Constructing social problems as social work worthy interventions: The case of prostitution in Denmark

Primary investigator: PhD Candidate Henrik Karlsson (CESAR, Uppsala University).

Project description: It is in the realm of social policy that social problems are constructed as matters for social work practice to attend to. Inherent in these constructions is a representation of the problem along with a suggested “solution” to the “problem”, which, in turn, can come to constitute the reality of social work practice. Thus, it is through the construction of social problems as challenges that social work practice should address that the role of the professional social worker is defined alongside that of  client. In the sphere of prostitution, there is no consensus concerning how to regulate prostitution on a national level. However, policymakers, regardless of their national policy on prostitution, have recently started to develop and implement various types of help and support programs (incl. so-called exit programs) for those who are actively engage in prostitution. While the research community has taken a great interest in analyzing national policies on prostitution, no attention has so far been directed at analyzing the policies that regulate social work interventions surrounding prostitution. This research project takes an interest in analyzing various aspects of the Danish policymaking process and the outcomes of this process. The rationale for focusing on the Danish case as far as prostitution-focused-social policy is concerned is manifold. Among others, there is the fact that social work has been a key pillar in the country’s response to prostitution since it decriminalization in 1999. Further, the example of Denmark indicates that decriminalizing prostitution does not necessarily imply that prostitution cannot be constructed as a social problem in need of a response from the government. 

Designed as a dissertation project in social work, this dissertation aims to deconstruct the ways in which Danish social policy on prostitution creates spaces for social work practices geared toward sex workers in Denmark, while also constructing them as suitable clients for social work interventions. Relying on policy analysis of various forms of policy documents as well as qualitative interviews with social work practitioners, this dissertation aims to shed light on the ways in which social work practice and social policy construct social problems as worthy of social work interventions.

Advisors to dissertation: Associate Professors Katarina Alexius and Maritha Jacobsson (CESAR, Uppsala University).

Last modified: 2022-03-22