Colonialism and Welfare

Colonialism and Welfare

Social Policy and the British Imperial Legacy

Edited by James Midgley and David Piachaud

The British Empire covered three centuries, five continents and one-quarter of the world’s population. Its legacy continues, shaping the societies and welfare policies of much of the modern world. In this book, for the first time, this legacy is explored and analysed.

Chapter 2: Imperialism, Colonialism and Social Welfare

James Midgley

Subjects: social policy and sociology, comparative social policy


James Midgley The study of government social welfare policies emerged as a coherent academic field of inquiry at American and British universities after the Second World War. Initially, social policy scholarship was a domestic affair focused almost exclusively on government social welfare provision at the national level. The first studies specifically dedicated to comparative inquiry were published in the 1960s and they were generally descriptive, documenting statutory welfare provisions in a handful of Western countries such as Britain, France, the United States and Sweden (Jenkins, 1969; Rodgers et al., 1968). Despite these important efforts, international social policy research remained constrained by its narrow preoccupation with the Western nations. Developments in the majority of the world’s nation states that comprised what was then known as the ‘Third World’ were largely ignored. The situation changed in the 1980s when social policy scholars began to focus attention on a larger number of countries, including the developing countries of the Global South. Official reports on social welfare in these countries had previously been published by national governments and international agencies such as the United Nations and the International Labour Organization (ILO) but now their social policies were subjected to systematic academic analysis. It was in this context that some social policy scholars drew attention to the imperial legacy, pointing out that the statutory social services of many developing countries originated during the colonial period and were largely shaped by the colonial experience. This chapter summarizes this research and offers an introductory overview of the...

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