12-14 March 2025
Katholische Stiftungshochschule München / GERMANY


Embracing Democracy in Social Work Practice and Research

Democratic values are inherent to social work since its early days of professionalization. Mary Richmond (1922, 249) stated that: "Democracy, however, is not a form of organization but a daily habit of life. It is not enough for social workers to speak the language of democracy; they must have in their hearts its spiritual conviction of the infinite worth of our common humanity before they can be fit to do any form of social work whatsoever.”

Likewise, the International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) as well as the European Social Work Research Association (ESWRA) emphasize principles of democracy to this day. The IFSW states that "Principles of social justice, human rights, collective responsibility, and respect for diversities are central to social work.” Yet, social work is practiced in different government systems and in a range of organisations and with very different kinds of communities and groups . In some of which, democratic principles are emphasized to a lesser extent. This raises questions such as ‘what is the connection between micro services and macro politics? The IFSW also states that social work "promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people”. Is the conceptualization of social work as a keeper of democracy hindered in its role as a critical observer of the exercise of power, in countries, organisations and communities with lesser or greater alignment to democratic principles? How can social work bridge divides and foster cooperation? The ESWRA aims to "promote just and equitable societies”, to "foster knowledge production across the European community of nations” and "to enhance learning opportunities across the European Social Work community and beyond”. What is the role of social work research on a national as well as on a global scale regarding fostering social solidarity? To which extent can or does social work research reflect the values of democracy? These are indeed important questions: Recently a shift towards more right-wing politics and right-wing populism can be observed in many countries and social work may also risk being influenced by these movements (Fazzi et al. 2021).

The theme of this conference offers the opportunity to highlight social work research from around the globe that draws attention to the indispensable role of social work in safeguarding democratic values. Through community engagement, empowerment, and advocacy, social workers try to serve as catalysts for democratic participation. Their work amplifies voices that might otherwise go unheard, ensuring that democratic processes are inclusive and responsive to the needs of all citizens. As Jane Addams said, "the cure for the ills of Democracy is more Democracy.” (Addams 1902, 11).

Conference Subthemes

  1. Challenges and opportunities for social work research, practice, policy or education in contemporary contexts
  2. Social work research, policy, practice or education across national, social, cultural, disciplinary and professional boundaries
  3. Exploring the impact and effectiveness of social work practice
  4. Social work history and identity as a profession and discipline
  5. Theorizing social work and/or social work research
  6. Connecting social work research and practice, including the co-creation of knowledge
  7. Methodological development, innovation and capacity building in social work research
  8. Management and Leadership in Social Work as means for change and cohesion
  9. Arts for Change and Social Justice: Integrating art-based Practice in Social Work