Exploring the theory and practice of social pedagogy

On this page : introducing social pedagogysocial pedagogy arenaskey ideas in social pedagogykey thinkers for social pedagogy

Introducing social pedagogy

While social pedagogy has been a key organizing idea in many European countries, it has only recently become a focus for exploration in English-speaking countries. It is often used to embrace the activities of youth workers, residential or day care workers (with children or adults), and play and occupational therapists. Social pedagogy can also be used to describe those concerned with community learning. It overlaps considerably with the notion of informal education.

As a practice social pedagogy tends looks to groupwork; association, relationship and community; and to holistic educational processes. It depends very heavily on the character and integrity of the educator and their ability to reflect-in- and -on-action.

The core processes of social pedagogy – animation, care and education – are discussed in a new article: Animate, care, educate – the core processes of social pedagogy.

Within informal education and social pedagogy, the character and integrity of practitioners is seen as central to the processes of working with others. The German notion of ‘haltung’ draws together key elements around this pivotal concern for pedagogues and informal educators. Explore this in another new infed article: Haltung, pedagogy and informal education.

For an overview of developments in theory and practice: social pedagogy.

To appreciate social pedagogy we need to get to grips with the nature of pedagogy. Many discussions of pedagogy make the mistake of seeing it as primarily being about teaching. Rather pedagogy needs to be explored through the thinking and practice of those educators who look to accompany learners; care for and about them; and bring learning into life. Teaching is just one aspect of their practice: What is pedagogy?

To explore what social pedagogy looks like in practice why not look at: Mehrgenerationenhäuser – multi-generational meeting houses – animation, care and pedagogy.

Some key social pedagogy arenas

Community learning and development


Research for practice

Youth work

Some key ideas for social pedagogy

action research





civic community

civil society



community education

community learning

community of practice

community work

dialogue and conversation


democracy, education for


experiential learning



globalization and the incorporation of education





holistic education


informal learning

learning society

learning theory

networks – learning

non-formal education

non-formal and informal education


popular education

post-modernism/post modernity



‘race’, difference and lifelong learning





social action

social capital

social exclusion, ‘joined-up’ thinking and individualization

social group work

theories of action


Some key thinkers for social pedagogy

Baden Powell, Robert

Brew, Josephine Macalister

Bruner, Jerome C.

Buber, Martin

Caldwell Cook, Henry

Carpenter, Mary

Coyle, Grace

Dewey, John

Eisner, Elliot W.

Follett, Mary Parker

Freire, Paulo

Froebel, Friedrich

Fromm, Erich

Gardner, Howard

Grundtvig, N. F. S.

Gulick, Luther

Hahn, Kurt

hooks, bell

Illich, Ivan

Knowles, Malcolm

Kolb, David

Konopka, Gisela

Krishnamurti, Jiddu

Lane, Homer

Lindeman, Eduard

Mason, Charlotte

Montessori, Maria

More, Hannah

Noddings, Nel

Owen, Robert

Palmer, Parker J.

Pestalozzi, Johann H.

Rogers, Carl

Rousseau, Jean-Jacques 

Schon (Schön), Donald

Tagore, Rabindranath

Wollstonecraft, Mary

Yeaxlee, Basil

Acknowledgement: the opening diagram is taken from: Smith, M. K. (2016, 2019) Animate, care, educate. The core processes of social pedagogy, Developing Learning. [].

Picture: #Haltung is by Trending Topics 2019 and sourced from Flickr (ccby2).

Print Friendly, PDF & Email