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  • Author or Editor: Daniel Béland x
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Comparative and transnational perspectives

Social policy scholars and practitioners work with concepts such as “welfare state” and “social security” but where do these concepts come from and how has their meaning changed over time? Which are the dominant social policy concepts and how are they contested? What characterises social policy language in specific countries and regions of the world and how do social concepts travel between countries?

Addressing such questions in a systematic manner for the first time, this edited collection, written by a cross-disciplinary group of leading social policy researchers, analyses the concepts and language used to make sense of contemporary social policy. The volume focuses on OECD countries located on four different continents: Asia, Australasia, Europe, and North America. Combining detailed chapters on particular countries with broader comparative chapters, the book strikes a rare balance between case studies and transnational perspectives. It will be of interest to academics and students in social policy, social work, political science, sociology, history, and public administration, as well as practitioners and policy makers.

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This article explores the political discourse of social exclusion and its potential impact on social policy. The analysis suggests that in France, Britain, and the European Union at large, the growing political focus on social exclusion has helped to shift policy attention away from other forms of inequality, including income inequality. This logic and the reforms enacted in the name of social inclusion are compatible with moderate forms of economic liberalism distinct from Thatcherite neoliberalism. Theoretically, the article draws on the social science literature on the role of ideas to stress the possible consequences of the social exclusion discourse.

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This article explores the politics of universal family, health and pension programmes in the UK and Canada during recent periods of conservative rule. The analysis provides grounds for exploring partisan dynamics while testing what happened when the principle of universality clashed with fiscal and political pressures to restructure the welfare state. As suggested, in both countries, universality has remained stronger in the field of healthcare than in the one of cash benefits, a trend related to the wide popularity of universal healthcare, which explains why conservatives have been extra careful when dealing with this policy area closely tied to citizenship.

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Bridging existing streams of fiscal and social policy research, this article lays the foundations for a fiscal-centred perspective on welfare state development and restructuring. This perspective is grounded in two interlocking claims. The first is that social insurance systems financed by contributions can be used by state and non-state actors to advance their fiscal goals, beyond the financing of social benefits and services. The second is that, through different mechanisms such as legitimacy production, institutional design, and coalition building, the design and management of social insurance contribution policies for such fiscal purposes can have a direct impact on social programmes.

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This article examines what key reform attempts made during the Clinton and Bush presidencies reveal about the wider possibilities for social policy change in the US. Why were Presidents Clinton and Bush able to achieve their goals in some policy realms but not others? As argued, institutional variation from one policy area to another largely helps answer this question. Yet, the analysis also suggests that paying close attention to the strategic ideas of political actors as they interact with existing institutions and policy legacies is necessary to fully understand the politics of social policy reform.

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This chapter explores the impact of the economic crisis that began in 2008 on U.S. and Canadian social policy debates and reforms. It assesses the impact of this major crisis on unemployment, pensions and fiscal policy in both countries. The chapter reveals that the crisis hit the United States harder than Canada and, from a political standpoint, led to a greater potential for path-departing reform in the United States than in Canada. The possibility of significant change was reinforced in the United States by the election of Barack Obama to the presidency less than two months after the financial crisis of September 2008 hit. In contrast, Canadians re-elected a Conservative minority government. In the end, however, both the United States and Canada failed to enact bold social policy reforms in 2009. Most importantly, in both countries, the economic crisis brought a massive deterioration of the fiscal situation of the federal government, and of many states and provinces, which is likely to limit the scope for progressive policy change while having the potential to legitimise cost controls and cutbacks in social programmes.

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This chapter explores the development of two major policy concepts in France, a country with a rich intellectual and social policy tradition where the language of social policy has become quite contentious over the last three decades. Focusing mainly on this recent period, the chapter discusses the meaning and development of the concepts of solidarity, social exclusion, social security, and ‘État-providence’, which is the French equivalent (but not exact translation) of the Anglo-American term “welfare state.” These concepts have long been controversial, in part because they are typically involved in the inherently political drawing and redrawing of the contested boundaries of state action in France. Overall, the chapter uses the French case to explain how the analysis of social policy language can help scholars adopt a more reflexive and historically-minded approach.

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This chapter draws on the previous chapters of this edited volume to point out broad lessons about the cases and issues discussed throughout the volume, which should help stress both the commonalities and the variations among the empirical cases. Furthermore, the chapter outlines a broad agenda for the international and comparative research on social policy language in contemporary societies.

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This introduction chapter develops the overall framework for the following chapters. First, it demonstrates that there is a need to take a closer look at the development of key concepts in social policy language such as ‘welfare state’, ‘social security’, ‘welfare society’. The terms, metaphors, and concepts we use when studying social policy are far from innocent and are closely tied to political struggles and transnational processes. Therefore, from a comparative and international perspective, studying terminology and concept formation is an important part of both political and policy analysis. Second, the chapter discusses different approaches to the study of social policy concepts and language, including conceptual history, discourse analysis, and the role of ideas literature. Third, this introductory chapter outlines the structure and the content of the volume as a whole.

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In many OECD countries, the Great Recession had major social policy consequences. This chapter discusses the post-2007 economic crisis in the United States before analysing some of the most prominent policy changes enacted in its aftermath. The paper stresses the return of fiscal austerity related to the increase in the size of federal and state deficits as well as the ideological domination of the right, which began pushing for spending cuts even before the end of the Great Recession. The conclusion of the paper summarizes the key changes enacted before speculating about the future of the U.S. welfare state in a context of fiscal austerity. As argued, the rise in federal deficits and the conservative ideological ascendancy converge to legitimize potential benefit cuts while making it harder for the federal and state governments to launch new measures aimed at adapting social programs to more effectively fight poverty and economic insecurity.

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