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 11: Structured Diversity: A Framework for Critically Comparing Welfare States?

Norman Ginsburg


Norman Ginsburg Introduction In an earlier attempt to clarify my own thinking on cross-national analysis of social policy I used the term ‘critical structured diversity’ to try to get a grip on the task (Ginsburg, 1992: 28). I suggested that comparativists have to consider the uniqueness of the social policies of particular nation-states in their diverse, historical and political contexts, while at the same time acknowledging that social policy is shaped by supranational economic, political and social ‘structures’. To many this may seem to be stating the completely obvious, but juggling a ‘national diversity’ and a ‘structural’ approach in practice is an almost impossible task, because, if interpreted purely they are incompatible, or at the very least, have quite different starting points. To this task I added the challenge of trying to develop a ‘critical’ approach, which perhaps interpreted rather narrowly meant a focus on the role of welfare states in shaping social divisions of race, class and gender. This chapter reviews and reflects upon the notion of structured diversity as a way of making sense of cross-national developments in social policy and the growing literature in this field. We proceed by discussing mainstream and critical interpretations of structure and diversity, taken individually, before moving on to the possibilities of combining them, and using them critically. As a preliminary it is essential to reflect briefly on what is being held up for cross-national consideration, that is, the dependent variable(s) under the heading of ‘social policy’ or...

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