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Vulnerable Youth in Urban Areas

Exploring challenges and opportunities through a sustainability perspective

How do social workers act to promote a more sustainable future in cities?

How do we as urban citizens want our future cities to be?

What are the social dimensions of sustainability, and how are these linked to economic and environmental sustainability?

And what are the values the social work profession wants to promote when producing socially just and sustainable cities?


This module focuses on social work with urban youth.

Through a continuous focus on sustainability, ethics, and values in social work, three study loops will guide us towards the best answers to the questions.

The three loops are:

  • Loop 1: Sustainable transitions to adult life in an accelerated era (3 weeks)
  • Loop 2: Politics and planning in an urban era: homelessness and precarious living conditions in welfare and wealth cities (3 weeks)
  • Loop 3: Gender, sexuality, and diversity: challenges and opportunities in an individualized and competitive era (3 weeks + 1 exam week)

Pedagogically, the loops are connected through a consistent philosophical and communicative method called protreptic – a method that is well suited to promote social sustainability.

Protreptic (which was first developed by the Greeks around 400 BC) means ‘to turn’ towards the essential values of life: ‘the good,’ ‘the just,’ ‘the true,’ ‘the beautiful.’

A protreptic dialogue has no right or wrong answers. Thus, it can be a space where people in different power positions can meet and participate on equal ground. As such, protreptic dialogue give voice to those who are usually not heard.

In social work, a similar focus on liberation, the contradiction of power relations, and dialogue versus anti-dialogue can be found in the work of Paulo Freire. In the module, we use his directions for action in dialogue to facilitate value-based dialogues about vulnerable youth and urban development.

The dialogues take place between social work students, teachers, and social workers who are working with vulnerable youth in the city (e.g., they are vulnerable due to long-term unemployment, homelessness, substance abuse, sex work/prostitution, loneliness, crime, lack of rights, etc.)

The module, which includes a range of field visits in Copenhagen and practice related exercises, utilizes research-based teaching materials from the Erasmus+ project Urban SOS.

Throughout the module, we explore the organization of social work with vulnerable youth in all sectors (civil, private, and public) through the lens of critical social work theory.

During the loops, we will work with concepts such as identity, individualization, social capital, social acceleration, urbanization, place, gender, diversity, stigma, agency, sustainability, etc.

We will also discuss which social work tools, approaches, and methods are best suited to act on challenges and opportunities for vulnerable youth in an urban era in the most sustainable manner.

Learning objectives

The student possesses knowledge about:

  • Welfare systems and urban policies in a comparative perspective
  • Social mobility, family patterns, gender, and sexuality
  • Social problems and living conditions related to different groups of youth in urban areas
  • Social work, approaches, and methods in a comparative and sustainable perspective

The student possesses skills to:

  • Identify, describe, and analyze social problems in relation to the module themes
  • Communicate about the module themes in a value-based, transparent, and ethical manner
  • Consider the best employment of relevant methods aimed at problem solution in relation to the module themes

The student possesses competencies to:

  • Identify and reflect on ethical dilemmas in relation to the themes of the course
  • Apply critical thinking and reflection in relation to the students’ values


Individual oral examination with internal grading.


Dorthe Juliane Høvids

Senior Lecturer, International Coordinator

+45 51 63 27 46