What is Social Pedagogy?

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011 by Gabriel Eichsteller

This article was written in response to a reader’s request for a definition of social pedagogy. Do you have questions about social pedagogy? If so, send them in and we shall try to answer them.

In essence, social pedagogy is concerned with well-being, learning and growth. This is underpinned by humanistic values and principles which view people as active and resourceful agents, highlight the importance of including them into the wider community, and aim to tackle or prevent social problems and inequality.

The term pedagogy originates from the Greek país (child) and ágein (to lead, to guide). Social pedagogy has grown organically out of a longstanding tradition of educational philosophers, social thinkers and practitioners who have been concerned with creating a more just society through educational means. Therefore, social pedagogy interacts between society and the individual. It aims to provide nurturing conditions that support human growth in two opposite directions, towards independence and towards interdependence. As this is a lifelong process, social pedagogues work within a range of different settings, from early years through adolescence to working with disadvantaged adult groups as well as older people.

Social pedagogy is a ‘function of society‘, reflecting societal attitudes in many ways. It describes how a given society thinks about children’s upbringing, about the relationship between the individual and society, and how it supports disadvantaged or marginalised members of society. Throughout history, different cultures have therefore constructed varying meanings of social pedagogy. As a result, there is no agreed definition for social pedagogy – its meaning is specific to the context, the culture and the time.

It would mean something slightly different, for example, to someone who works with very young children and a social pedagogue working with drug abusers. Social pedagogy has been going for a long time, and is established as a profession in many European countries (under the title social education in southern Europe). There is therefore no single neat definition that covers the whole scene. If you ask a Danish person what they understand social pedagogy to be you will get a different response than you would get in Germany or France or Poland. The meaning has also changed through time, in response to social issues, cultural views about children, their education and upbringing, and society’s ideas on what the relationship between the individual and society should be. All of these are constantly evolving and specific to cultures.

Irrespective of the cultural contexts and the different settings in which social pedagogues can work, there are shared underpinning principles. What connects all social pedagogies is the way of thinking, the philosophy and Haltung (attitude, stance) with which different methods are used. What makes practice social pedagogic depends not on what is done but on how it is done and with what rationale. This means that social pedagogy is both a science and an art form – it’s not just a skill to learn but needs to be brought to life through the social pedagogue’s Haltung.

This perspective of social pedagogy means that it is dynamic, creative, and process-orientated rather than mechanical, procedural, and automated. It demands from social pedagogues to be a whole person, not just a pair of hands. It involves (a) a holistic approach to the child as an individual and in a social context, (b) the use of personal and professional aspects of the worker, (c) the use of shared activities as a
medium for building relationships.

In considering how we can develop social pedagogy in the UK, we can follow the same principles. We need to put people at the heart and connect to their Haltung, and we can only construct a social pedagogy for the UK together, in dialogue with each other. Only then can it offer a holistic overarching conceptual framework that can guide professional practice in a meaningful way. And only then can
we capture the spirit of social pedagogy which makes it an art, not a method.

The Wikipedia definition of social pedagogy

Social Pedagogy is an academic discipline concerned with theory and practice
of holistic education and care. The term ‘pedagogy’ originates from the
Greek pais (child) and agein (to bring up, or lead), with the prefix
’social’ emphasising that upbringing is not only the responsibility of
parents but a shared responsibility of society. As a result, social pedagogy
is a ‘function of society’ - it reflects how a given society at a given
time thinks about education and upbringing, about the relationship between
the individual and society, and about social welfare for its marginalised
members. Consequently, social pedagogues work within a range of different
settings, from early years through adulthood to working with disadvantaged
adult groups as well as older people. To achieve a holistic perspective
within each of these settings, social pedagogy draws together theories and
concepts from related disciplines such as sociology, psychology, education,
philosophy, medical sciences, or social work.

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