Digital social work: conceptualising a hybrid anticipatory practice

Sarah Pink*, Harry Ferguson, Laura Kelly

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

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While the use of digital media and technologies has impacted social work for several years, the Covid-19 pandemic and need for physical distancing dramatically accelerated the systematic use of video calls and other digital practices to interact with service users. This article draws from our research into child protection to show how digital social work was used during the pandemic, critically analyse the policy responses, and make new concepts drawn from digital and design anthropology available to the profession to help it make sense of these developments. While policy responses downgraded digital practices to at best a last resort, we argue that the digital is now an inevitable and necessary element of social work practice, which must be understood as a hybrid practice that integrates digital practices such as video calls and face-to-face interactions. Moving forward, hybrid digital social work should be a future-ready element of practice, designed to accommodate uncertainties as they arise and sensitive to the improvisatory practice of social workers.

Original languageEnglish
JournalQualitative Social Work
Early online date18 Mar 2021
Publication statusPublished - 18 Mar 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: The research this article is based on was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, Grant Number ES/V003798/1. We are deeply grateful to the local authorities, managers, social workers, family support workers and families for their generosity in allowing us to research their experiences.


  • anxiety
  • Covid-19 pandemic
  • digital intimacy
  • digital materiality
  • Digital social work
  • trust

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


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