Workshops and abstracts

The theme of the conference is Power and Social Work. It calls us together to think about questions of power, powerlessness and power relationships in social work education, research and practice.

The workshop list below includes descriptions of accepted workshops and the name(s) of their coordinators.

For any further inquiries regarding the theme/focus of a workshop, please contact the workshop coordinators directly.

Download a full list of accepted workshops in PDF here:




1. Access, interaction and challenges. Migrants with disabilities or special needs in contemporary welfare states.

Coordinators: Annika Lillrank, University of Helsinki & Eveliina Heino, University of Helsinki

Contemporary welfare states provide equal access to health- and social care for all residents, regardless of their language, class or ethnicity. This ethos of a universal welfare state has developed uniform services through the public sector, such as health- and social care that rely on expertise and high professional skills. However, publicly organized service take care of majority populations’ needs but has omitted transnational solidarity and has less understanding for otherness. Immigration and globalization challenge the principles of universalism to transform and include cultural diversity. An increasing migrant population experience a gap between these ideals and experienced realities.

Migration challenges health and social care professionals to develop new ways of working and interacting with culturally diverse ethnic minorities. Among ethnic minorities, especially disabled adults and families with disabled children or children with special needs, face additional challenges to have access to health- and social service. When a child is born with impairment, or suffer from developmental delays, parents face a challenge in how dependent they become on public services. Fragmentation in service system is often an obstacle for attainability of services. Other challenges relate to limited language skills and communication difficulties, lack of interpreter services and lack of knowledge and information that prevents asking questions. Furthermore, written information is often difficult to understand, the needed care may not be connected to available services, or continuity of care is temporary.

Professional service is socially constructed through a mixture of cultural, professional and institutional practices that follow practices of service providers for the majority receivers and thus hard to access for people from minority groups. For example, professionals may not take extra time to provide easily accessible information or emotional support. Interaction reveals power relations and becomes significant. It reflects power differences and its consequences for both parts in interaction. This asks for critical reflection on power relations, whose opinion are being listen to, whose knowledge are considered reliable. Reflecting on power relations opens up in which context shapes differences in power, and how power relations shape care practice.

Presentations in this workshop may concern themes related to migrants with disabilities and/or migrants access and experiences of social and healthcare services. Abstract proposals should be submitted before May 21st, 2018.

2. Developing child protection – knowledge, power and participation

Coordinators: Ann Backman, LAPE Österbotten, City of Vaasa; Anu-Riina Svenlin, Kokkola University Consortium Chydenius, University of Jyväskylä & Saija Westerlund-Cook, Folkhälsan

In 2016 the Finnish government launched several key projects, one of them being The Programme to address reform in child and family services (LAPE). The aim is to promote child and family-oriented services and to create an operating culture that strengthens the children’s rights, promote a knowledge-based approach and introduce the systemic model (Hackney model) to child protection. The Programme ends in 2018. Counties and municipalities throughout Finland are taking part in The Programme to address reform child and family services (LAPE).  The development works is a collaborative effort between municipalities, NGOs and universities to explore and develop services and find new ways of working with families.

For the workshop we are welcoming theoretical/conceptual, empirical as well as practice based papers concerning development of child protection, examples of good practice especially concerning how to increase users participation in practice and also as a partner in development work. We also invite papers concerning the knowledgebase of child and family social work and the practice-theory-research relationship. How can knowledge and knowledge-based methods be used as tools for change and as means for power?

Power and participation as concepts are also present in development work, often intertwined and in flux. In order to increase user influence social workers have to consider and reflect on their use power. Participation also means shared use of power. What does this mean in a child protection context? Especially crucial is the issue of strengthening children’s participation in different phases of the child protection process. How can children influence and be an active part in the process and what does it mean for and require from social workers? Research evidence has shown that children’s participation correlates with positive effects on children’s safety and well-being and results in lower levels of out-of-home (foster care) placements, even though the evidence about long-term effects is not unequivocal (Vis et al. 2011; Kriz &Skivenes 2015).

Križ, K. & Skivenes, M. (2017) Child welfare workers' perceptions of children's participation: a comparative study of England, Norway and the USA (California). Child & Family Social Work, 22: 11–22.

Vis, S., Strandbu, A., Holtan, A. & Thomas, N. (2011) Participation and health: a research review of child participation in planning and decision-making. Child & Family Social Work, 16, 325–335.

3. Disability, power, empowerment and advocacy on the arena of social work

Coordinators: Liisa Hokkanen, University of Lapland; Mari Kivistö, University of Lapland & Pirjo Oinas, University of Lapland

For the workshop, we are calling for presentations about multifaceted relationships between disability, power and social work or disability services. The theme could be look from the viewpoint of disabled people or from the viewpoint of professionals, laymen or peers; on the individual, community or societal level.

What kind of power, influence or authority people with disability do or do not have on their life course or to the disability services? Which are the possibilities, obstacles or boundaries to participate as a disable person and as a citizen on the disability services, communities in an everyday life or the society? How to empower the powerless groups or people when working as professionals or acting as volunteers or as peers? How to restructure the social work process in the ways, which empower disabled people to be the experts of their life? How does user involvement run in practice? How and with whom to advocate for rights of disabled persons?

The workshop is looking the ways to make the ideas of The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) real in everyday life, on professional practices and in the society.

4. Global movement and dimensions of power

Coordinators: Marja Katisko, Diak – University of Applied Sciences & Maija Kalm-Akubardia, University of Helsinki

In the Nordic countries, the purpose of work in the social field has traditionally been to support individuals and communities to become integrated in society and economy, and social work has been carried out in a framework consisting of institutionalized service systems. The methods, theory formation and working practices of social work are in transition. The old ideal of universalism, where all people are part of one human race, community, society or clientele of a service district can no longer form the basis for the work. What happens in a nation state is part of the life of the global whole.

Work in the social field constantly accumulates crucially important knowledge about people’s everyday life, about its terms and about injustices in the service systems. A special feature of expertise in the social field is its close connection with both the everyday lives of ordinary people and a broader societal mission. As a result of globalization, there is an increase in the accumulation of knowledge regarding the effects of global crises on people’s everyday lives. In the current situation, it is not possible to bypass phenomena that often have unidentified and political roots, but which have consequences that are present locally. Social field professional who work in the public sector have an important role in societal advocacy, because they are the ones who accumulate knowledge about the relationship between the public service system and individuals and families with no rights in welfare state. At this point in time, it is necessary to be able to evaluate and to take a stance regarding policies and official decisions regarding entire groups of people.  

Within the realm of social work, knowledge accumulates regarding political guidelines, decision-making practices and complex national and international registrations systems. In our workshop, knowledge and authorization to use it are linked to the power to define and characterize people and events. This is also a matter of deciding what knowledge and whose knowledge is important, and what kind of knowledge people wish to promote.  

5. Labour market inclusion for people with mental health problems – knowledge exchange between practice, research and education

Coordinators: Inge Storgaard Bonfils, University College Copenhagen & Søren S. Weber, Roskilde University

In many countries, citizens with severe mental health problems are excluded from the labour market: They are overrepresented among those unemployed or on disability pension, resulting in uneven life opportunities. However, an emerging focus on labour market activation and inclusion is currently changing services from being based on segregated service systems towards Supported Employment programs. SE models have thus been implemented in the Nordic countries through the last ten years with good outcomes. SE programs refer to an "individual placement" model. Job consultants work individually with the person to identify strengths, needs, interests, choices and a virtuous job match.

At the same time, the supported employment models rely on a unilateral diffusion of knowledge from research towards practice and education. However, research, practice, and education are different fields of practice with different societal functions and forms of knowledge. Long-term cooperation is necessary to create, diffuse and contextualize knowledge in the continued development of social work. With this in mind, this workshop aims to facilitate a discussion between participants on the exchange of knowledge about labour market inclusion for people with mental health problems. How do we ensure that users’ and professionals’ experiences are appreciated – in research, in practice and in education?

As a vantage point, users will present insights from their research on labour market inclusion for people with severe mental health problems in Denmark. Following this, several contributors will present insights on:

  1. User experiences of supported employment approach and labour market inclusion.
  2. Challenges in the implementation of supported employment models with respect to existing organizational and institutional structures.
  3. The development of new measures of labour market inclusion in the area of mental health. 

6. Migrant encounters with the local welfare state

Coordinators: Maija Jäppinen, Hanna Kara, Camilla Nordberg & Anna-Leena Riitaoja, University of Helsinki

This workshop has a broad focus on encounters between people who have migrated to the global north and the local welfare state. We welcome critical analyses and debates on the interaction between different categories of migrants and the formal and informal street-level welfare state: social work, social and health care, employment services, social security provision, third sector organizations etc. We are particularly concerned with the ways in which the neoliberal restructuring of the Nordic welfare with increasing marketization, cost-effectiveness, managerialism and individualization as well as nationalist populist voices are manifest in street-level institutional practice.

Some key issues that we would like to discuss in the workshop are:

  • How can the local welfare state enable (or constrain) possibilities for agency, recognition and redistribution, and ultimately enhancing the living conditions for migrant background individuals in the contemporary Nordic welfare state?
  • What methodological challenges are activated in research on migration and welfare institutional encounters?

We invite presentations based on academic research and welfare professional practice. Please state clearly in your abstract which of these categories your presentation adheres to. We will encourage participants to submit either a full paper or a presentation summary for circulation to the other participants no later than two weeks before the start of the conference.

7. Narrative and discursive approaches in exploring power relations

Coordinators: Laura Tarkiainen, University of Helsinki & Eveliina Heino, University of Helsinki

This workshop will provide the opportunity for discussion and exchange of experiences in approaching the issue of power as a socially constructed phenomenon. The workshop will focus on narrative and discursive approaches, and seeks to bring together researches across the Social Sciences with a keen interest in presenting their empirical and/or methodological work.

Presentations in this workshop may illustrate representations and negotiations of power relationships by using examples of narrative or discursive analysis related to themes like poverty, unemployment, migration and/or mental health. In addition, presentations may involve reflections of concepts such as agency, identity, responsibility, deservingness, group membership and citizenship. Empirical and methodological examples may utilise data from interviews, policy documents, media texts and/or naturally occurring frontline or otherwise institutional practice.

Abstract proposals that outline the research question, methodology and expected finding should be submitted before May 21st, 2018.

8. Power and social work education

Coordinators: Marcus Knutagård, Camilla Nordberg, Bente Vibeke Lauridsen, Torkel Richert, Guðbjörg Ottósdóttir, Karin Waleur, Marlene Corydon HarritsøMonica Kjørstad, Nordic Association of Schools of Social Work (NASSW)

The world is facing huge challenges regarding globalization, climate change, increasing resource scarcity, population growth, neoliberal transformations and growing inequality. These types of global concerns also affect social work in the Nordic countries and put pressure on social work education to respond to the current problems that we are facing. We can also see a movement towards the digitalization of social work. All these matters bring the concept of power at the fore. What role can social work education play?

In the Nordic countries, we can see different trends regarding power over social work education. State regulations and governance affect the curricula and the practice field calls for education and research that can be applied in the day to day work of the practitioners. Concepts like co-production puts attention towards the importance of service-user participation. But, who has the power over social work education and how can power in social work education be understood? The educators have an important role and have, in many ways, a great possibility to influence social work education. This position calls for a reflective practice on power relationships and how different forms of knowledge can be included in social work education and what roles schools of social work can play in tackling the challenges that we are facing now and in the future.

9. Power and user involvement in social work – perspectives and challenges

Coordinators: Vibeke Bak Nielsen, Anne Mette Carlslund, Jacob Christensen, Tina Harlev, Katrine Sjørslev Nielsen & Durita Johansen, FORSA Denmark, board members

In both social and health care, there is currently an increasing interest in the citizen and a user perspective. This occurs within social work practice and research concerning children and young people, socially vulnerable groups and the public's contact with the health system. The question is what this trend stems from and what perspectives this gives for research, education and practice.

Social work and social policy involves the involvement of the citizen at a central pivotal point. We see examples of the children's area, where the focus is on strengthening the involvement of children and young people in their own case.

Another perspective of practical social work is centered on accountability of the exposed adult citizen in relation to his or her own life. The question is in this context whether the citizen's perspective and involvement are challenged by different values ​​about what will be the right and the best for the individual's life in a given situation.

The involvement of citizens' voices in welfare-professional work thus encompasses both tradition and a variety of potentials, but also raises a number of questions, practical and research ethical issues that address how these citizen voices are discussed and how the involvement of the citizen's perspective is linked to the framework conditions made available for work in the social and health field.

At FORSA Denmark's annual meeting, we will follow this trend and shed light on both the overall trends and explanations while we invite presentations and dialogue about specific projects that have worked extraordinarily with the involvement of the citizen perspective. With this workshop, we also want to involve the Nordic perspective in the discussions on the direction in which the user involvement is moving.

We welcome presentations based both on academic research and on professional practice, and we don’t  require presentations to be based on full written papers.

10. Power, sexuality and social work

Coordinators: Heli Inkinen, Åbo Akademi University, School of Business and Economics & Minna Strömberg-Jakka, University of Turku

Human well-being is one of the central issues of social work and sexuality is a part of this well-being. Social work is also targeted for people in various vulnerable situations such as persons living in asylum seekers´ centers, disabled housing service units, hospitals, youth in child protection institutions or for prisoners.

It is social work to defend the rights of people who might still be looking for their own gender identity or whose sexual orientation differs from the communities they live in. These may be different religious communities or, for example, patriarchal communities in which women's chastity is strongly monitored. In these situations, a social worker may, for instance, face a question about female circumcision. The role of the social worker may then be empowering these people.

On the other hand, there exists social work also at different institutions, where clients ´ or patients´ sexuality has to be limited. This means restrictions to their self-determination. For example, in prisons, it might be a question of fire safety whether it is allowed to have sexual equipment in one´s prison cell. Social workers may face frustration concerning this matter or find themselves in solving threats of sexual assault in the prison environment.

However, there might also exist different power use towards the staff in different institutions, including social workers. In the child protection institutions, a male teenager might use aggressive and sexually explicit speech towards the female staff member or a female teenager might try to undress in front of a male staff member. So, who finally holds the power in their hands?

To this workshop we welcome all the abstracts of experiences in these kind of environments and ideas concerning the research of these matters. Who holds the power in institutions when it comes to the right of people´s sexual self-determination? How does a social worker encounter a person who wants to do a sex replacement surgery? Are the questions of sexuality adequately considered in social work education?

11. Research as resistance: Exploring critical, anti-oppressive, anti-racist, decolonial and participatory approaches in research with disempowered clients

Coordinators: Anna-Leena Riitaoja & Tobias Pötzsch, Centre for Research on Ethnicity and Nationalism (CEREN) at the Swedish School of Social Science, University of Helsinki

Josselyn Baltra-Ulloa (2012:90) has argued that “social workers need to theorize how to give up power”.  Indeed, those who are socially marginalized also remain so within the research context where they are often treated as research objects; rarely as authors, co-owners or as “legitimate” voices of academically validated “truth” (Ife 2008).

In this workshop, we aim to analyze how power relations in social science research with disempowered client groups could be reimagined by exploring critical, anti-oppressive, anti-racist, PAR or decolonial methodologies. Such approaches are distinctive as they focus specifically on ways in which power is shared with insiders by operationalizing principles of social justice and social change. They also embody a collaborative, participant-centred research practice in which responsibility and accountability of process and outcome are collectively shared. (Yellow Bird et. al. 2013, Denzin & Giradina 2010). As a result, they force us to reconceptualize research as partial and emancipatory as well as a tool for fostering resistance to the systemic oppression of those “Othered” in society.

Such considerations are especially important in practice-based professions. Client dissatisfaction with working methods that don’t represent their worldviews and experiences, as well as neo-liberal, managerialist agendas have pushed these professions to become more “accountable”. While client dissatisfaction invites critical analyses of power relations within social work, neo-liberal accountability entrenches positivist notions of how knowledge should be created and assessed. Here, what constitutes evidence is “understood securely within a positivist/Enlightenment, (White, heterosexual, patriarchal) framework” (Brown & Strega 2005:12). Therefore, if the ethical foundations of social work still rest upon a client-centered focus then it can derive tangible benefits from critical research approaches.

Questions which we hope to highlight with our workshop contributors are: Are research objectives manipulative or helpful to the community of participants? Is the research epistemology and methodology respectful to diverse worldviews and experiences? What are the ethical considerations in collaborative research? Am I as a researcher-practitioner creating space or taking space?  Who can be a knower and what knowledge is recognized as knowledge?

12. Rural areas in change

Coordinators: Kati Turtiainen & Niina Rantamäki, Kokkola University Consortium Chydenius, University of Jyväskylä

In recent years, the Nordic welfare states have gone through large changes. This development results from the challenging characteristics of the welfare state itself as well as from challenges provoked by external forces. The former is to a great part based on the alleged incapability of public welfare services to meet the increasingly individualized needs of people. The latter includes factors as the rapid ageing of the population, globalization processes, the decline of public finances and the more ideological shift from common responsibility to individual rights and obligations. Solutions to face the existing problems include among others administrative and service structure reforms as well as the marketization of welfare services.

Both the challenges and the measures taken to address them have particular effects on rural areas where 27 % of the total population of Nordic countries lives. While each of the countries defines the 'rural' in its’ own way, the key features are common: low population density, small settlements located at a far distance from each other and urban settlements and an economic structure based on primary production. Due to the challenging combination of prevailing societal development and geographical conditions, the people living in rural areas are at risk to end up in a situation that both weakens their agency and adds the sense of powerlessness.

At the same time, many rural communities have created innovative models for the organisation of services and the improvement of the quality of life as a response to the current mainstream policy. Likewise, immigrants are seen as a significant potential for rural areas to promote population growth and to maintain services although together with the positive impacts negative consequences have also emerged, for example concerning the discriminatory reactions against refugees or recognized asylum seekers.

We are inviting papers that focus on the societal development in Nordic countries from a rural perspective. In addition to the presentations that analyse the changes taking place in the context of the welfare state and their consequences, we are also interested in more conceptual and theoretical papers that discuss how 'rural' is approached in social work research in general.

Topics discussed may include:

  • Local models for the provision of welfare services
  • The role of civil society and civic participation
  • The impact of immigration (forced and voluntary)
  • Conceptual or theoretical approaches to rural in social work research

13. Social work and the natural environment

Coordinators: Satu Ranta-Tyrkkö, University of Jyväskylä; Aila-Leena Matthies, Kokkola University Consortium Chydenius, University of Jyväskylä & Kati Närhi, University of Jyväskylä

The goal of the workshop is to deepen the understanding on the relationship between the natural environment and social work. The starting point of the workshop is that the world is in the midst of an epochal transition, also defined as systemic crisis, which the ongoing ecological, economic and socio-cultural transformations, such as the human induced climate change, manifest. Being complex, interconnected, and cumulative, systemic problems are difficult to control and predict. While, for example, climate change is already increasing social inequality and vulnerability as a component of natural catastrophes and violent conflicts, its worst cumulative effects may risk everything social work has ever stood up for, and ultimately the continuity of the human kind. Yet, despite much talk about sustainability, for the time being the prevailing practice in contemporary consumer societies is politics of unsustainability. The workshop is grounded on the understanding that social work is not aside from these processes, starting from its financial dependence on economic growth. Rather, the ongoing transitions challenge conventional approaches to social work and force social work to reassess its potential roles as well as major limitations in the much-needed ecosocial, or socio-ecological, sustainability transition of societies.

We welcome presentations, which discuss the interconnections between social work, economy ecology and power from various angles, as well as papers focusing specifically on the relationship between social work and the natural environment. The presentations can be conceptual, empirical or practical, and/or have micro, meso, or macro focus. The papers can thus discuss social work in relation to environmental crises, de-growth, inter-generational, environmental or ecological justice issues, nature-assisted interventions and services in social work, and so forth. Moreover, we are particularly interested in papers that analyze what kind of things hinder social work from engaging with fundamental ecological and environmental issues and what to do about them, and how can social work contribute building a more hopeful, if likely also more complicated future.

14. Standing our ground: Implications of the digital era for social work education

Coordinator: Jennifer Spitz, Silver School of Social Work, New York University

The profession of social work is experiencing great change. Contexts of practice are shifting and require us to adapt accordingly. The emphasis on Evidence-Based Practice (EBP) and distance learning are examples of this. As a result, our educational approach must also adjust. Much of the literature on online social work education examines the student's learning experience. Research focuses on learning outcomes, student satisfaction and the costs and benefits of this modality. Findings are that online and face-to-face education yield comparable academic outcomes. Discussions about faculty broadly address issues related to technological competence, and the "how-tos" of transitioning from classroom to computer. There is an emphasis on the importance of embracing technology as an inevitable and efficacious context for learning. Less attention has been given to the pedagogical, ontological, and epistemological concerns experienced by faculty on the front lines. This discussion will focus on these issues and the questions raised, the answers to which may reflect a new paradigm for social work education.

Issues to be explored:

  • Power dynamics in the instructor-learner relationship; legitimacy of expertise
  • Globalization/increased income gap/increased racial & class disparities
  • Market solutions to solve socio-economic problems/education as a "social good" vs. market value
  • Anti-oppressive vs. Evidence-based practice
  • Changing relationships, interventions (EBP), education (competency vs. content), language (consumer vs. student)

15. Women, vulnerability and welfare services

Coordinators: Marjo Kuronen, University of Jyväskylä; Elina Virokannas, University of Helsinki & Ulla Salovaara, University of Jyväskylä

We wish to invite to our workshop papers studying women in most vulnerable and powerlessness positions in the society (e.g. women in poverty, homeless women, women with substance use problems, women experienced violence or committed crimes, refugee and asylum seeker women etc.). Especially, we wish to have papers concerning their relationship to and encounters with social work and social workers, and the whole welfare service system.

Vulnerability is a contested concept in social scientific research and in social work practice, which is often used in a stigmatising way to refer to individuals or groups associated with victimhood, deprivation, dependency, pathology, and powerlessness. Instead, we want to turn the attention towards the society, social conditions and institutions, including social work and the welfar service system that are expected to reduce but that might also generate vulnerability and powerlessness.

The workshop focuses on women and feminist approach because gender specific issues are often ignored when social problems, social work, welfare services and vulnerable groups are studied.  Because of strong cultural and moral expectations regarding adequate womanhood, women in vulnerable life situations are often seen as “the margin of the margins” or “double or even triple deviants”, easily forgotten in the service system and often ignored even in social work practice and research.

Welfare service systems all over the world, including the Nordic welfare states, are undergoing a major transformation with new models of service delivery and management, austerity measures, stronger requirements for cost-effectiveness, marketization, and prioritizing of services. Service users are increasingly seen as consumers that are expected to choose and purchase the services and who are aware of their legal rights. This requires knowledge and skills, and social and economic resources that people in vulnerable life situations do not often have. Thus, the ongoing transformations might make access to and availability of services even more difficult for them. They easily “fall in-between” complex systems, do not have their individual needs met or their specific life situations recognised. Furthermore, they might not even search, use or have access to the services, or they are turned away from them. These important topics for social work research and practice we wish to discuss in our workshop.

We warmly invite both empirical, theoretical and methodological papers concerning these themes and topics.

16. Open stream

In case you are not sure which workshop you should choose, please choose this final alternative in the list. Choosing this alternative means that the organizing committee will place your presentation in a suitable workshop. We may even complement workshops with a new one, if some research area with multiple submissions is not covered by the now existing workshops.

17. PhD workshop on Power and Social Work (sponsored and organized by NASSW/NOUSA)

The Nordic Association of Schools of Social Work (NASSW) sponsors the participation of a limited number of six PhD students in the Nordic Social Work conference in Helsinki, 21-23 November 2018. Interested participants are requested to submit an application to Marcus Knutagård (, by May 21st.

The application should include the following information:

  • Paper abstract related to conference theme ‘Power and Social Work’ (Please follow the general instructions for abstract submission in the Call for Abstracts)
  • Estimated budget covering travel, accommodation and the conference fee
  • IBAN bank account number.

Grant receivers are expected to submit a draft paper of up to 6 000 words by October 31st. The papers will be discussed in a special NASSW PhD workshop during the conference. Moreover, grant receivers are asked to prepare a 5-minute comment on the possible implications of their research for social work education.

Important note: Please submit your grant application to the e-mail address above, upload your abstract under the Call for Abstracts and register for the conference.