Adopting Ubuntu in teaching social work

Research output: Book chapter/Published conference paperChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review


The word Ubuntu has become widely known around the world as an African humanitarian wisdom that promotes international solidarity and Indigenous knowledge. The appeal of Ubuntu,as an African traditional philosophy, is the emphasis on concern for fellow human beings. The primary aim of this critical literature review is to demonstrate the role Ubuntu can play in enriching social work and shifting the Euro-American foundations of the profession in teaching diaspora African students and practicing social work with diaspora African communities. The humanitarian values of Ubuntu, however, need not be limited to Africans.
This chapter explores how Ubuntu can be adopted in teaching social work and also enriching social work theoretical underpinnings. Social work has roots in Western philosophical foundations and cultural experiences, with a primary focus on supporting disadvantaged people in communities where it is practiced. However, there is a recognised need to expand this Western orientation to include other views as social work expands to be a global academic and practice profession.
An approach to learning and teaching based on Ubuntu has been described as ‘Ubuntugogy’ (Bangura, 2005). Ubuntugogy represents a holistic educational paradigm where education plays a role beyond an individual’s acquisition of knowledge and skills but instead aims at total development for the individual scholar, their community and their physical and social environment. Social work education is aimed at equipping students with the skills to contribute to the welfare of other human beings in the same way Ubuntugogy recognises the importance of mastering skills to transform individual learners and their communities. Both are therefore focused on practical education to create a world that meets the needs of the individuals and their communities.
Ubuntu approaches view education as a means for struggle for survival and liberation from oppression. There are similar approaches in education literature that emphasise the cultural and historical aspects of education (Lave, 2019). Ubuntu philosophy has roots in African traditions and history that also have clear echoes in other traditional societies that emphasise interdependence and relationships between people and their physical world in an intricate web of life.
Social work can learn from Ubuntu if it is to move beyond its traditional Western roots. Ubuntu and social work share the commonality of concern for human welfare. Ubuntu goes a step further in emphasising the intricate linkages between humans and nature in a non-hierarchical web. Social work can also enrich Ubuntu with its body of knowledge, accumulated since the late 19th century, in practical application of the identified Ubuntu ideals. This chapter presents an attempt at such a dialogue.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationTeaching and learning in higher education
Subtitle of host publicationThe context being, interculturality and new knowledge systems
EditorsMargaret Kumar, Thushari Welikala
Place of PublicationBingley, UK
PublisherEmerald Group Publishing Limited
Number of pages14
Edition1st edition
ISBN (Electronic)9781800430068, 9781800430082
ISBN (Print)9781800430075
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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