Hans Thiersch’s Concept of Lifeworld Orientation

Seminar Paper, 2009

11 Pages, Grade: 1


Table of contents


1. Hans Thiersch

2. Theory of social education

3. The concept of life-world orientation
3.1 Development of the concept
3.2 Goal of life-world orientation
3.3 Dimensions of life-world-oriented social work
3.4 Structural and hand-oriented social work
3.5 Life-world-oriented youth welfare

4. Summary



In the following paper I deal with the concept of lifeworld orientation by Hans Thiersch. At the beginning, Hans Thiersch's curriculum vitae is briefly described. The second point deals with his theory of social pedagogy, which is closely related to lifeworld orientation. The remainder of my paper will deal with the concept of lifeworld orientation, first outlining the development of the concept. Then the aim of this concept will be presented, followed by the dimensions and principles of action of lifeworld-oriented social work. Finally, the individual aspects of lifeworld-oriented youth welfare will be explained and the work will be rounded off with a short summary.

1. Hans Thiersch

Hans Thiersch was born in Recklinghausen in North Rhine-Westphalia in 1935. In 1962 he received his doctorate and became professor of education at the Kiel University of Education in 1967. His habilitation follows in 1970. In the same year, he was appointed Professor of Education and Social Pedagogy at the University of Tübingen. There he heads the Institute of Educational Sciences I in the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences and, together with Prof. Dr. Siegfried Müller, the Department of Social Pedagogy. He is also active in the German Society for Educational Sciences, where he serves as a member of the board and chairman from 1978 to 1984. From 1980 to 1984, he was a member of the Study Reform Commission, which developed recommendations for the field of social work education. Hans Thiersch is also a member of the expert commission on the 8th Youth Report on the aspirations and achievements of youth welfare (cf. Engelke 1993, p. 271).

Numerous publications have been published by Hans Thiersch and he is also co-editor of several journals. Hans Thiersch's main areas of work are: Questions of hermeneutics and socio-educational theory, problems of the definition of deviant behaviour, problems of counselling, home education and socio-educational youth work. In the Tübingen Association for Social Therapeutic Residential Groups, Thiersch gained contact with practice through his work (cf. Engelke 1993, pp. 271-272).

2. Theory of social education

According to Engelke (1993), the basis of the theory of social pedagogy for Hans Thiersch is a theory of society which simultaneously deals with the generation and definition of social problems and learning problems, as well as the specific forms of intervention as a social reaction to them.

For Thiersch, the theory of social education/social work is divided into five dimensions that are important to him (cf. Engelke 1993, p. 274):

1) The living environment of socio-educational addressees

Essential questions here are how people live and what their everyday life is like. Everyday life is the starting point for helping people to help themselves. In this way, life possibilities are to be released and stabilised, and framework conditions are to be changed. In this way, a more self-determined and free and thus more humane life could be made possible (cf. Engelke 1993, p. 274).

2) The social function of social pedagogy

The focus here is on the question of the social functions of social pedagogical institutions and forms of intervention.

For Thiersch, social work is characterised by a contradiction between given structural violence and the claims of the welfare state, between the task of supporting the existing distribution of power, solving conflicts inconspicuously and with little effort, and the representation of the life rights of all, especially those who get a raw deal in society. As already mentioned in the first dimension of social pedagogical theory, everyday social pedagogy should above all help the addressees to organise their everyday life more successfully and thus help them to help themselves. The question for everyday-oriented social pedagogy can therefore only be whether these requirements can be made possible with the help of the use of institutional and professional resources. However, this can only succeed if social work in its concrete work also helps the addressees out of poverty, helplessness and entanglements in everyday life and thus also tries to change conditions socio-politically at the same time (cf. Engelke 1993, pp. 276-277).

3) The socio-educational institutions

The institutional-professional possibilities are linked in a complicated way to the everyday life of the addressees. Social work that is oriented towards everyday life only succeeds when the institutional possibilities are criticised by everyday life, just as the institutional possibilities criticise everyday life. In order to make these possibilities accessible, it is necessary to ask how the specific socio-educational institutions have been formed. In doing so, it is necessary to ask about the specific achievements and also about the disciplining, oppressing and stigmatising mechanisms of these institutions. According to Thiersch, this requires a differentiated discussion of the socio-educational institutions of state, public and private providers (cf. Engelke 1993, p. 277).

4) Socio-pedagogical action

On this point, it is the increasing professionalisation that goes hand in hand with the institutionalisation of social pedagogy/social work that Thiersch questions. To what extent should pedagogical professionalisation function in a field of work that does not need to be professionalised as a whole, since professionals and non-professionals can work side by side and with each other, and how far should it go? Professionalisation, which must be verifiable and identifiable, also creates a distance to the clients, which always includes domination (cf. Engelke 1993, p. 278).

5) The scientific character of social pedagogy / social work (cf. Engelke 1993, p. 274)

The last point of the Five Dimensions, which for Thiersch the theory of social pedagogy / social work is essential, is not explained in more detail by Engelke (1993).

3. The concept of life-world orientation

3.1 Development of the concept

Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi already saw pedagogy as a socially critical, anthropological and practical science. He deepened the idea of popular education from the Age of Enlightenment and developed a pedagogy that also included socio-critical, economic and cultural-political aspects as well as all-round human education. The task of this pedagogy should also be to care for the poor, the old, the unemployed and the homeless. Education should eliminate injustice and each person should be able to live according to his or her abilities. These views were also held in Germany after Pestalozzi. However, the impact of this on the development of society into the modern welfare state, which separates social policy and social pedagogy, is very small. Social pedagogy had the task of supporting, advising, educating and training people in everyday life problems. Social policy, on the other hand, decides on the economic and political as well as cultural framework conditions (cf. Engelke 1993, p. 270).

In the period after the First World War, pedagogy, which is hermeneutically and pragmatically oriented, deals with the human lifeworld. An example of this is Hermann Nohl, who tries to understand the initial situation of a child in a life situation and the difficulties associated with it, and thus derives pedagogical help. Social pedagogy claims to be the field responsible for everything that has to do with education, but not with family and school. It is understood as a practical science, a science based on the responsibility of action (cf. Engelke 1993, pp. 270-271).

The pedagogical fields of action in practice expand in the 1960s. At the same time, a critically radicalised self-reflection of social pedagogical action within its social conditions begins. New empirical research methods are developed for the first time and social pedagogy opens up to the behavioural and social sciences (cf. Engelke 1993, p. 271).

Since about the 1970s, the concept of lifeworld orientation has developed as an answer to two opposing social challenges. In the late 1960s, social work was characterised by a politically determined analysis of its function within a critically rational discussion. Thus, questions concerning action and the concrete management of living conditions were pushed aside. On the other hand, social work was increasingly seen in terms of specialisation and a tendency towards expert rule. Political and professional alienation also led to the design of new concepts (cf. Thiersch et al. 2005, p. 165).

Thus, the concept of lifeworld orientation developed with the socio-political goal of just living conditions, democratisation and emancipation. Under the sign of just conditions, everyone should have a right to understanding and help in everyday life. With regard to the profession, the concept adhered to the chances of legally secured, professionally responsible work (cf. Thiersch et al. 2005, p. 165).

In the 1980s, the concept of lifeworld social work became more differentiated in the wake of the increasing individualisation and pluralisation of living conditions, as well as the less pronounced traditional patterns of life. It was therefore precisely in its self-evidence that the concept of lifeworld was to be seen as problematic. Social work reacted to these conditions with the aim of staging new and resilient living conditions and differentiating offers of help (cf. Thiersch et al. 2005, p. 165).

As a result of the establishment of social work, the concept of lifeworld orientation was able to establish itself. This also happened mainly in the context of the development of the new Child and Youth Welfare Act and the Eighth Youth Report. Now, however, problems of practical realisation came to the fore. As the concept became less precise in its broad use and demanded more precise reformulations. According to Thiersch (2005), this demand is still relevant in the current situation. Economically and globally structured working and living conditions oppose the concept. Further challenges lie in the fact that the needs and interests of the addressees in their lifeworld must be consistently taken as a starting point, and this with a special commitment to the complexity of pedagogical situations. Questions of transparency of action, methodological orientation and evaluation in order to control successes as well as organisational design and economic survival could thus be displaced. These issues have so far been more related to management and service discourses. As a counterbalance to this, however, social work insists on openness and complexity of a situationally and communicatively determined work (cf. Thiersch et al. 2005, pp. 165-166).

3.2 Goal of life-world orientation

The orientation towards the world of life is the basis of people's everyday experiences in their social situation. A more successful everyday life should be made possible by using the professional skills to reorganized given living conditions. On the one hand, this refers to everyday life in its social conditionality, on the other hand, the stubborn structures in everyday life, such as the practical coping attempts and the self-image of those involved. In doing so, the life-world orientation considers above all the space of experience, the everyday, structured by the influence of time, space and relationships and the location of resources and problems within the social field (cf. Thiersch et al. 2005, p. 164).

Lifeworld orientation is both descriptive and normative. In the given circumstances, she is looking for options that could refer to creative spaces. The action concept includes trust in potentials and development opportunities and combines this with respect for the given. People, tasks and relationships as well as helpful structures in time and space are linked. It acts in the interplay of trust, proposals of alternatives and confrontations. The keywords promote, protect and counteract are expressed here (cf. Thiersch et al. 2005, pp. 164-165).

3.3 Dimensions of life-world-oriented social work

Everyday social worktries to start where the difficulties for the person concerned have developed, in the complexity of the given everyday life. Own experiences, resources and also solution strategies of the client are accepted. Within given social references, i.e. in families, in peer groups in the neighbourhood or in associations as well as within given life situations, i.e. in the elderly, in men or women or in young people, the addressees are understood in their living space. However, it is only possible to help a more successful everyday life if social work in its concrete work also tries to help the addressees out of helplessness, poverty and entanglement in everyday life. At the same time, attempts are made to change the situation in socio-political conditions (cf. Thiersch 1986, p. 43).

According to Thiersch, Grunwald and Köngeter (2005), there are several structures of living environment in the context of lifeworld orientation that are important for social work.

1) The experienced time: Lifeworld-oriented social work acts in the dimension of the experiential time. Life phases, as well as future perspectives, are fragile within the curriculum vitae. Within social change, farewells and transitions are becoming increasingly difficult, the future and past are open, the present gains an independent weight. For the future, courage and skills are increasingly needed, as it is characterized by openness. The life-world-oriented social work refers here to coping tasks of the present and the respective peer culture, in which adolescents secure themselves with regard to their possibilities and their lifestyle (cf. Thiersch et al. 2005, p. 171).


Excerpt out of 11 pages


Hans Thiersch’s Concept of Lifeworld Orientation
Klagenfurt University
Catalog Number
hans, thiersch’s, concept, lifeworld, orientation
Quote paper
Ina Reimann (Author), 2009, Hans Thiersch’s Concept of Lifeworld Orientation, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/1164196


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