Conceptualization of Culture and Ethnicity within Social Work in Two Indigenous Communities

Implications for Culturally Adequate Social Work


  • Reidunn Håøy Nygård
  • Merete Saus
  • Shanley Swanson Nicolai



This qualitative study compares social work in Sami communities within Norway and Native American communities in Montana in the US. A total of 39 social workers were interviewed. We investigated the conceptualization of culture and ethnicity, as well as the implications of these constructions for a culturally adequate social work practice. We find that social workers in Sápmi conceptualize culture and ethnicity as hybrid and fluid, while the social workers in Native American communities have a more fixed and static conceptualization. When working in Native American communities, social workers’ theme of inequality among groups, and the continuing effect of assimilation on family life. Among social workers in Sami communities in Norway, little attention is given to power relations among ethnic groups. These differences in construction affect both the framing and the legitimacy of culturally adequate social work within these two contexts.

Author Biographies

Reidunn Håøy Nygård

Doctoral Research Fellow, Master in sociology
Regional Centre for Child and Youth Mental Health and Child Welfare – North
Faculty of Health Sciences, UiT – The Arctic University of Norway
N-9037 Tromsø, Norway
+47 776 45 877

Merete Saus

Associate Professor, Master in Pedagogic/Ph.D. thesis in social science
Regional Centre for Child and Youth Mental Health and Child Welfare – North
Faculty of Health Sciences, UiT – The Arctic University of Norway
N-9037 Tromsø, Norway
+47 776 23 274

Shanley Swanson Nicolai

Project Team Member, Master in Indigenous Studies and Master in Social Work
Regional Centre for Child and Youth Mental Health and Child Welfare – North
Faculty of Health Sciences, UiT – The Arctic University of Norway
N-9037 Tromsø, Norway
+14 0621 05 136


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How to Cite

Nygård, R. H., Saus, M., & Nicolai, S. S. (2018). Conceptualization of Culture and Ethnicity within Social Work in Two Indigenous Communities: Implications for Culturally Adequate Social Work. Journal of Comparative Social Work, 13(2), 4–30.