Table of Contents

A Handbook of Comparative Social Policy, Second Edition

A Handbook of Comparative Social Policy, Second Edition

Elgar original reference

Edited by Patricia Kennett

The current context of social policy is one in which many of the old certainties of the past have been eroded. The predominantly inward-looking, domestic preoccupation of social policy has made way for a more integrated, international and outward approach to analysis which looks beyond the boundaries of the state. It is in this context that this Handbook brings together the work of key commentators in the field of comparative analysis in order to provide comprehensive coverage of contemporary debates and issues in cross-national social policy research.

Chapter 9: Structured diversity: a framework for critically comparing welfare states?

Norman Ginsburg

Subjects: social policy and sociology, comparative social policy


This chapter explores the idea of ‘critical’ comparison of welfare states. Here the term ‘critical’ implies a focus on the performance of welfare states in both mitigating and reinforcing social injustices and inequalities. A critical perspective does not assume that the welfare state is necessarily a progressive force for social justice and equality. It holds the welfare state up to critical scrutiny, which here will be confined to reviewing its impact on the social divisions of class, gender and ‘race’. The concept of ‘the welfare state’ is equated here with the social policy regimes developed in the rich nation-states of the West after World War II, which also embodied the normative idea of the state as a progressive social force. This was, of course, a particularly prominent ideology in the West during the Cold War, when the Soviet regime claimed a more egalitarian ideology at least with respect to class and gender. Today a critical perspective is aligned with the social movements that have challenged and resisted injustice and inequality, while at the same time defending the elements of the welfare state that have advanced their cause. There are three broad approaches to comparing welfare states, all of which are useful for critical comparison – functionalism, path dependency and regime analysis.

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