Relational social work

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The Relational Social Work is an extension of the systemic-constructivist life orientation and is largely based on the theoretical foundations of relational constructivism . On the one hand, it refers to the discussions that mainly took place in the 1990s about the subject and function of social work as a practice and as a science, and on the other hand to systemic-constructivist models, which were also established mainly from the 1990s.

“In the current debates in social work, systemic and constructivist considerations are established. In this context there are positions that seem to speak for the individualization of any responsibility. Relational constructivism (Kraus 2017) is to be opposed to this (...) as a specific systemic-constructivist approach, which enables the necessary consideration of the subjects in their environments (person in environment) for social work. This is at the same time a plea for relational social work that continues to be responsible for observing and processing the interface between the individual and society (Kraus 2016d). "


Björn Kraus refers to the boom in relational perspectives in the social science discourse, especially in the last two decades, and to the differences in the use and theoretical background of the term.

"Relational perspectives are relevant in:

Theoretical foundations

For relational constructivism as the theoretical basis and thus also for relational social work based on it, it is crucial "that the focus is neither solely on the cognitive and acting subject, nor on the social and material structures and environmental conditions, but rather on the relationships between the one and the other. This focus is supposed to oppose an exclusive consideration of the environment or the subject, but in no way restrict the focus to the relations themselves and exclude the relevance of subjects as constructors and environments as reference points of subjective constructions Consideration of subjects, environments and their relations. "

In this regard, Helmut Lambers stated in his current edition on "Theories of Social Work":

“Kraus' interest in the coupling relationships between cognitive and social systems opens up opportunities for developing your own communication model. And this is not just about the systems, but rather about the subject in systemic contexts. This is a gain for constructivist theory formation in social work, since one can hold against radical constructivism that the constructivist trusts too much and the cognitive subject too little. In this way Kraus arrives at a relational constructivism, with which he shows that 'constructivism can also be turned in terms of social theory' (Ritscher 2007, p. 55). "

Björn Kraus uses the theoretical basis of relational constructivism to determine a relational social work, which is a continuation or extension of the systemic-constructivist lifeworld orientation. Björn Kraus and Hans Thiersch have recently discussed the relationship between relational social work of lifeworld orientation and critical social work in Freiburg.

Corresponding references can also be found in the article "relational constructivism and relational social work" in the English-language international Routledge manual of "critical social work" published in 2019. This article is about "reflecting on the relationships between individual and social conditions and the critical question of decent living and social justice". In technical terms, however, it is also about questioning the foundations of the criticism. Kraus: "A critical social work should question both the social conditions and their relevance for the construction of individual living environments, as well as the ideas, knowledge and moral concepts on which this criticism is based."

Basic definition of social work

The following definition is fundamental for relational social work

“Social work contributes to the shaping of the social, which 1. is oriented in its goals to the criteria of human rights and social justice, 2. is scientifically founded and reflected in its decisions and actions and 3. is based on its responsibility the interface between the individual and society is focused. "

For the use of relational-constructist foundations for a relational social, it is important that, starting from the cognitive subject and its construction processes, the focus is placed on the relational construction conditions. It is important that it is not only about the social, but also about the material relations - the term relation is not synonymous here with the term social or for relationships in the social sense.

“So it's not just about social construction processes, but also about cognitive construction processes under relational conditions. In this respect, this approach fits very well with the social work focus of the interface between individuals and society. Social work should make a contribution to shaping the social, which is based on the principles of social justice and human rights. In doing so, social work has to take into account both individuals (strengthening and liberation of people) and social conditions (promoting social development and social cohesion) (cf. Kraus 2016d: pp. 20-21). In this respect, it can neither limit its perspective to the individuals nor to their environment, but has to take into account both the constructive subjects and their relational construction conditions. "

Practical use

Kraus uses the fundamental perspectives of relational constructivism both to determine the responsibility as well as the professionalism of a relational social work. The perspective on life-world-situation-relationships fits with the responsibility of social work for the interface between the individual and society, the perspective on the relational cognitive conditions fits with a professional understanding that, like that of reflective social pedagogy, above all emphasizes the need for reflective skills. So it's about the reflection of:

  • Relations between individuals and their environments
  • Relations between observers and what they observe
  • Relations between observers and their explanatory knowledge
  • Relationships between observers and their person

Heiko Kleve states:

“Kraus' theses on the constructivist theory of social work intervention are groundbreaking - because they show that social work cannot be understood as a directly intervening social practice, which is therefore not capable of integrating bodies, psyches or social systems To determine how it works, so that social work nevertheless has the potential to either expand or reduce the possibilities for action in the world of life by influencing and shaping the life situations of its addressees. "

In this way, the limits and possibilities of individual and social responsibility can be discussed in a constructivist manner. Even if views of reality are individual constructions, their relational construction conditions must also be taken into account. The relational theories on the relationship between life and situation , instructive and destructive power or a relational understanding of the system are helpful foundations for deciding on the responsibility of addressees and social work specialists .

Ernst Engelke , Stefan Borrmann and Christian Spatscheck trace in the current 7th edition of their overview work "Theories of Social Work" the development from the radical-constructist beginnings in the 1990s to the development of relational constructivism and a relational social work based on it emphasize:

"One of the special features of the approach is the connection between epistemological and social-theoretical perspectives."

"With his theory, Kraus presents a theory of social work that, with the latest additions, combines basic epistemological assumptions, social-theoretical tools for reflection and methodological implications for social work."


Kraus, Björn (2019): Relational Constructivism - Relational Social Work. From the systemic-constructivist lifeworld orientation to a relational theory of social work. Weinheim, Munich: Beltz, Juventa.

Kraus, Björn (2019): Relational constructivism and relational social work. In: Webb, Stephen, A. (edt.) The Routledge Handbook of Critical Social Work. Routledge international handbooks. London and New York: Taylor & Francis Ltd.

Kraus, Björn (2017): Plea for Relational Constructivism and Relational Social Work. (Forum Sozial, 1/2017).

Web links to video podcast and instructional video

Individual evidence

  1. Cf. Kraus, Björn (2012): What is and should be a science of social work. Location: Jacobs
  2. See Lambers, Helmut (2018): Theories of Social Work. A compendium and comparison. UTB, p. 201
  3. a b Kraus, Björn (2017): Plea for Relational Constructivism and Relational Social Work . In: Forum Sozial, 1/2017, p. 29.
  4. a b Kraus, Björn (2018) Plea for Relational Social Work. Lecture at the DBSH annual conference in Freiburg
  5. urn: nbn: de: 0111-pedocs-153817
  6. Lambers, Helmut (2018): Theories of Social Work. A compendium and comparison. UTB, p. 201.
  7. See Birgmeier, Bernd & Mührel, Eric (2017): Scientific foundations of social work. Wochenschau Verlag, Schwallbach. P. 94.
  8. Kraus, Björn & Thiersch, Hans (2018): Relational social work, lifeworld orientation and the question of the normativity of critical social work. Science talks between Hans Thiersch and Björn Kraus
  9. Handbuch
  10. Kraus, Björn (2019): Relational Constructivism - Relational Social Work. From the systemic-constructivist lifeworld orientation to a relational theory of social work. Weinheim: Beltz / Juventa. P. 24.
  11. a b Kraus, Björn (2017): Plea for Relational Constructivism and Relational Social Work . In: Forum Sozial, 1/2017, p. 35.
  12. Dewe B. & Otto HU. (2012): Reflexive Social Pedagogy. In: Thole W. (Ed.): Grundriss Soziale Arbeit. VS Verlag for Social Sciences, Wiesbaden.
  13. Kleve, Heiko (2015): Review of December 16, 2013 on: Björn Kraus: Erkennen und Decisionen Weinheim and Basel: Beltz Juventa.
  14. Engelke, E., Borrmann, S. Spatscheck, C. (2018): Theories of Social Work. An introduction. Freiburg / Br .: Lambertus, p. 550.
  15. Engelke, E., Borrmann, S. Spatscheck, C. (2018): Theories of Social Work. An introduction. Freiburg / Br .: Lambertus, p. 562.