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Edited by Patricia Kennett
Chapter 9: Structured diversity: a framework for critically comparing welfare states?
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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