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Edited by Patricia Kennett
Chapter 4: Defining comparative social policy
Any attempt to ‘define’ comparative social policy in just a few words is bound to run into trouble. This is not only because of the difficulty in characterizing a composite term, but also due to the contested nature of both of its elements, that is, the substantive focus of social policy and the comparative approach. Is social policy an academic discipline or a field of study? Which particular programmes should be regarded as social policy and which should not? What is comparative analysis and is it different from other qualitative or quantitative research strategies in social science? Is there any scientific research that is not, explicitly or implicitly, comparative in nature? The first part of this chapter addresses some of these definitional problems. It does not make any claims to be exhaustive but aims to highlight instead the limitations of delving into an extensive definitional mapping exercise of what are ultimately ambiguous and amorphous substantive and methodological boundaries. A more helpful approach to appreciating what comparative social policy is about is simply to review some of the major contributions to the field. As will be seen below, comparative social policy has not only grown enormously over the past three decades or so, but has also progressed to a considerable degree.
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