18-20 April 2018 | University of Edinburgh
Susan Kemp

University of Washington, USA and University of Auckland, NZ


Susan P. Kemp PhD is Professor of Social Work at the University of Auckland School of Counselling, Human Services and Social Work and Charles O. Cressey Endowed Professor at the University of Washington School of Social Work, Seattle.  Her research interests focus on place, environment and community as foci of social work practice; low-income children, youth and families; public child welfare; and social work history and theory. Dr. Kemp’s scholarship is deeply informed by her practice experience as a community-based child welfare social worker in New Zealand and a consultant to urban community agencies in the United States. She is co-author of Person-Environment Practice: The Social Ecology of Interpersonal Helping (Aldine de Gruyter, 1997), and co-editor of The Paradox of Urban Space: Inequality and Transformation in Marginalized Communities (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), and Communities, Neighborhoods, and Health: Expanding the Boundaries of Place (Springer, 2011). Her current work engages questions related to urban environments, marginalized populations, and spatial justice, including social work’s early history of urban environmental activism. A founding member of Urban@UW, a transdisciplinary hub for urban research and practice, she also serves as national co-chair of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare’s Grand Challenge for Social Work, Create Social Responses to a Changing Environment.


Dr. Kemp has been honored with visiting professorships at Columbia University in New York and Hokusei Gakuen University in Japan. In 2011, she received the Richard Lodge Prize for distinguished contributions to research and scholarship in social work, and in 2017 was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Social Work and Social Welfare. 


Social Work in Turbulent Times: Looking Back to See Ahead

Globally, social work researchers and practitioners are navigating turbulent and transitional times, in a world at once fundamentally connected and worryingly fractured. At such times, the contextualizing lens of history can provide helpful guidance, both encouraging and cautionary. My subtitle for this keynote, “looking back to see ahead,” is borrowed from Helen Harris Perlman, who in a book of the same title reminded social workers that “if we look to the past as a way seeing more clearly and penetratingly its meanings and uses for our near present and future, it may serve us well.” In making a case “for” history, however, it is vital that we consider not only what it has to teach us, for better or worse, about the dilemmas of the present and possibilities going forward, but what kinds of histories and historical research, grounded in which knowledges, we consider sufficient for the times we live in and the future we are trying to envision. My aim is thus to explore the potential for a reinvigorated historical imagination in contemporary social work science and practice, drawing from historical research (my own and that of social work history colleagues around the world), recent immersion in transdisciplinary questions, teams, and projects, and a personal biography of and inclination toward transnationalism. And what better place to do this than at the University of Edinburgh, as its renowned social work program celebrates its centenary year.