expression of thinking. Its content and
structure as a discipline are rather based on theory than on prac-
tice, although it may be right in social pedagogy to emphasize the
togetherness of theory and practice, i.e. the togetherness of thinking
and action. But developing social pedagogy as a discipline does not
happen by developing the methods but by developing the theory.
In order to be an autonomous discipline social pedagogy must
be based on a questioning of its own, i.e. on a questioning which
differs from the questioning of other disciplines. Of course it can
use theories developed in other disciplines but its own questioning
leads to its own theory formation. Social pedagogy as a discipline is
constructed on the basis of its own questioning and theory forma-
With the years, there have been many different interpreta-
tions of starting points, frames of reference, tasks, and content of
social pedagogy. However, some common characteristics of social
pedagogical thinking and action can be presented on the basis of
historical analysis. The existence of social pedagogical thinking and
action is real. The idea of social pedagogy has developed through
theoretical discussion and can be analysed by following this process.
Social pedagogy as a science has developed as a part of the tradition
of social pedagogical thought and action. It systematically perceives
the basis of the scientific theory of social pedagogy, the target of
research, the ways to formulate knowledge and the possibilities to
apply them to social pedagogical information.
The theoretical origins of social pedagogy have been defined
on the basis of different philosophical and theoretical patterns of
thought (see Schmidt 1981; Wollenweber 1983). In many viewpoints,
it is emphasized that social pedagogy is a practical science in which
not only the mechanisms of the origin of the social problems, recur-
ring forms and effects of the manifestations are submitted, but also
where questions are asked as to what could and should be done
with the problems from the pedagogical point of view. Pedagogical
work forms, programmes of action and strategies are developed to
solve the problems. The social pedagogical research and theory that
is related to practicality and social reality is or at least should be
analytical and critical.
The roots of the history of Western thought of ideas in social
pedagogy was what you might call a spiritual breakthrough when
the Middle Ages gave way to modern times and new and modern
ways were sought to enable mankind to prevent social evils. The
fatalistic conception of the world was replaced by a pattern of
thought in which the activity of mankind was emphasized on. Due
to these changes, political and pedagogical strategies were intro-
duced to face the problem of deprivation and to promote well-being
and welfare. Two types of strategies complementing each other took
shape as a part of an education programme and is used even today,
but with different variations. The political one is oriented towards
the external reform of society. It contributes to legislation, bureauc-
racy, economy, and social structure. The pedagogical strategy aims
at the internal reform of society by means of education.
From the point of view of social history, the earlier development
of social pedagogical thought and action was connected to social
revolution caused by early industrialization and urbanization. As
a result, social structures of traditional class society disintegrated,
socialization began to weaken, plans to take care of homes and other
neighbouring societies were disrupted, and some children, young-
sters and others in need of help were left, uncared for. The rapidly
industrializing societies along with political action programmes and
various pedagogical activities started to face and solve new social
An essential precondition for the progress of social pedagogy as a
discipline is to clarify theoretically, the basic questions of the field.
Already debates on the right questions creates opportunities for
development of social pedagogy as a discipline. The development
of social pedagogy as a discipline is based on analysis of the content
starting from the concept of social pedagogy itself.
Characterization of the basic questions
Which questions does social pedagogy deal with and what business
is it interested in? What is essential? The pieces of the puzzle will
fall into place by following the development of social pedagogical
thinking and action from its historical origin right until today and
by describing its focus and content. The idea of social pedagogy—if
there is one — can be found or constructed only on the basis of
historical analysis. The best way to understand the nature of social
pedagogy is to survey the traditions of social pedagogical thinking
The concept of social pedagogy was known to be used already
in the 1840’s, in Germany, where the debate about the theory of
social pedagogy was the most expansive and multifaceted. There
is no agreement of any clear definition of social pedagogy. Instead,
the question, “What is social pedagogy?”, is in itself the basic ques-
tion of this branch. This question is answered in somewhat dif-
ferent ways by theorists of social pedagogy belonging to different
schools of thought. The problems of social pedagogy start from its
The concept of social pedagogy does not associate as clearly with
some other concepts ending in pedagogy (for example music peda-
gogy, school pedagogy). This has been very fruitful for the develop-
ment of Social Pedagogy as a discipline because it forces us to argue
and justify the roots of the field theoretically and from the very
beginning (see Rauschenbach 1991, 1). However, there are still dif-
ferent interpretations of social pedagogy founded on different con-
cepts of man and society, philosophies of history, schools of science,
moral theories, political doctrines and ideological movements. The
interpretations are often connected to the characteristics of national
traditions of social pedagogy (e.g. Hämäläinen & Kurki 1997).
The basic content of social pedagogy as a theoretical concept is
interpreted from three different starting points:
• as educational theory and research paying attention to the con-
nections and reciprocity of education and society, i.e. as a way
of thinking in which the societal preconditions of education
and the importance of education to the development of society
• as a theory and practice of community based education, i.e. as
educational thinking and action in which the significance of
community in the human developing process is emphasized
• as theory and practice of social education in the sense of
preventing and alleviating social problems, i.e. as a field of
education directed to people suffering from social and moral
distresses and threatened with exclusion.
These interpretations do not sharply differ from each other. Also
within each of these interpretations there is a lot of variance in
details and the views therein are rooted in different theoretical
Sometimes the theoretical frame for social pedagogy is led
directly by ethical or anthropological doctrines. For example, a
“social humanistic perspective” has been mentioned as a philosophi-
cal foundation of the field (Blomdahl 1998). This kind of interpreta-
tion focuses the fundamental questions of social pedagogy on some
ethical and anthropological themes. No doubt, social pedagogical
theory is closely connected to moral philosophy and ethics. Over
the past few years, also the concept of ‘everyday life’ has been
popular among the theorists of social pedagogy and social care (e.g.
Thiersch 1986; Kihlström 1998; Nyqvist Cech 1998).
The substance of social pedagogy is determined by specifying the
essential questions and the basic concepts on which social pedagogi-
cal theory, research and studies rest. They form the basis of teach-
ing, research and studies in the field. Thus, the questions about
the theory, content and structure of social pedagogy have — seeing
social pedagogy as a branch of academic studies — concrete expres-
sions in academic institutions: they show what is important in
teaching, research and studies.
Historically, social pedagogical thinking and action have their
origin in ambition to contribute to people’s social integration and to
go against social exclusion. Obviously, the theory of social pedagogy
deals with these themes. From this point of view, social pedagogy
in the mode of thought and action contributes to social identity,
social subjectivity, social ability to act, life management and par-
ticipation of people excluded socially or threatened with exclusion.
Thus, the social pedagogical theory must also somehow be built on
The aim of social pedagogy has been defined in many ways.
Interpretations are based on different social and theoretical con-
ceptions. The examples are as follows:
• According to Anders Gustavsson, a Swede, social pedagogical
research is aimed at the tension between socialization and indi-
vidualization i.e. in the relation between individual and society.
He thinks that pedagogy on one hand is about paying attention
to the upbringing of the individual and his social connections,
and pedagogy on the other hand is about social work (Gustavs-
• Bent Madsen, a Dane, construes that social pedagogy aims at
the questions of integration into society, and most especially
integration problems concerned with pedagogical actions and
functions. He thinks that it is very distinctive and contrary to
general pedagogy which usually concentrates on socialization
and professional qualification (Madsen 1996).
• Michael Winkler, a German, thinks that the aim of social peda-
gogy is to construct human subjectivity and its pedagogical and
social conditions, and most especially to deal with the emerging
problems and shortcomings in the building of subjectivity, and
the pedagogical action that is needed to fix the problems and
shortcomings (Winkler 1988).
• Lothar Böhnisch, a German, talks about helping to cope in dif-
ferent phases of life (Böhnisch 1997) and Claus Mühlfeld, also
a German, thinks that the most important thing of all is the
social pedagogical framing of a question, particularly concern-
ing a human’s capacity to interact and integrate socially, coping
with life and self actualisation and also the building of ‘I’ and
‘we’ identities (Mühlfeld 1995).
In general, social pedagogical interest is oriented towards the prob-
lems in the relationship between individual and society. From the
pedagogical point of view its aim can be characterized into different
concepts and the framing of its question can be connected to many
kinds of conceptual systems.
Inner structure of social pedagogy
Sometimes it is claimed that a real discipline has its own object
of research and own research methods. However, this leads to
problems. According to the example of Thomas Rauschenbach, “a
tree can be the object for many different sciences which survey it
from different points of view (Rauschenbach 1999)”. There are also
common research methods for different sciences as well as common
concepts. Thus, the substance of social pedagogy as a discipline
should not be sought and can not be found only by analysing its
research object and methods. More significant is to ask what the
basic questions of social pedagogy are.
Every science has an inner structure. The whole of a discipline is
divided into subareas. For example, philosophy is usually divided
into two main areas, theoretical and practical. These split further
into several branches according to several criteria: for example the
theoretical philosophy is often divided into metaphysics, epistemol-
ogy and logics, and the practical philosophy traditionally into ethics
and aesthetics. In addition, there are a number of “sub philoso-
phies”: philosophy of history, philosophy of science, philosophy of
education, social philosophy, philosophy of law, political philoso-
phy, philosophy of technology etc. Also other sciences as physics,
biology, mathematics, theology, linguistics, sociology and psychol-
ogy have inner structures of their own.
How do we describe the structure of social pedagogy? Which are
the main branches therein? On what basis is it possible to systema-
tize the content of social pedagogy? How should we draw up an
academic curriculum for social pedagogy? Without structuring the
content of a discipline it is impossible to teach and study it. The
structuring of a discipline is of course linked with the insight of its
fundamental questions and concepts.
At the University of Kuopio, we have divided the basic studies
of social pedagogy into five branches according to the theoretical
perspectives on social pedagogical thinking and action:
1 History of social pedagogy (as a part of the course “Introduc-
tion to social pedagogy” in which the basic concepts of the field
are also discussed)
2 Social theories in social pedagogy
3 Anthropology and ethics of social pedagogy
4 Philosophies of science concerning social pedagogy
5 Practical applications of social pedagogy (including working
forms and principles, fields and institutions, client groups and
Under these topics it is possible to analyse the content of social
pedagogy from different theoretical viewpoints offered by other
social sciences as well as history of ideas, philosophical anthropol-
ogy and philosophy of science.
In the division of the branches of social pedagogy the classifica-
tions of working principles and forms, fields and institutions as well
as client groups and problem areas could be the starting point. The
content of social pedagogy could be analysed according to classifica-
tions of social problems on the basis of problem areas, for example,
on poverty, deviant behaviour and helplessness (Sipilä 1979) and on
the basis of institutions in which social pedagogical activities take
place, for example kindergartens, schools, youth centres, family
centres, children’s homes, hospitals and homes for elderly people.
Sometimes the concept of social pedagogy is defined by referring
to a system of institutions (e.g. Mollenhauer 1991). Generally, the
social pedagogical practice can be classified into working areas on
the basis of different criteria.
We can think that there is a General Theory of Social Pedagogy
dealing with the basic questions of the field and being formed on
the basic concepts of the discipline. According to this way of think-
ing, all the sub theories are applications of the fundamental theory
to different contexts, for example, to early education, care for intox-
icant abusers, helping the unemployed, parent education, elderly
care, psychiatric work, care of disabled, child welfare or street work
if you like. This means that in all the contexts social pedagogical
activities express the same theoretical idea, for example the idea of
promoting people to integrate into society, to free subjectivity and
self-expression or to solve their problems.
We can also think that there is not any fundamental social
pedagogical theory but only a set of small-scale theories, working
strategies and methods. In this case, the use and significance of
theories developed outside of social pedagogy itself are emphasized,
and it is questionable whether social pedagogy can be seen as an
Relation of social pedagogy to other disciplines
In relation to other disciplines social pedagogy is seen either
as a subdiscipline of the science of education (e.g. Thiersch &
Rauschenbach 1987) or as an independent discipline comparable
with other social sciences (e.g. Hämäläinen 1999). As a subdiscipline
of the science of education, its basic concepts are primarily led from
the general pedagogical theory (e.g. Madsen 1996; Winkler 1988).
As an autonomous discipline parallel to other social sciences its
questioning is seen to complement the questioning of these (e.g.
Hämäläinen 1999). Anyway, in both cases social pedagogy is seen as
a dimension of both social and pedagogical discursion.
An old theme in the German tradition of social pedagogy
(Sozialpädagogik) is the question of its relation to social work
(Sozialarbeit). This question is understandable only in the light of
the development of social professions and institutions in Germany.
As a theoretical problem it arises from the equate of the concepts,
i.e. from considering them parallel. As a result of this, different
interpretations of the relation between social pedagogy and social
work are built in the German tradition: they are seen identical, sep-
arate and in different ways connected (e.g. Mühlum 1989; Merten
1998). Togetherness of social pedagogy and social care is emphasized
also in other countries, for example in Sweden (e.g. Gustavsson
1998; Blomdahl Frej 1998).
We can discuss on the relation of social pedagogy to other disci-
plines by analysing the relation of social pedagogy to social work.
Social pedagogy as a discipline parallel to other social sciences can
be defined as a part of the social scientific knowledge basis of social
work. In the family of social sciences such branches as sociology
and social psychology give information about social phenomena,
and social philosophy from its part represents the meta level of
knowledge by dealing with ethical principles and values in societal
life. Social pedagogy and social policy can be defined as practical
sciences or action sciences. They do not just describe, interpret and
explain social phenomena but ask how to act.
A practical science is inevitably connected to the concepts and
questions of philosophical anthropology. It can but will not avoid
discussion about values and ethical principles of action. In social
pedagogy as well as in social policy analysis of both goals and
empiric preconditions of social action play an important role. These
two practical social sciences combine meta level analysis and con-
cepts of social philosophy with the knowledge got from the empiric
phenomena level analysis. Thus, social pedagogy and social policy
create a theoretical frame for all the professional actions dealing
with the same questions as these sciences deal with.
According to Herman Nohl, pedagogics and politics are like
inhaling and exhaling: they complete each other. As politics aim
at promoting welfare by influencing on legislation, structures
and institutions of society, pedagogics aim at promoting welfare
by developing the society from inside, by influencing people and
culture. Both strategies — political and pedagogical — are needed
for development of well-being and welfare. This was clear already
in ancient Greece when the great philosophers discussed on ethi-
cal, political and pedagogical themes as a whole. In the time of
Enlightenment in the 18th century, both political and pedagogi-
cal strategies were developed for the promoting of democracy and
The origin of social pedagogical thinking and action stays in
the tradition of this understanding. It proclaims the changeability
of social reality. Development of social pedagogy as a discipline is
also rooted on this basis. Our orientation in social work as well as
in other caring professions can be one-sided. This is to say that our
concept of man and society can be narrow. As Paulo Freire put it: a
political revolution without humanisation produced by educational
activities leads to an inhuman society. We also acknowledge that
education alone is insufficient without political activities.
This means that both social policy and social pedagogy must be
taught and studied—together with other social sciences — in stud-
ies of social work. But social policy and social pedagogy are not
only disciplines for social work. These disciplines are helpful also
for other professions like working with people in social and moral
crisis or those threatened by them. This means that not only social
workers but also other professionals—for example teachers, youth
workers, nurses, psychologists and medical doctors — can study
social pedagogy as a part of their training. It does not exclude the
opportunity to have in society a professional group of ‘social’ pro-
fessions called social pedagogues. (Figure 1)
Social Teacher’ work Social
policy Youth work etc. pedagogy
Social Social work
Social Sociology psychology
Figure 1. The position of social pedagogy in the knowledge basis of different profes-
sions (see Hämäläinen 1999, 96).
Although social pedagogy is related to moral philosophy, ethics,
and social theory, it takes as its subject matter, information and
theories which also concern general pedagogy (e.g. Winkler 1988;
Madsen 1993; Gustavsson 1998). Social pedagogy has partly a
common foundation with social philosophy, sociology, social psy-
chology, social policy and other social sciences. The common inter-
ests in research are not only methodological but also substantive.
Social pedagogy brings to social sciences a questioning of its own,
i.e. the pedagogical questioning. As a science and as a field of study
social pedagogy is placed between pedagogical and social sciences.
In a three-dimensional figure it would be possible to present
a more detailed description about the relations of different social
sciences. For example, not only do sociology and social psychol-
ogy traditionally have a lot in common with the content of social
philosophy but they also deal with empiric research in order to
understand social phenomena. Social policy and social pedagogy
as practical sciences combine necessarily the questions of ‘is’ and
’ought to be’ by dealing with goals and means of action. Thus they
bring together the discussion of social ethics concerning social
values and ethical principles and knowledge of social reality based
on empiric analysis.
Development of social pedagogy as a science
It has become fundamentally difficult to define the position of
social pedagogy as a scientific system, because there are various
interpretations of social pedagogy. In the debates, there has been in
the course of time, different contradictory conceptions about the
characteristics of social pedagogical thought and action, the task of
social pedagogy as a functional system and its goal and contents
as a science and a branch of study. Based on the background of
these interpretations, we gather that there are different social and
theoretical ways of thinking, political interests and ideologies. Social
pedagogical thought and actions develop under conflicting pressure
arising from different expectations and interests, and this has enor-
mous effects on how the position of social pedagogy is perceived
The development of social pedagogy as an operative system,
requires sufficient research to progress as a science. The fundamen-
tal theory should be distinctly clear in order to create institutional
requirements for research. The clarity of fundamental theory means,
to define systematically, the framing of the social pedagogical ques-
tion, the target of research and the ways to formulate knowledge.
The development of social pedagogy started from the efforts to
define theoretically, pedagogical activity, the aims of which were to
prevent and alleviate problems. The formulation of social pedagogi-
cal knowledge and theory has from the very beginning faced tension
between theory and practice, thought and action, ideals and reality.
There have been a lot of different interpretations concerning social
pedagogy, its starting points and tasks, both as a science and as a
field of education or even as a profession. The debates have been
susceptible to the different conceptions of humans, society, science,
ideas, and ideologies, swaying in society. Comprehension of the
concept of what social pedagogy really is, has remained conflicting
From the theoretical viewpoint of social pedagogy, the most
essential pedagogical activity is the kind that prevents and allevi-
ates problems. However, social pedagogy is not a methodical study
with pedagogical directives. It is rather a way of thinking, a way of
orienting social problems and helping people, who live under the
pressure of these problems. It examines matters from the point of
view of a human’s personality and biography, right from childhood
to adulthood. The important question is how we can help people
who are living in a massive and soulless society, under difficult and
demanding conditions, and guide them to maintain a positive
attitude towards life and preserve their dignity and purpose, and
how learning and growing processes can be promoted from the
viewpoint of their social capability to function and their capacity
to cope with life.
In the initial phases of social pedagogical research i.e., at the
end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century,
emphasis was laid on the rational and philosophic-anthropological
formulation of knowledge. Not until the 1960’s, did the Germans,
customarily conduct empiric research and gain footing in the field
of social pedagogy. It also became a branch of study and education
and began to have a closer approach to social science (e.g. Dewe
& Otto 1996, 117 – 129; Thiersch 1992, 22). There was talk about
a realistic and emancipated change in social pedagogical thought,
which was oriented towards studying realistic circumstances in
everyday life, and which also emphasized on social emancipation
in social pedagogical discussions and the formation of theory and
action (see Dießenbacher & Müller 1987, 1253 – 1254; Thiersch &
Rauschenbach 1987, 998– 1000).
A methodical developing of empiric social pedagogical research
and also a developing of its own social, scientific and cultural
research, is still continuing in Germany (see Rauschenbach &
Thole 1998). Special attention is paid to research methods of qual-
ity, the possibilities of case studies and to biographical researches
that may lead to produce relevant research information (see Jakob
& Wensierski, 1997). Alongside empiric formulation of knowledge,
continuous discussions are held about the origin of social pedagogi-
cal thought and action, and how it categorizes the basic concepts of
theoretical social pedagogy.
Social pedagogy is a practical and functional science which exam-
ines practical functions and exists because of them. Social pedagogy
is a practical science that aims at:
• pedagogical functions, the purposes of which are to prevent and
alleviate social exclusion and other deprivations
• those processes of the growth of man, from which the integra-
tion into society, social subjectivity, social participation, and
coping with life as a member of society, take shape
• those specific problems humans have with sharing, coping, life
management, integrating into systems and communities that
maintain the standard of living.
Social pedagogy cannot be defined as a science on the grounds of
practicality, although social pedagogy does have a practical origin.
The problems connected with practical professionalism have a sig-
nificant effect on the framing of the question on the grounds of
practicality. Social pedagogy is a science to the extent in which it
carries out the idea of science, by purposefully and systematically
pursuing information and organizing it entirely (see Niiniluoto
Any research usually has two kinds of functions: empiric ones
such as observations and experiments and rational ones such as logi-
cal explanations and definition of concepts (see Eskola 1973, 10). It
can simply be said that scientific research is oriented primarily to
developing a theory or solving practical problems.
Social pedagogy is basically a practical science originating from
the solving of practical questions. This does not mean that basic
theoretical research is unnecessary or secondary. Applied research
solves practical questions and then easily moves on to collect pieces
of information without basic research that constructs theory and
absorbs the basic concepts of the field of science. To avoid this kind
of fragmentation, social pedagogy needs a theory that is constructed
by basic research, in which practical and applied research can be
merged together to a find a common denominator.
Social pedagogy as a science does not exactly have its own
research techniques, but where as gathering information is con-
cerned, it uses the same methods as all other social sciences. By
referring to the functional characteristic nature of social pedagogy,
you will see that the ideas attached to it have an action-research
approach that is very important (see Schmidt 1981, 275 – 296). A
functional scientific starting point marks the valuable and goal
oriented questions that are significant in the formation of social
pedagogical information. Together with gathering relevant empiric
information for social pedagogical action, it is necessary to define
the valuable origins and goals of these functions and also the ethical
viewpoints. This links social pedagogical research and the formation
of theory to philosophical anthropology and social ethics. It is a
merging of empiric information and goal oriented information.
A scientific theory is based on concepts and a science is devel-
oped through concepts. Each branch of science has its own basic
concepts. As a result, fundamental scientific questions take shape
and theory is based on it. The fundamental questions of social
pedagogical theory applies to a human’s capacity and skills to func-
tion, cope, build a social identity, integrate into the society, share,
and participate as a member of society especially when threatened
for one reason or the other. These threats may be various kind of
crises in life: intoxication and mental health problems, exclusion
from education, work, hobbies, social relations, social participa-
tion, unstable upbringing in childhood and youth, crimes and other
deviant behaviour and difficulties to overcome the requirements of
But before anything, the development of social pedagogy as a
science requires a definition of the basis of its theory, and a debate
on its nature and origin as a science. Only by means of research,
can the science develop and find its place in the scientific com-
munity. It is important to develop social pedagogy as a science,
in relation to other sciences and to observe how it will take its
place as an institution in the scientific community, although, the
boundaries of sciences, at present, are more flexible and to some,
even unnecessary. The position of social pedagogy, institutionally,
and its scientific theory and origin determines the lines of discus-
sion and vice versa.
Social pedagogical theory and practice
Social pedagogical work does not limit itself to problem solving,
only. Its professional function is also to maintain well-being and
the standard of living. From this function, social pedagogical work
acquires its strongly preventive meaning and contents.
The social pedagogical functional system can be built in the
long run, but only by developing it as a science. The development
of social pedagogical practice depends on whether the question is
about a specific social pedagogical occupation or about a specific
social pedagogical pattern of thought and the way to work in vari-
ous occupations based on social pedagogy. It also depends on how
social pedagogy will develop as a science and what kind of precon-
ditions will be presented to successfully conduct social pedagogical
research. Just to promote practice, social pedagogy needs to develop
as a science.
As a functional system of society, social pedagogy is heteromor-
phic like social policy. It reflects the state and characteristics of each
society and can have quite many different forms of manifestations
in different societies and different eras. However, the social peda-
gogical functional practices are committed to time and place and
the formation of theory and research are linked to them, and are
also sensitive to ideologies and political interests in society. Hence,
social pedagogy can be developed as a system of education with
efforts to define its contents and field, its fundamental basic ques-
tions and basic concepts and its characteristic way to analyse reality
by raising questions providing information and creating theory.
Social pedagogy deals with theory and practice of social work and
other ’social’ professions. As a discipline it integrates the elements
of science, education and work (see Figure 2).
Social pedagogy as
a system of science
as an academic
Social pedagogy as Social pedagogy as
a system of education a system of work
Figure 2. Social pedagogy as a scientific, educational and work system
It is important both theoretically and practically that social peda-
gogical discussion be linked with social analysis and relevant infor-
mation about prevailing conditions, and also with understanding
what goes on in society (Winkler 1995, 183). For example, the
current post-modern education, information and media society
imposes special challenges on social pedagogical research. The
problems of integration and mechanism of exclusion are complex
and are concerned with the population at large. We are living in a
society, where people have high professional skills, and it demands
from its members, higher and higher cognitive efficiency, risk-
taking, willingness to change and tolerance towards instability.
The relation between social pedagogical theory and practice, and
the self-conception of social pedagogy, in general, can be defined
from the different origins of scientific theory and quest for knowl-
edge. The most important question is, to what extent does theory
set its norms and standards and to what extent does it only try to
understand the practical functions — or if I state the postulate of
hermeneutic traditions a little more clearly — to what extent does
it try to deepen in practice, the functional capacity to comprehend
those who make their actions become theoretically comprehensive.
In a manner of speaking, it is also a question which one is primary,
theory or practice, in spite of the fact that we speak of them as a
’whole’. On the basis of practice, it is important to note the setting
of goals, definition of work forms and target groups, how action
is theoretically captured, what concepts are used in it and how the
relation of theory to practice is comprehended.
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