«This is a substantial book, albeit one with a very practical focus – it is for students and
professionals who want to study and work with children and young people. It is a very
accessible, one-volume account of the theory and practice of social pedagogy, and it will allow
UK professionals to engage more fully in international dialogues about social pedagogy
practice. Its publication is very timely and there is nothing else like it on the market at the
Scottish Journal of Residential Child Care
Book review: Practical social pedagogy: theories, values and tools for working
with children and young people
Article in European Journal of Social Work · April 2015
By Xavier Úcar, Professor of Social Pedagogy at Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona
JAN STORO (2013). Practical social pedagogy. Theories, values and tools for working with
children and young people.
Bristol: The Policy Press
I would like to start by saying that this book seems to me one of the most interesting that has
been written in recent years on social pedagogy; this will be my position throughout this
review. Like any good book, this work has challenged me from its opening pages and has
made me reaffirm or call into question many of my own previous ideas. But let me warn you,
however, that I am speaking from southern Europe and from the socio-pedagogical tradition
that has been built-up here over the last century. For this is a tradition that, as will be seen,
differs in certain regards from what the author suggests.
I think that this is an honest and realistic book. The author locates himself clearly, from the
outset, within the place from which he reflects, constructs knowledge and writes. For this
reason he decides, for example, not to enter into a definition of social-pedagogy –one of the
most challenging issues still unresolved in our field- but to define, instead, social pedagogical
practice. It is in this sense that the two main objectives of the text are posed; these are: (1) to
write about a Social Pedagogy oriented towards practice; and (2) to investigate whether social
constructionism theory can expand fundamental thinking on social pedagogy. On reading the
book, it becomes clear that the author achieves both objectives.
Many authors have insisted over time that social pedagogy lies, or has lain, between the
theoretical and the practical or, as the author has it, that there are two ways of understanding
this: Social Pedagogy as work with people and social pedagogy as theoretical perspective (p. 3).
I think that this book tries to position itself in what is in effect a difficult balancing point
between the one and the other, not only with respect to the content itself but also in the very
way it has been written. The book begins with a two people, one theoretical and the other
practical, discussing Social Pedagogy by revealing their different relative positions. The
dialogue runs on in an inter-connected way into chapters two and three, with case studies or
practice situations that illustrate the author’s argument at every point.
The book is organized into eight chapters. Through a case study, the introductory chapter
deals with the main terms and concepts used throughout the book. The subsequent chapter
questions the theoretical perspective underlying social pedagogy and opts to locate itself
within the perspective of «social constructionism». From their point of view, practical social
pedagogues cannot wait for good theories to come along, but must instead act in the ‘here and
now’. For this very reason, the theoretical perspective taken here is so appropriate. The
author is aware, however, that his scope is very broad and that it represents both a problem
and an opportunity.
In chapter three, the author tries to build connections between theory and practice. In my
view, this is one of the book’s most complex chapters and is where the author makes a
number of its main contributions. Chapter four considers the identity of social pedagogues,
questioning what motivates them to seek boundaries, connections and overlaps that place
them in relation to other professionals such as social workers, psychologists, sociologists,
philosophers, lawyers, researchers or entrepreneurs.
The fifth chapter sets out to ascertain just what it is that social pedagogues do. This creates a
socio-educational context built on three pillars: those relations that are the means by which
action takes place; the structure that represents place and manner (and, indeed, the means) in
which this happens; and, finally, change, which is the aim of that action. Chapter six relates to
social pedagogues’ actions take place; from the author’s perspective, these are focused on the
individual, group and social levels.
Chapter seven highlights the tools that social pedagogues make use of in their actions. From
the most general or transversal, such as the systematic character of action, language and
practical interventions to what the author calls “local methods», i.e., negotiated social
constructions that are put into in place in the relationship between social pedagogues and
children or adolescents with whom they are interacting. It should be noted that this chapter
(in a practical manner while remaining theoretically grounded) addresses the problem facing
social pedagogues in their daily work. Issues such as authority, conflict and negotiation,
among others, are worked on within the framework of social and pedagogical relationship.
Finally, chapter eight concludes the book by highlighting the complexity of the profession; this relates, on the
one hand, to the fact lying halfway between theory and practice and, on the other, to contextually situated
negotiations between professionals and participants that are a fundamental axis of social pedagogy.
Following other authors and despite recognizing the controversial nature of the term, Storo
choose to speak of the «client» in referring to the participant in the socio-pedagogical
relationship. This decision matches that of social workers in southern Europe, but it should be
pointed out that this terminology is not used by social pedagogues and social educators. The
latter refer instead to the «learner» or «participant», as the term “client” has business and
commercial connotations that are not entirely appropriate to the contents of sociopedagogical
I agree with the choice of the term «intervention» as the core of the social pedagogue’s work.
This is an open discussion today in which some people prefer the term «action», which
conveys a supposedly less «invasive» nature for the term. The greater imprecision of this
usage, however, and the tradition of applying «intervention» and its own etymological
meaning (Carballeda, 2002) to the field of social pedagogy are arguments that, from my point
of view, justify the use of “intervention”.
I also share one of the key ideas in this book, namely, remarking the importance of theory by stating that
practice should always be informed if it is to be ‘good practice’. Herein lies one ofthe major challenges of social
pedagogy: [to] include reflection in the execution of practice and use it actively to develop practice (p. 44). This,
in my view, is a solid contribution: approaching social pedagogy as Values/Theory-Methods/Action.
It could be said that the relationship between social work and social pedagogy is one of the
oldest and most traditional discussions in our field. The author differentiates the two
professions—rather too readily in my view—noting that the second focuses on children and
young people while the former does not. Although this follows the line defended in recent
years from Anglo-Saxon ambit with respect to social pedagogy, this is not what has been
proposed from central and southern Europe, where it has a clear social vocation that
transcends ages and areas, as various texts clearly reflect (See, Kornbeck / Rosendal Jensen,
One of the ideas with which the author finishes the book is particularly interesting to me: adapting methods to
the context where one Works is an important function. Social pedagogy practice is contextual and has to be
tailored to the individuals in question (p. 138). On balance, my view is that Storo’s book is a useful contribution
to all of use who, whether from research or theory or practice, are interested in social pedagogy.
Carballeda, A. J. (2002). La intervención en lo social. Exclusión e integración en los nuevos escenarios sociales. Barcelona. Paidós.
Kornbeck, J.; Rosendal Jensen, N. (Eds.) (2011). (Eds.). Social Pedagogy for the entire humanlifespan. Vol I. Bremen, Europäischer Hochschulverlag GmbH & Co. KG.