Two tales of community work

Social workers’ experiences of role changes in the Netherlands and Norway


  • Håvard Aaslund
  • Eelke Pruim



community work, Netherlands, Norway, social roles, social work, social rules


Community-oriented approaches in social work are highlighted in both social work literature and policy documents in post-financial crisis Europe, and in the Nordic welfare states where professionalized bureaucracy, universal benefits and institutionalized social work have been the norm. The aim of this article is to explore social workers’ experiences of role changes in the transition to a more community-oriented approach, characterized by ambulatory work, the facilitation of local resources, multi-disciplinary collaboration and user participation. The empirical data consists of qualitative data from two cases: a political reform in the Netherlands (The Social Support Act), and a user-initialized project in Norway. Ten social workers from nine different organizations were interviewed in the Netherlands, and four social workers from one community-based project in Norway. We analysed these as a multiple case study of a transformation towards community-based practice, but one in which the political and organizational context differs.

A common theme was the changing of the roles of the social worker and the subsequent experiences of challenges in different contextual settings. We present our findings under the topics of identity work, differing organizational expectations and role conflicts. Social workers in both the Norwegian and Dutch sample express experiences of multiple roles, vague roles and conflicting roles, with our analysis showing that role stress was common in both cases, regardless of whether the initiative was top-down or bottom-up. Remedying role stress could be a crucial element in processes aiming at user participation, social cohesion, cross-disciplinary cooperation and strengths perspectives.

Author Biographies

Håvard Aaslund

Assistant Professor
Faculty of Social Studies, VID Specialized University

Eelke Pruim

Team Leader ‘Well-being & society’, MSc.
Faculty of Social Work, Windesheim University of Applied Sciences


Aaslund, H. (2020). Egenorganisering og frivillige organisasjoners rolle i kampen mot bostedsløshet – et deltakende aksjonsforskningsprosjekt [Self-organization and voluntary organizations’ role in the fight against homelessness – a participatory action research project]. Tidsskrift for boligforskning, 3(1), 70-86.

Aaslund, H. & Seim, S. (2020). ‘The Long and Winding Road’ — Collective action among people experiencing homelessness. International Journal of Action Research, 16(2), 87-108.

Andriessen, D. (2014). Praktisch relevant én methodisch grondig? Dimensies van onderzoek in het HBO. Openbare les. [Practically relevant and methodically thorough? Dimensions of research in higher education. Public lesson.] Utrecht: Hogeschool Utrecht.

Arum, van S. (2016). Sociale (wijk)teams in beeld [Social (neighbourhood)teams in the picture.] Utrecht: Movisie.

Askeland, G. A. & Strauss, H. (2014). The nordic welfare model, civil society and social work. In C. Noble, H. Strauss & B. LIttlechild (Eds.), Global social work (pp. 241-256). Sydney: University Press.

Beyer, J. M. & Hannah, D. R. (2002). Building on the Past: Enacting Established Personal Identities in a New Work Setting. Organization Science, 13(6), 636-652.

Brady, S., Schoeneman, A. & Sawyer, J. (2014). Critiquing and Analyzing the Effects of Neoliberalism on Community Organizing: Implications and Recommendations for Practitioners and Educators. Journal of Social Action in Counseling and Psychology, 6.

Brown, B., Crawford, P. & Darongkamas, J. (2000). Blurred roles and permeable boundaries: the experience of multidisciplinary working in community mental health. Health & Social Care in the Community, 8(6), 425-435.

Brown, A. D. (2015). Identities and Identity Work in Organizations. International Journal of Management Reviews, 17(1), 20-40.

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. 3(2), 77-101.

Breivik, J.-K. & Sudmann, T. T. (2015). Samfunnsarbeid som svar på velferdspolitiske utfordringer? [Community work as a response to welfare policy challenges] Tidsskrift for velferdsforskning, 18(1), 2-6.

Christensen, T. & Lægreid, P. (2009). Public management reform in Norway: reluctance and tensions. In S. Goldfinch & J. Wallis (Eds.), International handbook of public management reform (pp. 300). UK: Edward Elgar Publishing.

Christiansen, N. F. & Markkola, P. (2006). Introduction. In N. F. Christiansen, K. Petersen, N. Edling & P. Haave (Eds.), The Nordic model of welfare: a historical reappraisal. Denmark: Museum Tusculanum Press.

Dølvik, J. E., Andersen, J. G., & Vartiainen, J. (2015). The Nordic social models in turbulent times Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Eagly, A. H. & Wood, W. (2016). Social Role Theory. In N. A. Naples, R. C. Hoogland, M. Wickramasinghe, & W. C. A. Wong (Eds.), The Wiley Blackwell Encyclopedia of Gender and Sexuality Studies (pp. 458-476). Hoboken: Wiley Blackwell.

Ebbinghaus, B. (2012). Comparing welfare state regimes: Are typologies an ideal or realistic strategy. ESPAN, Edinburg, UK, 1-20.

Esping-Andersen, G. (1990). The three worlds of welfare capitalism. Princeton University Press.

Garrow, E. E. & Hasenfeld, Y. (2014). Social enterprises as an embodiment of a neoliberal welfare logic. American Behavioral Scientist, 58(11), 1475-1493.

Goffman, E. (1974). Frame analysis: An essay on the organization of experience. Harvard University Press.

Goodin, R. E. & Smitsman, A. (2000). Placing Welfare States: The Netherlands as a Crucial Test Case. Journal of Comparative Policy Analysis, 2(1), 39-64.

Halvorsen, K. & Stjernø, S. (2008). Work, oil and welfare: the welfare state in Norway. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget

Hochschild, A. R. (1979). Emotion work, feeling rules, and social structure. American Journal of Sociology, 85(3), 551-575.

Hochschild, A. R. (2003). The commercialization of intimate life: Notes from home and work: Univ of California Press.

Hugman, R. (2008). But Is It Social Work? Some Reflections on Mistaken Identities. The British Journal of Social Work, 39(6), 1138-1153.

Hutchinson, G. S. (2009). The mandate for community work in the Nordic Welfare States. In G. S. Hutchinson (Ed.), Community work in the Nordic countries. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.

Jantz, B., Reichborn-Kjennerud, K. & Vrangbaek, K. (2015). Control and Autonomy—The SAIs in Norway, Denmark, and Germany as Watchdogs in an NPM-Era? International Journal of Public Administration, 38(13-14), 960-970.

Johnston, L., Noble, C. & Gray, M. (2016). Critical supervision for the human services: A social model to promote learning and value-based practice. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Järvinen, M. & Mik-Meyer, N. (2012). At skabe en professionel: Ansvar og autonomi i velfærdsstaten. Hans Reitzels Forlag.

Kamali, M., & Jönsson, J. H. (2018). Neoliberalism, Nordic Welfare States and Social Work: Current and Future Challenges.

Kvist, J. & Greve, B. (2011). Has the Nordic welfare model been transformed? Social Policy & Administration, 45(2), 146-160.

Ledwith, M. (2011). Community development: a critical approach. Bristol: Policy Press.

Linders, L., Feringa, D., Potting, M. & Jager-Vreugdenhil, M. (2016). Spanningen in het sociale domein: een conceptueel kader [Tensions in the social domain: a conceptual framework]. In L. Linders, D. Feringa, M. Potting & M. Jager-Vreugdenhil (Ed.). Tussen regels en vertrouwen [Between rules and trust]. (pp. 17-26). Amsterdam, Netherlands, Van Gennep.

Lipsky, M. (2010). Street-Level bureaucracy: dilemmas of the individual in public services. Russell Sage.

Lub, V., Sprinkhuizen, A. & Cromwijk, R. (2010). Het spel op het maatschappelijk middenveld. [The game in societal midfield.] Wmo-Trendrapport 2010. Utrecht: Movisie.

Mendes, P. (2002). Social workers and the ethical dilemmas of community action campaigns: lessons from the Australian State of Victoria. Community Development Journal, 37(2), 157-166.

Ministry of Local Government and Modernisation. (2014). Bolig for velferd: nasjonal strategi for boligsosialt arbeid (2014-2020 [Housing for welfare: nasjonal strategy for social housing (2014-2020)]. Oslo: Kommunal- og moderniseringsdepartementet

Nowotny, H., Scott, P. B. & Gibbons, M. T. (2013). Re-thinking science: Knowledge and the public in an age of uncertainty. Cambridge: John Wiley & Sons.

Potting, M. (2001). Van je familie. Zorg, familie en sekse in de mantelzorg [Your family. Care, family and gender in informal care]. Amsterdam: Aksant

Pruim, E. (2015). ‘We moeten op een andere manier gaan zorgen’ [‘We have to start taking care of it in a different way’]. Centrum voor Samenlevingsvraagstukken.

Pyles, L. (2013). Progressive Community Organizing: Reflective Practice in a Globalizing World. Taylor & Francis.

RMO. (2011). Bevrijdend kader voor de jeugdzorg. Briefadvies [Liberating framework for youth care. Advisory letter.]. Den Haag: Raad voor Maatschappelijke Ontwikkeling.

Roberts, L. M. (2005). Changing Faces: Professional Image Construction In Diverse Organizational Settings. Academy of Management Review, 30(4), 685-711.

Rugkåsa, M., & Ylvisaker, S. (2018). Resisting neoliberal changes in social work education. In M. Kamali & J. H. Jönsson (Eds.), Neoliberalism, Nordic Welfare States and Social Work. London: Routledge.

Røysum, A. (2013). The reform of the welfare services in Norway: one office – one way of thinking? European Journal of Social Work, 16(5), 708-723.

Salamon, L. M. & Anheier, H. K. (1998). Social origins of civil society: Explaining the nonprofit sector cross-nationally. VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, 9(3), 213-248.

Searle, J. R. (2005). What is an institution? Journal of institutional economics, 1(1), 1-22.

Stamsø, M. A. (2017). Velferdsstaten i endring: om norsk helse-og sosialpolitikk [Changes in the welfare state: About Norwegian health- and social policy]. Oslo: Gyldendal Akademisk.

Sudmann, T. T. & Breivik, J.-K. (2018). Editorial: special issue on community work and going glocal in Scandinavian Welfare States. Community Development Journal, 53(3), 407-423.

Teekman, C., Pruim, E., Jager-Vreugdenhil, M. & Slendebroek-Meints, J. (2015). Uit de startblokken… de eerste maanden van de sociale wijkteams in Zwolle en Elburg [Ready, set, go! The first months of the social neighbourhood teams in Zwolle and Elburg]. Zwolle: Centrum voor Samenlevingsvraagstukken.

Turunen, P. (2009). Nordic Community Work in Transition. In G. S. Hutchinson (Ed.), Community work in the Nordic countries : new trends. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget

Uggerhøj, L. (2012). Theorizing practice research in social work. Social Work and Social Sciences Review, 15(1), 49-73.

Wester, F. (2013).Onderzoek naar Sturing onder de Wmo [Research into Control in the SSA]. In: Sturing in de Wmo-praktijk. Op weg naar nieuwe sturingsmodellen in de Wmo [Management in the SSA practice. Towards new management models in the SSA]. Utrecht: MOVISIE.

Yin, R. K. (2017). Case study research: Design and methods. London: Sage publications.




How to Cite

Aaslund, H., & Pruim, E. (2020). Two tales of community work: Social workers’ experiences of role changes in the Netherlands and Norway. Journal of Comparative Social Work, 15(2), 9–32.