Sweden and the UK – sharing perspectives in research

Ronny Heikki Tikkanen is Associate Professor and International Coordinator at the Department of Social Work in the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. In October 2016 the University of Gothenburg hosted a joint research symposium with the University of Bedfordshire focusing on the themes of service user engagement and holistic approaches to social work.  In this guest blog Ronny looks back at the event and reflects on the importance of international perspectives.

In late October, in the last of the autumn days in Gothenburg (Sweden’s second largest city), we hosted a research symposium at the University of Gothenburg. The event, organised jointly with the University of Bedfordshire, brought together researchers from the International Centre and PhD students in the discipline of Applied Social Studies from the University of Bedfordshire, with academic staff and students from Gothenburg. We met to discuss joint interests in research as well as in teaching. Key themes presented during the event were: “Young people, families and service user participation”, “Holistic approaches to prevention and intervention” and “Violence in intimate relationships”. During the symposium speakers from the UK and Sweden presented on their current research projects as well as ideas about how we can collaborate in the future. The symposium was also attended by postgraduate students, practitioners and representatives of service user groups and all engaged in discussions arising from the presentations. New networks were established and we could see both similarities and differences between the two universities. A shared interest and passion for participation an ‘imperfect practice’ to quote Camille Warrington, one of the presenters, was a key theme which excited great debate.


Meetings like this, that take place over national borders are of great importance as they broaden perspectives and establish new networks that will benefit all participants. National borders do not restrict social problems. On the contrary, global challenges such as a neoliberal world economy, poverty, conflicts, and natural disasters have a large impact on social problems all over the world, and we in Sweden and the UK have much that we can learn from each other. A professional social worker, as well as a social work educator/researcher, in contemporary society has to be aware of global issues and to be able to include this knowledge in social work practice. Social work research and social work education plays an important part in enabling social workers to integrate international perspectives in their future work.

There is a strong and constructive connection between the University of Bedfordshire and the University of Gothenburg. We aim to make this connection even stronger in the future. The symposium is one way.

The collaboration between our two universities can contribute to the understanding of global issues in social work. Both universities are committed to the Global Agenda for Social Work and Social Development (an international agreement on priorities in social work practice and social work education). The agenda points out areas of importance, such as “Reducing social and economic inequalities” and “Protecting the dignity and worth of peoples”. Sharing and exchanging knowledge is of utmost importance in a contemporary world where a strong emphasis is put on restrictive national borders.

The symposium was co-organised by Roma Thomas from the International Centre. Team members from the Centre who participated were: David Barratt, Camille Warrington, Elizabeth Ackerley, Isabelle Brodie. Paul Onginjo and Andrianna, PhD students from Bedfordshire also took part.  Presenters from Sweden were: Susanne Liljeholm Hansson, Björn Andersson, Viveka Enander, Professor Ingrid Höjer, Charlotte Melander and Karin Berg.

Proceedings from the symposium will be published during 2017. For further information  contact roma.thomas@beds.ac.uk