This article focuses on social pedagogy and how social pedagogical approaches are used in Swedish welfare contexts. Social pedagogy as a phenomenon has existed in a variety of settings and during different periods of time. However, the meaning of social pedagogy as a concept depends to a great extent on the context in which it occurs, and the concept therefore has various connotations. The aim of this article is to analyse and discuss trends, directions and goals in social pedagogical practice. Three research projects (cases) are described, analysed and related to three theoretical models. The three cases – (1) a ‘drive-in football’ project for young people in a suburb, (2) an alternative residential caresetting for young people with learning disabilities, and (3) a ‘future workshop’ for older people – involved different situations and different audiences, all with elements of marginalisation and exclusion. The analysis of the three examples shows that social pedagogical practice in the Swedish context is characterised by the challenge of balancing the tensions between the individual and the collective, between emancipation and adaptation and between action and negotiation. The social pedagogical activities are also characterised by the fact that they all contain social, practical and existential dimensions of social support and an approach rooted in ethical core values.