The History and Sociology of Welfare Work – University of Copenhagen

The History and Sociology of Welfare Work

The research group was established in 2014. Monthly meetings are held and here projects, publications and future project plans are discussed and developed. Also, seminars and workshops with invited speakers are arranged.

The History and Sociology of Welfare Work encompasses research in the sociology of professions, and it aims at expanding this area, and rendering it visible. Welfare work includes for instance social educational work, psychological work or police work, done by a number of welfare professions. Research on professions often studies one particular profession, e.g., nurses or social educators, and investigates the particular set of knowledge, skills and practices that characterises the relationship between that profession and the client/ citizen. We will use the sociology of professions to evolve comparative and historical studies of the many welfare professions. This entails studying welfare work both as a space of differences, and a coherent, institutionalized whole of professions possessing structural similarities.

Welfare Professions: Classification and Cross-Over Characteristics

The medical profession’s success in disseminating the medical paradigm to other professions exemplifies a form of institutional learning which includes several welfare professions, and in turn they acquire an institutional logic and inertia. Thus, the research priority area, on the one hand, strives to identify ways of studying the inter-professional processes of boundary work and classification of the welfare work. On the other hand, the research priority area also strives to identify characteristics crossing the welfare professions, enabling an understanding of welfare professions as a whole in the changing orchestration and construction of welfare state community and citizenry.

The Welfare State – Gatekeeper of Normality

The welfare professions play a central part in the operationalization of social security in the welfare state. Moreover, they also play a vital role in the welfare state’s general economic approach, which combines strategies of growth, state planning and regulation. Fundamentally a welfare state intervenes in social life, actively trying to prevent or address social problems through social education in general, and by promoting health, and functional social relations in families and in society at large. In this perspective welfare work seeks to create practical sensible individuals, whom the state expects to use the knowledge provided by welfare professionals. Thus welfare states urge their citizens to conduct their own welfare according to the collective norms expressed through welfare work, practices and institutions. In other words, the social rights of the welfare state produce social and cultural categories of appropriate behaviour and conduct, and the professions serve as gatekeepers of normality.

The Welfare Professions Seen Through it’s Agents

The following question then arises: what social groups, engage in the struggle of occupying and performing welfare work? At different times, in relation to  differing sets of clients, a plethora of such groups mobilize and partake in reshaping and reproducing boundaries of welfare state normality; this is expressed through welfare work and is to be investigated. Studies of the social history of welfare professions through its agents permit an understanding of the character, content, shape and boundaries of welfare work. Altogether this research priority area purports to understand how the welfare state is formed and transformed by the way in which professional agents are doing welfare work.


Visit the Danish website of this research priority area.