From Superwomen to Wicked Witches? Perceptions of Social Workers in Film and TV-series


There has been research on the topic of "social work on film, television and in the media" for several decades. From the 1990s, Dyer (1993) and Hall (1997) contributed arguments about how the media representations of different groups (e.g. social workers) and different themes (e.g. social work) have a great impact on how the aforementioned are perceived by the rest of society. Freeman and Valentine's studies from the early 2000s have shown that social workers are presented stereotypically, something that has also been referred to in later research. Freeman and Valentine examined social work in 44 films in the time span 1983 - 1998, and found that almost all representations of social workers had certain characteristics. "If people believe what they see in the movies, social workers are mostly women, mostly white, middle-class, heterosexual; they mostly work in child welfare, are likely to be incompetent, have a tendency to engage in sexual relations with clients, mostly work with people living in poverty, and mostly function to maintain the societal status quo" (Freeman & Valentine, 2004, p. 159). Is this a prevailing interpretation in 2024? We have investigated a selection of movies and TV-series in order to figure this, and this will bepart of our discussion during the SIG.

One important perspective to consider is that many different professions are portrayed on film and TV, and these portrayals are not always in line with reality either. Looking more closely at social work in particular is about finding out how this can affect motivation for education and professional practice, trust and status for the profession, and social worker identities. This is in line with the ESWRA conference theme as both popular films and TV-series are a highly possible sourceof influence which is very likely to shape the discourse and change the social work identity. Most people are not in contact with social workers during their lifetime, and have to rely on representations of social work and social workers in news, films, TV-series, social media and "through the grapevine".
This Special Interest Group seeks to transgress traditional academic disciplines and national boundaries, identifying local, regional and international responses to current representations and discourses of social work and welfare, poverty and need.

Aims of the Special Interest Group

- Identify, explore, evaluate and compare international portrayals and representations of social work in film and TV-series
- Develop innovative and shared approaches to analysing social work in film and TV-series
- Establish a platform to present and share knowledge and learning which contributes to a better understanding of the purpose of social work and the advancement of social justice and community wellbeing


In this half day SIG-event, the programme is as follows:

13:00 Introduction of the background of the SIG

13:15 Presentation of the participants, getting to know eachother

13:45 Working with opposites

14:15 Selected moviecuts

14:30 Discussion

15:15 Plan ahead

15:30 Goodbye for now!


We offer popcorn, high spirits and big smiles. Welcome to join us for some new insights, refreshing perspectives and interesting discussions.

The Convenors of this SIG are

Ass. Prof. Jannike Vik (NTNU - Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim) 

(In absentia: Prof. Dr Emilio José Gómez Ciriano (Universidad de Castilla-La Mancha))