Contemporary challenges for social work research: where do we go from here?

Target group

Doctoral students in social and political sciences, such as sociology and social policy, and social work.


PhD students from the Doctoral School of Social and Behavioural Sciences. PhD students from other Universities are also welcome.

Organizing and Scientific Committee

•    Prof. Dr. Griet Roets, Prof. Dr. Rudi Roose, Dr. Caroline Vandekinderen, Department of Social Work and Social Pedagogy, Ghent University, Belgium – contact details: and
•    Prof. Dr. Koen Hermans, Center for Sociological Research, University of Leuven, Belgium – contact details:
•    Prof. Dr. Wim Van Lancker, Center for Sociological Research, University of Leuven, Belgium and  Herman Deleeck Centre for Social Policy, University of Antwerp, Belgium – contact details:

Content and Objectives

The role of social work research in the process by which knowledge is generated as socially constructed in relations of power therefore implies that the ways in which research deals with existing assumptions about social problems should be open to scrutiny and contestation. It is important to understand this dimension of generating knowledge as political, which refers to the critical awareness that research findings and knowledge claims emerging from social work research can be seen as questionable and agonistic issues rather than as neutral facts. This requires a greater degree of reflexivity to think about what assumptions about the world are taken for granted and what questions and answers are not addressed or precluded by particular pieces of research, in terms of the theoretical perspectives or particular research methodologies that are used, both in quantitative as well as in qualitative research designs. As a process of knowledge construction and production, doing research requires reflexivity by the researcher, which means that social work researchers should constantly take stock of their actions and their role in the research process and subject these to critical scrutiny.

The central objectives of the specialist course therefore imply that participating doctoral students are required to:
•    critically (re)consider the possible challenges for research, policy and practice in this context;
•    reflexively position their role as researchers in relation to policy and practice.
In order to stimulate interdisciplinary dialogue within the social sciences, doctoral students will be enabled to discuss the role of social work (research) in relation to other academic disciplines such as social policy, sociology, pedagogy and education, etc.


The programme will combine a series of 3 public lectures and research seminars.

  • Public lectures: Three guest lecturers will discuss possible challenges for research, policy and practice in the context of this broad social and political development, which arise in many European welfare states and in different fields within social work. Within these lectures, special attention will be given to the role of research as well.
  • Research seminars: Based on insights that are introduced during the public lectures, doctoral students are encouraged to present their own current doctoral research projects during the research seminars. In order to stimulate their reflexivity about their role as researchers in relation to evolving policy and practice, they are enabled to frame their theoretical as well as methodological frame of reference, and to discuss complexities and ambiguities that are emerging during their research process. During the research seminars, the international guest speakers as well as members of the organising scientific committee will give feedback on their work.

Dates - Venue - Programme

  • Public lecture (10-12am) and research seminar (13-15pm) - Tuesday 27 February 2018 - Location: Louvain University

      'Lived citizenship of people on the edge of society: exploring the role of social work with homeless adults, young people with psychological disorders and children at risk' - Professor Hanne Warming (Denmark)
In this lecture, Warming argues that social work plays an important role in regard to the citizenship of people in vulnerable positions - for better or worse. She introduces the sensitising concept of lived citizenship and combines this with a socio-spatial perspective in suggesting a renewal of the rights- and strength-based approach to social work practice and research. This renewal involves applying an ethnographic perspective to studying the social situation of vulnerable groups and the role played by social work.
Drawing on examples from her research on social work with different groups of clients, she demonstrates how the concept of lived citizenship, combined with four supporting concepts (disciplinary versus inclusive identity shaping, intimate citizenship, space, and community governance) enables a contextualized analysis of the complexities of social work as a social space of meaning and power and as (re-) producing practices through which clients experience and negotiate rights, responsibilities, participation, identity and belonging, and thereby also of the dynamics of inclusion and exclusion that can arise in social work.
Hanne Warming is Professor of Sociology, Childhood and Social Work, and Head of the Research Group ‘Social dynamics and change’ at the Department of Social Sciences and Business, Roskilde University Her research fields of expertise include childhood and youth, social work, lived citizenship, methodology and ethics in researching children and young people’s perspectives, as well as how sociological theories and analyses of social changes can both inform and be informed by childhood and youth studies which can also help to refine those theories. She received a prize for the best Project of the Year from the Joint Council for Child Issues in Denmark, and was appointed as an expert on children’s rights in connection with the EU project ‘Indicators on children’s rights in the European Union’ in 2008. In 2011, she was appointed as a member of the National Council for Children’s Affairs by the Minister of Social Affairs. Since 2012, Professor Warming has led research projects supported by a range of funding bodies. She is currently leading two national research projects.

  • Public lecture (10-12am) and research seminar (13-15pm) - Tuesday 24 April 2018- Location: Ghent University

     'The making of ageing-in-place: perspectives on a Dutch social policy towards lifecycle-robust neighbourhoods' - Dr. Susan van Hees (the Netherlands)
An ageing population and associated public health-care expenditure has caused an increasing number of Western welfare states to shift more and more of their healthcare responsibilities to individual citizens. Activation policies are used within these care reforms as a strategy to maintain an affordable and sustainable health-care and welfare system. Simultaneously, these states are decentralising welfare and care functions from national to local governments. Governments emphasise individuals’ own responsibilities for their health and well-being, but also aim to activate people to help each other. Increasing people’s options to remain living in their own place independently for longer are part of such individualisation strategies.
To improve our understanding of how this activation policy functions, we studied one innovative public care initiative in particular. In this initiative, the main aim was ‘to encourage and enable ageing-in-place’, by understanding and developing neighbourhoods as ageing technologies, as mediators of ageing-in-place. In our public lecture, we will throw light on the theoretical and methodological choices that were made during our research process, and on our research findings. Instead of a traditional evaluation study, in which outcomes and effects are monitored to evaluate the quality and success of a policy, we aimed to understand the meanings given to the ‘making of ageing-in-place’ and how meanings change, by observing this policy in practice.
Susan van Hees is a doctoral student at the Department of Health Services Research, Maastricht University, and works under the supervision of Professor Horstman, Jansen and Ruwaard. Her doctoral research project focuses on the making of ageing-in-place policies in the Netherlands, and is underpinned by a critical reconsideration of notions of citizenship and participation.

  • Public lecture (10-12am) and research seminar (13-15pm) - Tuesday 8 May 2018 - Location: Ghent University

      'Social work research and accountable practice: challenging dogma in uncertain times' - Professor Walter Lorenz (Italy)
In this public lecture, a critique of the prevailing fascination with positivist models of research is offered by analyzing the social policy background against which this development has to be seen. In the context of the notable strengthening of the academic grounding of social work, the consolidation of the identity of social work research is indeed particularly susceptible to social policy influences.
By analyzing the dynamics of the close relationship between social policies and social work in several research projects, Lorenz argues that the conditions of a theoretical engagement with contemporary social  policy developments should be determined with much greater clarity. A critical normative approach to social work research is proposed, which includes a thorough awareness of and reaction to political conditions which cannot be divorced from social work research projects and subjects.
Walter Lorenz is Professor for Applied Social Science at the Free University of Bozen / Bolzano in Northern Italy since 2001, coordinates a professional social work programme and has been Principal of the same university since 2008. A native of Germany, he qualified as a social worker at the London School of Economics and practised this profession in East London before taking up a teaching position at University College, Cork in Ireland in 1978 where he became Jean Monnet Professor in 1995. His research interests include intercultural pedagogy, social pedagogy, comparative aspects of social work and social policy in Europe and quality standards in social services.



Registration fee

Free of charge for all PhD students.


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PhD students from other Universities are also welcome.


Full participation and attendance at all lectures and seminars