Elgar original reference
Edited by Patricia Kennett
Introduction: the changing context of comparative social policy
The field of comparative social enquiry has grown dramatically since the 1960s, in terms of the number of studies being undertaken, the range of approaches used and the countries analysed. The analytical emphasis on the notions of modernization and convergence, and social expenditure as a proportion of GNP as the measure of welfare effort, whilst still evident in contemporary cross-national research, ceased to dominate the comparative landscape from the 1980s. There is now much more interest in recognizing and explaining qualitative as well as quantitative differences in types of welfare systems, addressing the role of institutions and ideas; acknowledgement that formal social policies are only one element in the arrangement of welfare and that social policy is not just about ameliorating the impact of social inequality or altruism but itself contributes to social divisions in society. There has been a greater recognition of diversity and the importance of analysing context, processes, culture and the outcomes of social policies across countries and their impact on different groups. The changing discourse around social policy and the welfare state can also be associated with the economic and political conditions of the 1980s, which were in marked contrast to what had gone before. In many OECD countries, post-1945 was an era in which the notion of Keynesian welfare capitalism, in its various institutional forms, incorporated a commitment to extended social citizenship and a certain minimum standard of life and security as a matter of right.