Social Work and Minorities

The theme of ERIS Fall Conference that took place in Lille (France) on October 12th and 13th 2017, in collaboration with Lille Catholic University and ERIS (European Research Institute in Social work), was:


The expression "minority" oftentimes arouses heated controversies on international, European and national levels; it remains a difficult concept to define. A sociological approach allows the phenomenon of minority to be regarded as a constructed social relationship structuring social reality. What appears to be central to this concept is the process of "minorization", a situation of domination, of vulnerability, and even of exclusion of the groups thus identified. Depending on the circumstances, the minority issue could therefore also include the gender gap, the disability issue, but also concern more broadly "all groups whose existence is not covered by the statements of legitimacy of a society" 1.

The issue of minorities is a major problem for governments and represents a complex challenge for social work. While international texts have laid the foundations for issues regarding the management of diversity, the dominant culture persists in its difficulty in taking into account questions concerning the best way to live together with respect for cultural diversity and human rights. One of the major challenges of our contemporary societies is to reconcile cultural diversity and social justice.

With a set of plenary sessions and workshops, our conference focused on bringing to light the political, social and identity-related dynamics that contribute to the emergence of the minority phenomenon in various countries. We sought to reflect on the relationship between nationalism, citizenship, democracy, and the management of cultural diversity. Moreover, the aim of this international meeting, bringing together diversified points of view and knowledge from numerous countries in Europe and beyond, was to promote the passage from invisibility to recognition of minority situations and groups, and open new horizons for social work internationally.

The following themes were addressed during the two day symposium:

  1. How were minorities constructed in Europe?
  2. Which State model would allow the best level of well-being and recognition of minorities?
  3. How can we foster a collective desire to live together in order to support the unity of the social cohesion within our Society?
  4. Why and how can we ensure respect for the rights of minorities?
  5. Can we speak of equality by right? How is difference treated in the various European countries?
  6. In the medical and social fields, how do we take into account the notion of "difference" in the support provided? What are the professional practices in Europe?
  7. What are the ethical issues regarding diversity and minorities?
  8. Worldwide experiences: what can Europe learn about global perspectives from other countries?

Emmanuel JOVELIN & Scientific committee ISL / UCL

1 Fenet A., « La question des minorités dans l’ordre du droit », Les minorités à l’âge de l’Etat-nation, Paris, Fayard, 1985, p.385.

Updated: 29. 05. 2018