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 6: Conceptualizing State and Society

Graham Crow


Graham Crow Introduction The practice of comparison in social science requires us to make decisions about the unit of analysis to be adopted and the operational definition of that unit. The question, ‘What do comparative social scientists compare?’, may be met with the time-honoured answer, ‘societies’, but to do so is problematic for a number of reasons. Societies are notoriously difficult to define because their boundaries are not readily identifiable and are arguably becoming increasingly blurred. Furthermore, the economic, political, cultural and other dimensions of a society do not necessarily coincide, and as a result comparative social scientists have to ‘cope with the patterned mess that is human society’ (Mann, 1993: 4). This problem is arguably becoming increasingly acute in an age of heightened international mobility and global interconnectedness, but it is not a new one, as careful reading of the classical sociologists reveals (Crow, 1997: ch. 1). The distinction between ‘societies’ and ‘states’ can be traced back over several centuries. This is precisely because it has long been recognized that states emerged as institutions designed to administer, regulate and control populations whose members do not necessarily identify with the ideologies and agendas of those individuals and groups that occupy formal positions of power. States thus offer an alternative conceptualization of the social collectivities that social scientists seek to investigate comparatively, and their seemingly more concrete expression appears to give an analytical edge to approaches that focus on ‘states’ (or variants such as ‘nation-states’ or...

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