A Handbook of Comparative Social Policy
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A Handbook of Comparative Social Policy

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.
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Chapter 5: Defining Comparative Social Policy

Jochen Clasen


5 Defining comparative social policy Jochen Clasen The above title implies that comparative social policy is something which can be defined. Why not provide a neat definition in the glossary, rather than devoting an entire chapter to it? The reason is that any attempt at defining the term within the space of a paragraph or two 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 which 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 useful 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...

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