Tendencies and trends in social pedagogy
in Denmark at the turn of the millennium
An attempt at providing a brief etymological explanation of the
concept social pedagogy
Social pedagogy as a concept is a construction; it is a compound of
two words related to two different sciences: sociology and pedagogy.
To be social comes from the Latin ‘socius’, meaning ‘friend’, ‘mate’
or, in the socialist tradition, ‘comrade’. Pedagogy comes from the
Greek ‘paidagogos’, which is a compound of ‘pais’ (boy) and ‘agagos’
(guide). One may ask how one can guide a child (boy) without
being friendly? The scene is easy to imagine; the slave guiding the
boy from his home in the village to Acropolis. Certainly they must
have had some kind of relationship, i.e. they were friendly. It could
of course be said that walking some 3 miles together was a social
process. In any case, the concept social pedagogy is a blending of
two different words from two different cultures, languages and
A lexical reference to a dictionary states that the concept ‘social
pedagogy’ comes from German. The German term for the theoreti-
cal concept is ‘Sozialpädagogik’ and the term for someone practising
the profession is ‘Sozialpädagog/in’. The concept is generally less
well-known in the UK or USA, where the term makes little sense,
and even professionals within the pedagogical field may be unfamil-
iar with it. In the UK, the term has encountered some resistance as
it carries certain connotations. In France, the term for this concept
is ‘educateur’. The Latin countries do not have terms that come
close to describing social pedagogy per se. The Dutch word for a
social pedagogue is ‘sociaalpedagoog’ or ‘hulpverlerner’ (Ligthart,
2000). It appears that all three Scandinavian languages and Finn-
ish have concepts that are close to the German one. In Danish,
the terms used are ‘Socialpædagogik/socialpædagog’, Norwegian
has the terms ‘sosialpedagogikk/barnevernspedagog’, Swedish has
‘socialpedagogik/socialpedagog’, and in Finnish, the terms are
As mentioned above, the concept social pedagogy comes from
the German word ‘Sozialpädagogik’. This can be dated back to 1835,
when it was used by the German, Adolph Diesterweg. He used the
draft in a book Wegweiser zur Bildung für deutsche Lehrer (Giesecke,
1978). It is my belief that most of us in the German and Nordic
tradition believe that it can be dated back to the neo Kantian, Paul
Natorp (1854–1924) and perhaps even further back to Johann Hein-
rich Pestalozzi (1746– 1824).
When we examine the meaning of the concept ‘social pedagogy’
theoretically and in practice, it soon becomes clear that it has as
many meanings as there are countries, e.g. in Europe, north of
Munich. There are some differences in the use of the term even
in the Nordic countries, which is theoretically concerned with
traditions. In many instances it is a question of who is setting the
agenda for the social pedagogue in theory and in practice. Regard-
ing theory, there has often been disagreement between the sciences
of psychology and sociology as well as between philosophy and
anthropology with regard to theory, not to mention disagreement
within the different traditions and convictions in the science of
pedagogy. With regard to practice, the disagreement has been con-
cerned with educational and social policy and tradition in concrete
social pedagogical work, as well as with the agenda that the unions
set for their members. I shall return to this disagreement later.
In summary, it is evident that problems still exist with regard
to how the term, the concept of social pedagogy, is understood in
theory and in practice. This is not only a matter of translation, it
is a question of differences in culture, traditions and history. For
example, in some countries social pedagogy is written as one word.
In Sweden the tradition is different – this symposium is called the
‘Symposium on Perspectives and Theory in Social Pedagogy’.
An outline of social pedagogical theory and practice during the
last three decades of the 20th century— 1970, 1980 and 1990
The 18th century saw the construction of many residential homes
in Denmark. These are known as ‘Optagelseshjem’ in Danish. The
staff members had no pedagogical education (Perch, 1983), and the
aim for child and youth care was training and practise in ‘hard
work in and on the farm’ (Øgendahl, 2000). Many children and
young people experienced their stay in an ‘Optagelseshjem’ as a
long imprisonment with hard labour (Petersen, 1987). At the end of
the century, a prison chaplain, S.H. Nissen, attempted to prevent
this. He established a childcare and welfare organisation ‘Kristlig
Forening til Bistand for Børn og Unge’. His idea was that children
and young people who for some reason could not live with their
own family should live in the countryside in beautiful surroundings
with fresh air and good food (Kyrø, 1998). In 1905, the Government
legislated a new law protecting children against exploitation. This
was the beginning of a new era.
In 1900, a young theologian, Ludvig Beck (1866 – 1948) was
recruited to be the superintendent of a residential home ‘Orø
Strand ’. There he experienced the necessity of having educated
staff members. He visited many residential homes on a study visit
to Switzerland in 1906. He learned about Pestalozzi and his theory
on working with children in residential homes. More visits to Swit-
zerland were made, and Beck began to offer short courses for his
staff in Denmark. In 1939, he was invited to make a presentation
in Switzerland entitled ‘Dänische Heime für Schwererziehbare’. He
did not go, but his paper was published in a Swiss journal (Boje
Rasmussen, 1970). From 1923–32, Beck was the editor of the jour-
nal Nordisk tidsskrift for Socialpædagogik. He was very internationally
oriented, and could perhaps be called the pioneer who educated
Danish child and youth care (Hegstrup, 1999).
In 1934, Beck established the college ‘Barnets Højskole’ where
uneducated staff members involved in childcare and youth wel-
fare could participate in authorised courses. 1958 brought the first
authorised education in childcare, at the current Hindholm Social-
pædagogiske Seminarium (Lauritsen/Hegstrup, 2000). During the
first half of the 20th century, theory on social pedagogy was pre-
dominantly based on Christianity and inspirations from Switzerland
and Germany. The influences from Germany were largely inspired
by Paul Natorp, who is thought of as the ‘father’ of the concept
social pedagogy also as it is used in 2001 (Hegstrup, 1998).
In 1940 Sofie Rifbjerg et al. established an organisation called
‘Socialpædagogisk Forening for nye Opdragelse’. The organisa-
tion addressed pre-school teachers employed in kindergartens.
The object was clearly to demonstrate that, for political reasons,
kindergartens were a social pedagogical prevention — a way to help
From 1958, a new generation of psychologists entered the social
pedagogical field. H. C. Rasmussen became the first principal of
the ‘Jægerspris Socialpædagogiske Seminarium’. His 1970 textbook
‘Synspunkter på Døgninstitutioner’ states that the context he refers
to is predominated by American, French and German psychol-
ogy and sociology. Unfortunately the textbook was published at
the beginning of a decade that in many ways became known as
the Marxist decade. It more or less brings to an end the decade
1960–1970, where the social pedagogical agenda was set by, among
others, H. C. and Liss Rasmussen, Wulff Feldmann, and Karen-
The decade 1970–1980
As previously mentioned, changes occurred during the late sixties,
and the new decade came under the influence of Marxism. This was
an influence which came largely from the universities in the form
of pedagogy, psychology and sociology studies, and also from the
unions. In 1973, Harald Rasmussen wrote his textbook Socialpæda-
gogik. This was a rewriting of his doctoral dissertation which had
been accepted at the University of Humbolt in the German Demo-
cratic Republic in 1971.
The study of textbooks on pedagogy, psychology and sociol-
ogy translated from Russian became very popular. The students’
movement and the unions in the Western World were very pro
Soviet Union and anti USA. Demonstrations and the terrorist acts
took place in Germany, Italy and France. In a way this became the
decade of wretchedness thinking, however, it was also the decade
when universities and colleges developed new study methods such
as ‘Sociologische Phantasie und exemplarisches Lernen’, (Negt &
Kluge 1971). Problem-based learning became the new mantra at
the end of the decade. In the memory of many social pedagogues,
1970– 1980 was the Freudian-Marxist decade.
The decade 1980–1990
This was the decade of No Future Generation. Marxism was no
longer highlighted, and it appeared that management and therapy
took over. Denmark had a conservative / liberal government from
1982 to 1992. The study of sociology at Copenhagen University was
suspended, and cultural sociology was simply erased; it is no longer
to be found at any faculty of any university in Denmark. For many
social pedagogues this was a depressing decade, and many public
institutions were closed because of privatisation of the public sector.
Very few textbooks on the social pedagogical concept were pro-
duced, however, among those that were was the series ‘Socialpæda-
gogiske Tekster’; mainly written by the lecturers and students from
the ‘Socialpædagogisk Højskole’, a college for further education in
social pedagogy. In 1992, the two institutions for further education
for pedagogues in Denmark, the ‘Videreuddannelsen for Pædagoger
ved Danmarks Lærerhøjskole’ and the ‘Socialpædagogisk Højskole’
merged to form a new institution ‘Danmarks Pædagoghøjskole’.
The decade 1990–2000
In 1992, the three courses of education leading to the pedagogical
qualifications of ‘børnehave- fritids of socialpædagogisk uddannelse’
(pre-school teacher, leisure time teacher and social pedagogue) were
brought to an end, and a new form of pedagogical education was
introduced which focused on all three former courses. From 1992,
practical pedagogical work incorporated all its various forms: day
nurseries; kindergartens; pre-schools; leisure time places (clubs); all
forms of residential homes for children and young people; peda-
gogical work with people with all forms of disability and special
needs; pedagogical work in hospitals and homes for the elderly;
street work; treatment of drug addicts and alcoholics.
A ministerial evaluation of psychology studies at the University
of Copenhagen took place in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s. The
result of the evaluation was clear – compared to similar psychology
studies in other European countries the standard was not good
enough. This may have been one of the reasons why the role of
psychology in the new pedagogical studies was reduced to half.
‘Socialpædagogik’ as a subject was excluded from the new curri-
cula, and there was no further education in social pedagogy. By the
middle of the 1990’s, the terms ‘social pedagogy’, ‘social pedagogue’
and ‘social pedagogical’ could no longer be found in any Statute
Book. It was at this time, in 1994, that Bent Madsen published his
textbook ‘Socialpædagogik og samfundsforvandling’, which is still
very popular as a textbook.
It has been difficult to translate this new training for pedagogues
into English. Since the late 1990’s, the common term for the studies
has been ‘Social Education’, and the pedagogues have been termed
‘Social Educators’. In my opinion, these terms convey little meaning
to teachers and educators in the UK, for example. I often have the
opportunity to meet researchers, university lectures and government
officials from the UK, and when I do, I always ask them if they are
familiar with the concepts ‘Social pedagogy’, ‘social pedagogue’,
‘social educator’ and ‘social education’. Very few are actually familiar
with the precise Nordic and German meaning of these terms.
In 1990, the organisation ‘Socialpædagogik Forening’ changed its
name to the ‘Pædagogisk Forum’. In 1996, a group of researchers,
university and college lectures, and practising social pedagogues
Other reasons could be that the psychologists simply were not good enough
– their methods were outdated, if useable at all.
took the initiative to establish a new organisation, the ‘Dansk
Forening for Socialpædagogik’. The organisation publishes a journal
twice a year, the Tidsskrift for Socialpædagogik. The first edition was
published 1998. The organisation also holds annual conferences. In
1997, its first guest speaker was Hermann Giesecke whose presenta-
tion was mainly on the topic The German School – the German
Family. He is convinced that, as it is a conservative element in the
German culture, the school must clearly define its task. Social peda-
gogues work with children’s and young people’s problems outside of
the school and the family. In Giesecke’s opinion, the German school
should be more strict and conservative. Social pedagogy has to be
preventive and adjusting.
In summary, it appears that the concept ‘social pedagogy’ is
diverse; it ebbs and flows. It may be that this the ‘soul’ of the
concept. In the following I shall try to present the kaleidoscope of
tendencies and trends in social pedagogy at the turn of the millen-
Tendencies and trends in social pedagogy at the turn of the
First you clipped the wings of psychology – then sociology took over. And
what happened? Now all students read sociology – and you make them
believe that it is pedagogy.
Benny Lihme, February 2001. From a lecture given at Hindholm Socialpæda-
Lars-Henrik Schmidt, who at that time was director of the Dansk
Pædagogisk Institut, was another of the speakers at the Dansk
Forening for Socialpædagogik’s conference in 1997. His presentation
was called ‘Socialpædagogikkens genskomst—The reappearance of
social pedagogy’. He emphasised that the reappearance was a neces-
sity because the concept of social pedagogy was to take care of that
which is not ‘normal’. Now it seems that social pedagogy has taken
over the role of pedagogy in general. It is, so to say, a must.
On July 1st 2000, a new university was established in Den-
mark, ‘Danmarks Pædagogiske Universitet — DPU’ the Danish
University of Education . The staff members came mainly from
the four closed institutions ‘Danmarks Lærerhøjskole’, ‘Danmarks
Pædagoghøjskole’, Learning Lab Denmark’ and ‘Danmarks pæda-
gogiske Institut’. Lars-Henrik Schmidt is the principal. Four aca-
demic degrees: diploma, bachelor, master, and doctoral are offered
at the university. There is no faculty of social pedagogy, but there
is a faculty of “pedagogical sociology” (‘pædagogisk sociology’). To
date, there is no academic subject social pedagogy, and one cannot
be graduate in this subject. However, it is rumoured that there are
plans to offer a master’s programme in social pedagogy.
So who sets the agenda for social pedagogy in the year 2001? I
believe that Benny Lihme is still one of them. He has been very
active in the last 30 years, and has written books on the concept
and many articles. He also is very popular as a speaker at congresses,
conferences and symposia. He is the ‘enfant terrible’ of the concept
of social pedagogy. The above quotation comes from a dialogue
from the Hindholm Socialpædagogiske Seminarium conference.
Lihme said further that most of the textbooks on pedagogy and
social pedagogy are an induction into sociology. As an example he
referred to the textbook ‘Tæt på relationerne’.
Many others also set up agendas for social pedagogues: Jesper
Holst, Johny Lauritsen, Bent Madsen, Karsten Tuft et al.
What textbooks are actually used to educate pedagogues? With
regard to the concept of pedagogy, it is quite clear that many text-
books refer to Giddens, Bourdieu, Luhmann, Beck, Habermas and
other sociologists. This begs the question of whether or not it is
possible to have a concept of pedagogy based on the theories of
these gentlemen. The only professor in pedagogy at the University
of Copenhagen, Staff Callewaert, brought Pierre Bourdieu with
him from France. Students who study pedagogy at Copenhagen
University all read Bourdieu, and they are all very familiar with the
new mantra ‘Habitus’.
This again highlights the problem of translating Pædagogiske. Education is
This is a rumour which, to my knowledge, has not been confirmed.
Very few of the students have read books written by e.g. N.F.S.
Grundtvig or K. Kold. Even fewer read books on social pedagogy .
This being so, it is especially interesting to see that many of the stu-
dents from the 32 Institutes of Social Education in Denmark choose
social pedagogical topics for their theses. The students obviously
focus on children, young people and people in general with special
needs, disabilities or social problems.
The Danish union for social pedagogues, ‘Socialpædagogernes
Landsforbund’ has an official social policy: everyone has the right
to be different. The vice-president, Mogens Seider, gave a speech at
the annual conference in 1998, in which he emphasised that the
new education for pedagogues from 1992 was not good enough. He
pointed out some topics that he felt were missing from the current
education. These included pedagogical work with people with spe-
cial needs, people with disability in general—and with e.g. autistic
disability. He pointed out areas in special pedagogical fields. In his
opinion, many of the tasks faced by a social pedagogue are in the
field of special pedagogy. This is an opinion echoed in the textbook
‘Specialpædagogik i en brydningstid’ (Holst, 2000, p. 133).
The articles in the six editions of the journal ‘Tidsskrift for
Socialpædagogik’ (1998–2000) are on different topics. Considering
that this is the only journal in Denmark that has social pedagogy as
its main theme, it shows the patchwork trend that they form. Some
statistics showing the variations are presented below:
Total number of articles 46
Articles on disability 7
Articles on research 5
— (social pedagogical) education 7
— (social pedagogical) history 3
— (common) social pedagogy 22
Articles on social pedagogy in nursing 2
Articles from Nordic countries:
— Norway 3
— Sweden 3
This is an allegation based on information given by lecturers from the Institut
for filosofi, pædagogik og retorik, KUA.
— Germany 3
— The Netherlands 1
From the USA 1
Social pedagogy is like rock and roll music — not exactly ‘suit-
able for the drawing room’. There seems to be an inward struggle
between two incommensurate conditions. Rock and roll wants to
be approved while disregarding the authorities with the power to
approve what is suitable for the drawing room. Looking back, there
is much historical documentation which shows that whenever some-
one tries to form a basis for social pedagogy, someone else defines a
new one which is again unsuitable for the drawing room.
Boje Rasmussen, K. A. (1970) Bogen om Ludvig Beck. København: Børnesagens
Giesecke, H. (1978) Einfürung in die Pädagogik. München: Juventa Verlag.
Hegstrup, S. (1998) Tidsskrift for Socialpædagogik. No. 1, p. 44.
Hegstrup, S. (1999) Tidsskrift for Socialpædagogik. No. 4, p. 54.
Hegstrup, S. Tuft, K. (eds) (1997–2002) Tidsskrift for Socialpædagogik. No. 1–10.
Holst, J. et al. (2000) Specialpædagogik i en brydningstid. Aarhus: Systime.
Kyrø, Ø. (1998) Du Herlige Land. København: KFBU.
Lauritsen, J., Hegstrup, S. (2000) Socialpædagogiske Tekster Hindholm: Rapport
Lauritsen, J., Hegstrup, S. (2001) Socialpædagogiske Tekster Hindholm: Rapport
Ligthart, L. et al. (2000) International Woordenboek. Den Haag: FICE.
Madsen, B. (1994) Socialpædagogik og samfundsforvandling. København: Social-
Madsen, B. et al. (1998) Tæt på relationen. København: Socialpædagogisk Biblio-
Negt, O., Kluge A. (1971) Sociologische Phantasie und exemplarisches Lernen. Frank-
furt: Europäische Verlagsanstalt.
Petersen, L. (1987) Stiftelsestøser Kongebørn. København: Dansk psykolog Forlag.
Perch, P. W. (1983) Uddannelse til Socialpædagog dens oprindelse og udvikling. Køben-
Rasmussen, H C. (1971) Synspunkter på Døgninstitutioner. København: Gylden-
Rasmussen, H. (1973) Socialpædagogik. København: Socialpædagogik Bibliotek.
Schmidt, L.-H. (1998) Tidsskrift for Socialpædagogik. No. 1, p. 12.
Øgendahl, C. (2000) Socialpædagogernes historie. København: SL.