Call for Abstracts for special issue in Journal of Comparative Social Work - Decolonizing social work in Africa


CfA for special issue in Journal of Comparative Social Work


Social work is arguably an emerging academic discipline in Africa. First introduced by colonialists and missionaries, social work remains epistemically intertwined with its colonial past. This is for instance reflected in the predominance of Western authorship in social work curricula in Africa. As pointed out by several scholars (e.g. Gray, Kreitzer and Mupedziswa 2014; Midgley 2008; Osei-Hwedie and Boateng 2018; Twikirize 2014), for social work to be contextually relevant, there is a need to develop academic knowledge in social work that recognizes the colonial past and that challenges the implicit conceptual and epistemic heritage while simultaneously expanding local and indigenous knowledges. Moreover, there is a need to build knowledge that acknowledges the importance of the nexus between social work and social development. Similar discussions are also to be found in countries outside Africa, which have a colonial past (e.g. Mignolo & Walsh 2018).

In this special issue we invite papers that address how social work in Africa or other countries with a colonial past can be developed and transformed by questioning the epistemologies of the colonial past, as well as incorporating and challenging local and indigenous perspectives.

Decolonialization and indigenization are contested concepts. Decolonialization is commonly used in a rather broad sense, denoting a process that involves a break with the material, conceptual and epistemological hegemony of the colonial past and a turn towards “the right to repossess dispossessed intellectual spaces” (Harms Smith & Motlalepule 2018). In a similar vein, indigenization is usually connoted with the (re)discovery and (re)acknowledgement of cultures and knowledges of either first nations people in the Global West or people in countries with a colonial past in the Global South. Like decolonialization, indigenization denotes a break with a colonial past and a decentering of the dominance of western knowledge systems and ways of life, yet some critics claim that the concept is inapt to acknowledge the oppressive and racist nature of colonization (ibid.). As such, decolonialization is better fit to encapsulate the oppressive power of the colonial past. However, whereas indigenization involves a willingness to celebrate and learn from local and traditional knowledge, it may also imply a willingness to question and challenge such knowledge. Indigenization of social work may thus be understood as the exploration and challenging of new and old terrains of knowledge, questioning how it can be locally relevant and responsive to local needs while simultaneously maintaining the ethical values of social work as an academic discipline.

We invite empirical and theoretical papers that in various ways address decolonization and indigenization in the context of social work in Africa or other countries with a colonial past. Topics may include - but are not limited to – decolonialization and indigenization of curriculum, ethics and values in social work, the incorporation of indigenous fields of practice and research, and encounters with knowledge that challenge the epistemologies of the colonial past. Papers showcasing indigenous social work are particularly welcome and should include reflections about how the knowledge gained can be used to inform and expand social work theory at large. 



Harms Smith, Linda, and Motlalepule Nathane. 2018. “#NotDomestication #NotIndigenisation: Decoloniality in Social Work Education”. Southern African Journal of Social Work and Social Development 30 (1):18 pages.

Gray, M., Kreitzer, L. and Mupedziswa, R. (2014). The enduring relevance of indigenisation in African social work: A critical reflection on ASWEA’s legacy. Ethics and Social Welfare, 8(2), 101–116.

Midgley, J. (2008). Promoting reciprocal social work exchanges: Professional imperialism revisited. In M. Gray, J. Coates and M. Yellow Bird (Eds.), Indigenous Social Work Around the World: Towards Culturally Relevant Education and Practice. Aldershot: Ashgate, 31–45.

Mignolo, W.D. and C.E. Walsh (2018): On Decoloniality. Concepts, Analytics, Praxis. Duke University Press

Osei-Hwedie, K and Boateng, D.A. (2018). “Do Not Worry Your Head”: The Impossibility of Indigenising Social Work Education and Practice in Africa. Southern African Journal of Social Work and Social Development, 30 (3), 1-10

Twikirize, J. M. (2014). Indigenisation of social work in Africa: Debates, prospects and challenges. In H. Spitzer, J. M. Twikirize and G. G. Wairire (Eds.), Professional Social Work in East Africa. Towards Social Development, Poverty Reduction and Gender Equality. Kampala: Fountain Publishers, 75–90.



Guest editors:

Ann Christin E Nilsen (PhD) is professor of sociology at the Department of sociology and social work at the University of Agder, Norway and leader for the project Building Resilient Communities through Inclusive Education in East Africa (RESILIENT). She has edited books and special journal editions and is an associate editor of the Norwegian Journal of Sociology.   

Janestic M Twikirize (PhD) is Associate professor at the Department of social work and social administration at Makerere University, Uganda. She has served as the Vice President of the Association of Schools of Social Work in Africa and as a board member of the International association of Schools of social work (IASSW). She has edited books and is a member of the editorial board of the journals International Social Work and Social Work education. She is part of the core team of the RESILIENT-project.