It really does depend: Towards an epistemology (and ontology) for everyday social pedagogical practice

Mark Smith (Lead / Corresponding author)

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    Understandings of knowledge in social work, in the UK at least, are based on an assumption that theory, increasingly derived from ‘scientific’ or ‘evidence-based’ perspectives, can be abstracted and applied to practice. Essentially, knowledge acquisition and utilisation are seen as transactional, instrumental endeavours. Such a view does not fit with the realities of everyday social pedagogical practice. This paper will begin to develop an alternative conception of social work/social pedagogical knowledge from an Aristotelean position, within which the relationship between theory and practice happens in the domain of ‘praxis’; this is not a direct mapping of theory onto practice but operates in a constant dialectic within which one informs and indeed collapses into the other. Effective ‘praxis’ requires Aristotle’s intellectual virtue of ‘phronesis’ (practical reasoning or judgment). Phronesis understands practice within its wider moral purpose and foregrounds the virtues and dispositions of practitioners rather than a set of rules. Knowing and being (epistemology and ontology) therefore come together in how practitioners engage in everyday practice. This proposition challenges dominant technical instrumental conceptions of knowledge and, more generally, of the way in which professional practice is currently understood.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-18
    Number of pages12
    JournalInternational Journal of Social Pedagogy
    Issue number1
    Early online date10 Nov 2020
    Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 10 Nov 2020


    • Aristotle
    • residential child care
    • social work
    • knowledge
    • everyday
    • flourishing
    • phronesis
    • practice
    • praxis


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