A Handbook of Comparative Social Policy, Second Edition
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A Handbook of Comparative Social Policy, Second Edition

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 7: Translation: towards a critical comparative social policy agenda

Noemi Lendvai and David Bainton


Comparative social policy has witnessed a massive expansion in recent decades as globalization has opened up the space for geographically more diverse cross-national research, allowing larger numbers of countries to become available to research and to ‘know’. At the same time the dominance of Western and Eurocentric assumptions within both policy and research creates the paradoxical situation that in many ways the diversity of our understanding of such complexity is becoming diminished. We take this internationalization of knowledge production, where researchers frequently cross cultural and epistemic boundaries, as a (largely missed) opportunity for a more diverse and culturally sensitive academic discourse. Reliance upon Western conceptual tools within a universalistic approach, we argue, decouples concepts from contexts and leads to decontextualization in comparative social policy research. In this chapter then, we take a translation perspective to scrutinize some of the key theoretical and methodological issues in comparative social policy. The translation perspective brings back some of the taken-for-granted assumptions into debate and subjects them to more thoughtful consideration For example, language has been largely dismissed by comparative social policy scholars, and even more so the interplay between language and conceptualization. Translation also sheds some new light on issues such as equivalence of meaning, country selection criteria, conceptualization and contextualization, and issues around research design and methods.

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