Professor Harry Ferguson

Professor Harry Ferguson

Department of Social Work and Social Care
Professor of Social Work

Contact details

Muirhead Tower
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Harry joined the university in 2017 as Professor of Social Work. He took up his first lectureship in 1990 and has held professorial posts since 2000. He has taught and researched widely in the areas of social work and child protection, domestic abuse, fatherhood, masculinities and men's lives, mobile research methods, ethnography, and the social science of social work.


  • Ph.D. Social and Political Sciences, University of Cambridge, 1992.
  • BA (Hons., First Class) Applied Social Studies and Certificate of Qualification in Social Work, University of Bradford, July 1987.


Harry previously held posts at the University of Nottingham, UWE Bristol and in his native Ireland at University College Dublin, Trinity College Dublin and University College Cork.


HHarry teaches in the areas of theory and social work, research methods, child protection and social work practice.

Postgraduate supervision

Harry is fortunate to be working with several PhD students in his areas of expertise and welcomes enquires and applications from prospective candidates.


Research interests

Harry has been theorising and conducting empirical studies into social work practice since the early 1990s and his research has been funded by government and non-government agencies, the EU and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). Harry has drawn on a range of sociological concepts (risk society, reflexivity, intimacy, individualization, life politics, mobilities, material culture, psycho-social studies) to inform his empirical research with the aim of illuminating the world of practice and the complex relationships that exist between social workers and service users.

Harry is currently completing a two year ESRC funded qualitative longitudinal study of social work practice and child protection which is using ethnographic methods to research practitioners as they conduct long-term casework with children and families and the organisational cultures within which the work goes on and the impact of the kinds of support and supervision provided. He is also involved with a Department for Education funded evaluation of an innovative social work project that is seeking to embed high quality relationship based practice across the workforce.

Current projects (since 2010)

2016-18: ‘Organisations, staff support and the dynamics and quality of social work practice: A qualitative longitudinal study of child protection work’, ESRC Standard Grant, Open Call, £677,000 [Principle Investigator].

2015-16: Evaluation of Leeds Innovation Project, Transforming Services and Outcomes for Children and Families Through Restorative Justice, Department for Education c£440,000 [Co-Investigator].

2014-15: Evaluation of child and family social workers well-being, experience and the impact of Continuing Professional Development, Nottinghamshire County Council.

2012-13: Performing child protection: How (and where) social workers relate to children and parents on home visits and in other spaces, ESRC, £99,900.

2010: Informing Practice to Increase the Presence, Involvement and Engagement of Fathers: A service evaluation of the Nottingham Family Nurse Partnership, Nottingham City Primary Care Trust.

Other activities

Harry has given in the region of 130 papers at national and international conferences and seminars/workshops to academic and practitioner audiences, most by invitation. Some 70 papers have been given since 2013, reflecting the deepening interest in his published work and the findings of his ethnographic research into social work practice in child protection.

Harry has also published numerous articles (well over a hundred) addressing his specialist interests in newspapers, especially the Guardian, Irish Times and Irish Independent. Examples of articles published in the Guardian include: ‘Why are social workers so reluctant to celebrate their achievements?’, March, 20, 2017; ‘To prevent child sex abuse, victims must not be seen as morally inferior’, March 11, 2015; ‘Seven years on, why is the Baby P case still making headlines?’, October 27, 2014; ‘Newly-qualified social workers – you are not all doomed’, September  23, 2014; ‘No, Mr Gove, social workers don't lack compassion or intellect. They lack time and resources’, November 12, 2013; ‘Daniel Pelka: why social workers become 'helpless'’, September 24, 2013; ‘Social workers deserve recognition, rather than this endless criticism, November 13, 2012; ‘The wake-up call of Baby P’, September 16, 2011;  ‘The Laming report: can we really put proposals into practice?’ March 13, 2009; ‘Doncaster: how do you prevent the unpredictable?’ September 5, 2009; ‘Social workers now are better at child protection’, December 10, 2008; ‘To protect children we must first of all protect social workers’, November 13, 2008.


Journal articles (since 2000 only)

“Isn’t it funny the children that are further away we don’t think about as much?”: Using GPS to explore the Mobilities and Geographies of Social Work and Child Protection Practice, Children and Youth Services Review  (2019), 100. pp. 39-49. ISSN 0190-7409

How social workers reflect in action and when and why they don’t: the possibilities and limits to reflective practice in social work, Social Work Education, (2018), vol 37, 4, 415-427. 

How children become invisible in child protection work: Evidence from day-to-day social work practice, British Journal of Social Work, Vol 47, (2017), 1007-1023.

Professional helping as negotiation in motion: Social work as work on the move, Applied Mobilities, Vol. 1, (2016), 193-206.

Researching social work practice close up: Using ethnographic and mobile methods to understand encounters between social workers, children and families, British Journal of Social Work, 46, (2016), 153-168.

What social workers do in performing child protection work: evidence from research into face-to-face practice, Child and Family Social Work, Vol 21, (2016), 283-294.

Making home visits: Creativity and the embodied practices of home visiting in social work and child protection, Qualitative Social Work, (2016) doi: 10.1177/1473325016656751.

Patterns of engagement and non-engagement of young fathers in early intervention and safeguarding work, Social Policy and Society, vol. 15, (2016), 99-111.

Early intervention and holistic, relationship-based practice with fathers: Evidence from the work of the Family Nurse Partnership, Child and Family Social Work, Vol. 20, (2015), 96–105.

Editor of special issue of Child Abuse Review, Vol 21, (4) (2012), on working with fathers. Fathers, child abuse and child protection, Child Abuse Review, Vol 21, (4), (2012), 231-236.

Walks, home visits and atmospheres: Risk and the everyday Practices and mobilities of social work and child protection, British Journal of Social Work, Vol. 40, (2010), 1100-1117.

Therapeutic journeys: the car as a vehicle for working with children and families and theorizing practice, Journal of Social Work Practice, Vol. 24, no. 2, (2010), 121-138.

Performing child protection: Home visiting, movement and the struggle to reach the abused child, Child & Family Social Work, Vol 14, (2009), 471-480.

Driven to care: The car, automobility and social work, Mobilities, vol.4, no.2, (2009), 275-293. Liquid social work: Rethinking welfare interventions as mobile practices, British Journal of Social Work, 38, (2008), 561-579.

In continuo movimento: il social work liquido [Italian translation of ‘Liquid social work: Rethinking welfare interventions as mobile practices’], in Lavoro Sociale, vol. 4, numero 2, (2007), 151-168.

Abused and looked after children as moral dirt: Child abuse and institutional care in historical perspective, Journal of Social Policy, 36 (2007),123-139.

Working with violence, the emotions and the psycho-social dynamics of child protection: Reflections on the Victoria Climbie case, Social Work Education, Vol. 24, No. 7 (2005), pp. 781-795.

Per una teoria costruita sulle buone prassi: analisi critico-riflessiva di cio-che funziona, [Italian translation of ‘Outline of a Critical Best Practice Approach to Social Work and Social Care’ - see below], in Lavoro Sociale, vol. 4, numero 2, (2005), 163-180. 

Welfare, social exclusion and reflexivity: The case of child and woman protection, Journal of Social Policy, vol. 32, 2: (2003), 199-216.

In defence (and celebration) of individualization and life politics for social work, British Journal of Social Work, vol. 33: (2003) 699-707.

Outline of a critical best practice approach to social work and social care, British Journal of Social Work, vol 33, (2003) 1005-1024.

Protecting Irish children in time: Child abuse as a social problem and the development of the child protection system in the Republic of Ireland, in Ireland Develops: Administration and Social Policy 1953-2003, Dublin: Institute of Public Administration, 2003.

Critical Studies of Men in Ten European Countries: (4) Newspaper and media representations, Men and Masculinities, vol 6, 173-201 [with EU Network partners] (2003).

Critical Studies of Men in Ten European Countries: (1) The state of academic research, Men and Masculinities, vol 4, 380-408, [with EU Network partners] (2002). 

Critical Studies of Men in Ten European Countries: (2), The state of statistical information, Men and Masculinities, vol 5, 5-31, [with EU Network partners] (2002).

Critical Studies of Men in Ten European Countries: (3) The state of law and policy, Men and Masculinities, vol 5 [with EU Network partners], 2002, 192-217.

The European Research Network on Men in Europe: The Social Problem of Men, Journal of European Social Policy, Vol 11, May 2001, 171-173 (with EU Network partners).

Social Work, Individualization and Life Politics, British Journal of Social Work, vol. 31, 2001, 41-55.

Promoting child protection, welfare and healing: the case for developing best practice, Child & Family Social Work, vol. 6, 2001, 1-12.

‘States of Fear, child abuse and Irish society’, Doctrine and Life, vol 50, no 1, 2000.


Research Methods for Social Policy and Social Work, Bristol: Policy Press - co-editor with Alan Bryman and Saul Becker, 2012. Child Protection Practice, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

Best Practice in Social Work: Critical Perspectives, co-edited with Karen Jones and Barry Cooper, Palgrave, 2008 [Italian translation, September 2008; Korean translation, 2011].

Men and Masculinities in Europe: Critical Research on Men in Europe, The CROME Network, (ie partners in EU 5th Framework project), Whiting and Birch, 2006.

European Perspectives on Men and Masculinities, The CROME Network, (ie partners in EU 5th Framework project), Palgrave, 2006.

Protecting Children in Time: Child Abuse, Child Protection and the Consequences of Modernity, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

Keeping Children Safe: Child abuse, child protection and the promotion of welfare, Dublin: A&A Farmar, (with M. O’Reilly) 2001.

Changing Fathers: Fatherhood and Family Life in Modern Ireland: Cork: Collins Press (with Kieran McKeown and Dermot Rooney), 1998.

Protecting Irish Children: Investigation, Protection and Welfare, Special edition of Administration, Dublin: Institute of Public Administration, (edited with T. McNamara), 1996.

Social Policy: A Course Reader, Cork: University College Cork Centre for Adult and Continuing Education, 1996. On Behalf of the Child: Child Welfare, Child Protection and the Child Care Act 1991, Dublin: A&A Farmar, (edited with Pat Kenny) 1995.

The Violence Against Children Study Group (eds.), Taking Child Abuse Seriously: Contemporary issues in child protection theory and practice, London: Routledge 1990 [co-author with the Study Group]

Book chapters (since 2000, only).

Observing social work practice: Ethnographic and mobile methods in social work research, in Hardwick, L., Smith, R. and Worsley, A. (eds), Innovations in Social Work Research, London: Jessica Kingsley, 2015.

Olive Stevenson: A Life in Social Work Well Lived, Foreword to Olive Stevenson: Reflections on a Life in Social Work, a Personal and Professional Memoir, Buckingham: Hinton House Publishers, 2013.

Critical Best Practice, in Gray, M. and Webb, S. (eds), The New Politics of Social Work, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2013. Why is child protection so difficult?, in K. Burns and D. Lynch (eds), Keeping Children Safe: Critical Issues, Critical Times, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2012.

Mobilities of Welfare: the case of social work, in M. Buscher, J. Urry and K. Witcher (eds) Mobile Methods, London: Routledge, 2011. Anthony Giddens, in M. Gray and S. Webb (eds), Social Work Theories and Methods, London: Sage, 2010.

The experience of doing child protection, in K. Burns and D. Lynch, (eds.), Child Protection and Welfare Social Work: Contemporary Themes and Practice Perspectives, Dublin, A. & A. Farmar, 2008.

‘Lives of their own’ free from violence: Individualization and child welfare interventions, in C. Howard (ed), Contested Individualization: Contemporary Debates on Personhood, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2007.

Ireland: Men and Masculinities in a Late-Modern Society, in Men and Masculinities in Europe: Critical Research on Men in Europe, The CROME Network, (ie EU Framework 5 partners), Whiting and Birch, 2006.

Trust, Risk and Expert Systems: Child Protection, Modernity and the (Changing) Management of Life and Death, in A. Moran & S. Watson (eds), Trust, Risk and Uncertainty. Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

Men, Masculinities and ‘Europe’, in M. Kimmel, J.Hearn and R.W. Connell, eds., Handbook of Studies on Men and Masculinities, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage- with 9 EU Network partners. 2004.

Social Work in late-modern Ireland, in M. Payne and S. Shardlow (eds), Social Work in the British Isles, London: Jessica Kingsley (with F.W. Powell), 2002.

Men and masculinities in late-modern Ireland, in B. Pease and K. Pringle (eds), Globalizing Men: Men and masculinities in international perspective, London: Zed Books, 2002.

Ireland, in B.M. Schwartz-Kenney, M.McCauley and M.Epstein (eds), Child abuse: a Global View, Westport: Greenwood Publishing, 2001.

Learning from the Past: Child abuse and institutional care in historical perspective, in L. MacAodha (ed.), Child Abuse in Institutional Care: Learning from the Past and Hoping for the Future, Dublin: National Conference of Priests of Ireland, 2000.

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