What social pedagogy means
Social pedagogy is an academic discipline that draws on core theories from various related disciplines, such as education, sociology, psychology and philosophy. In essence, it 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 ágõ (to lead, to guide). ‘Social’ pedagogy has grown organically out of a longstanding tradition of educational philosophers, social thinkers and practitioners who were 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. Consequently, what exactly social pedagogy means depends very much on the context or setting. Social pedagogues who are working with marginalised adults will draw on other specialisms and theories than social pedagogues working with very young children, although they will be connected through a shared ethos and principles underpinning their social pedagogical orientation.
Social pedagogy can be described as a ‘function of society‘, reflecting societal attitudes in many ways. It provides clues about how a given society thinks about children’s upbringing, the relationship between the individual and society, and how society supports its disadvantaged or marginalised members. Throughout history, different cultures have therefore constructed varying meanings of social pedagogy and developed certain traditions of social pedagogy. As a result, there is no agreed definition for social pedagogy – its meaning is also specific to the culture and the time.
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 (congruence between values and actions) with which different methods are used. What characterizes social pedagogy in practice 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 also offers an insight into how we can develop social pedagogy in the UK: following 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.
If you are interested in further exploring the historical development of social pedagogy, please have a look at this section. You can also visit this page to find out more about social pedagogy in practice.