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- Author or Editor: Simon Prideaux x
New Labour has concentrated many of its social policy initiatives in reinvigorating the family, community and work in the paid labour market. But just how ‘new’ are the ideas driving New Labour’s policy and practice?
In this book, Simon Prideaux shows how New Labour has drawn on the ideas and premises of functionalism, which dominated British and American sociological thought during the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s.
The book provides an accessible overview of the theories that underpin the policies of New Labour, including the often labyrinthine theories of Talcott Parsons, Amitai Etzioni and Anthony Giddens; examines the ideas of Charles Murray and John Macmurray, philosophers publicly admired by Tony Blair; looks at the sociological origin of debates and controversies that surround the provision of welfare in both the US and UK and considers the alienating effects that New Deal schemes may have in Britain today.
Not so New Labour’s innovative approach to the analysis of social policy under New Labour will be invaluable to academics, students and researchers in social policy, sociology, politics and applied social studies.
In an era of scarce social resources the question of the changing social policy constructions and responses to disabled people has become increasingly important. Paradoxically, some disabled people are realising new freedoms and choices never before envisioned, whilst others are prey to major retractions in public services and aggressive attempts to redefine who counts as ‘genuinely disabled’.
Understanding disability policy locates disability policy into broader social policy and welfare policy writings and goes beyond narrow statutory evaluations of welfare to embrace a range of indicators of disabled people’s welfare. The book critically explores the roles of social security, social support, poverty, socio-economic status, community safety, official discourses and spatial change in shaping disabled people’s opportunities. It also situates welfare and disability policy in the broader conceptual shifts to the social model of disability and its critics. Finally it explores the possible connection between changing official and academic constructions of disability and their implications for social policy in the 21st century.
The book is supported by a companion website, containing additional materials for both students and lecturers using the book, which is available from the link above.
This is the first book to examine the activities of UK and international ‘role models’ through the lens of state crime and social policy. Written by experts in the field of sociology and social policy, it defines the ideal state as a single, functioning whole that ensures uniformity in the name of legitimacy. It then details the ways that states do not constitute the ideal in terms of the dangers associated with the maintenance of legitimacy and state power. Anti-democratic measures, such as the invasions of other nation states, the idea that the media can both reinforce and influence the state and the problems of over-zealous policing of a state’s own populace, are covered.
Using the topical example of Rupert Murdoch and the activities of his media organisation to show how powerful individuals and corporations can and do exert political influence, the book provides a comprehensive discussion of state immorality and deviance generally and state crime in particular. It will appeal to range of academics and practitioners in broader disciplines such as criminology, sociology, politics and political science.
This book is written from a vantage point that tends to come from below. It looks up from personal experiences, setbacks and temporary successes in the industrial world to utilise a later, more appreciative (in terms of understanding) education. As a consequence, the book questions why benign interpretations of society – and, in particular, benevolent explanations of capitalism – can be held to be true. Overall, it is believed that the experience of how social policies actually impact upon oneself and, naturally, upon others, helps to inform the stance taken throughout. Unemployment, debt, concerns over healthcare and the future education of offspring have all played their part. And it is from the basis of this platform that the book has constructed many of its arguments.
In its most rudimentary form, the central premise of this work is the conviction that New Labour, when dealing with welfare, utilise the age-old sociological diagnoses and remedies of structural-functionalism to help counter and rectify the perceived ills of contemporary British society. However, this is not to suggest that New Labour are either aware of, openly display or even acknowledge their allegiance to such trains of thought. Nor is it to suggest that functionalism is the only influence behind Labour’s policies. More, it is an attempt to describe the way in which North American sociological thinking has directly or indirectly made an impact on the interpretations to which Tony Blair and his party attach to past, present and future social relations. Arguably, it is these interpretations that have led New Labour to adopt similar welfare-to-work policies as those already implemented and operational in the US; hence, the intention of this book to explore any shared theoretical foundations in an all-embracing attempt to reveal and explain the origins of the relatively pubescent ‘workfare’ schemes in Britain today.
The purpose and relevance of this chapter is twofold. First, it is a chapter that helps to make a clear distinction between ‘functionality’ and the form of ‘functionalism’ underpinning the policies of New Labour. Second, the chapter also aims to provide a focus that will enable the book to portray a working and detailed definition of the ‘functionalism’ utilised by New Labour. Through this definition, it will then be possible for the book to make a clear separation of policies that are functional (that is, those that are practical) from those that draw from functionalist trains of thought (in other words, policies premised upon a benign, teleological view of society and capitalism in particular). Both aspects are integral parts of the policy-making process employed by New Labour. Certainly it is true that all governments intend to introduce policies that are ‘designed’ to serve a function. It would be illogical and politically damning to do otherwise. Nonetheless, the benevolent impression of capitalism – so reminiscent of the functionalism popularised in the US from the 1930s on – can still be seen in much of New Labour’s policy direction.
To begin with, the main concentration of this chapter is upon what Richard Kilminster (1998) once described as a monopoly phase in British and American sociology. During the period 1945-65, he identified a “domination of the paradigm of structural functionalism deriving from Talcott Parsons and Robert K. Merton” (1998, p 154). It was the work of these two eminent sociologists that helped to establish a supposed synthesis of the works of Durkheim, Weber, Pareto and Freud that, despite its demise and apparent dismissal in the 1970s, still exerts an influence upon contemporary sociology and social policy.
Having established a working definition of functionalism in Chapter Two, it is now possible to trace the impact of such trains of thought upon the highly influential ideas of the new communitarian movement of today. It is one of the contentions of this chapter that communitarian interpretations of society have been heavily affected by functionalist concepts and methodology. As will become clear later in this book, this is of critical concern for New Labour in that the teachings, understandings and messages emanating from the new communitarian movement have had, and still have, a great sway upon the political outlook of Tony Blair and his party. Consequently, a deeper knowledge of the theoretical leanings that lay behind the communitarianism of today will not only enhance an understanding of the policies of New Labour, but also strengthen the claim that New Labour has adopted a functionalist outlook in its attempts to implement welfare reform.
The importance of Amitai Etzioni in relation to New Labour should not be underestimated. Indeed, Chapter Six of this book will underline the point more thoroughly. For the time being, however, it is suffice to say that there is little argument over Etzioni’s influence upon the new communitarian movement. Ruth Levitas (1998), for example, points to the indicative emphasis Etzioni places upon the ‘family’ as well as upon ‘community’. On another level, Finn Bowring (1997) draws upon Etzioni’s calls for the revival of individual responsibility and social morality as a means to create social cohesion. Both recognise that it is precisely this focus upon family, community, social discipline, obligation and responsibility and not the blanket bestowal of rights that lay at the core of new communitarianism and its growing reputation.
Following Chapter Three, it is apparent that communitarianism, as defined by Etzioni (and to a lesser extent Selznick), is a derivative of ‘organisational theory’ and, therefore, a descendant of functionalism in the Parsonian sense. Being an early purveyor of communitarian rhetoric is a charge that is often levied at John Macmurray (Rentoul, 1997; Driver and Martell, 1998; Levitas, 1998; Hale, 2002).Accordingly, the intent of this chapter is to explore whether or not this is actually the case. By implication, it is also the purpose of this chapter to discover whether or not Macmurray was a functionalist with an associated benign interpretation of capitalist society.
In relation to this book, Macmurray is important mainly because it is Tony Blair himself who insists upon declaring that he is an avid reader and follower of Macmurray’s teachings. On this score alone, the work of Macmurray is worthy of further consideration, especially if Macmurray may have been misunderstood or wrongly applied to policy as a consequence. With regard to this latter exploration, a look at some of the history behind Blair’s initial dalliance with Macmurray, and subsequently a discussion of what Macmurray actually had to say in his philosophy, will enable a more informed decision to be made in the concluding chapters of this book.
In 1972, Tony Blair went to St John’s College Oxford to study law. During the time spent there, Peter Thompson, an Australian friend and fellow Christian, introduced him to the works of John Macmurray (1891-1976), a Scottish philosopher from Kirkcudbrightshire. According to John Rentoul (1997), Blair was profoundly affected by Macmurray’s sentiment and prescience.
When discussing the impact of the New Right’s thoughts on the ‘underclass’ in Britain, Mann and Roseneil (1994) ventured the notion that an idea or discourse could only become successful if it had fully demonstrated a practicable appeal to numerous sections or, as Mann and Roseneil succinctly put it, numerous ‘constituencies’ within the social community as a whole. Only in this way, they continued, could sufficient momentum be gathered to carry the idea or discourse into the policy arena. By the same token, this book contends that such ideas or discourses also have to be applicable to the ‘general domain’ (Foucault, 2002) of neo-liberalism’s current hegemonic dominance. In this respect, an idea or discourse has to be of pragmatic use to both governments and powerful vested interests (Harrison with Davis, 2001). Importantly from our perspective, this framework of understanding not only allows for the continued prevalence of structural-functionalist interpretations of society but, as we shall see, also provides a limited allowance for certain (if not specific) complementary discourses to thrive and adapt through compromise yet contribute to the general reinforcement and fortification of the overarching stance taken by New Labour.
With this in mind, it is now possible to introduce the ideas and thoughts of Charles Murray (1984, 1996a, 1996b), Lawrence Mead (1986, 1987, 1988, 1991) and David T. Ellwood (1988). All three, it will be argued, have managed to produce accounts of the ‘underclass’ that satisfy and appeal to New Labour’s social protestations. Although such ideas are not strictly functionalist (Murray, for instance, would call himself a libertarian if anything), they do nonetheless provide a more than useful point of reference for New Labour.
So far, this book has charted the development and progression of structural-functionalism from the early musings of Talcott Parsons to the communitarianism of Amitai Etzioni. It has also taken note of the complementary and, indeed, compatible discourses such as those surrounding the ‘underclass’ debate characterised by Charles Murray, Lawrence Mead and David Ellwood. Mixed in with all of this has been a discussion of the work of John Macmurray who, in the view of Hale (2002), can be described as Tony Blair’s self-declared guru that never was. And with this work it has been possible to glean the dominant influence of communitarianism – as opposed to Macmurray’s egalitarian musings – on the policies and thoughts of Tony Blair and New Labour. With the exception of Macmurray (and perhaps Charles Murray’s more distressing analysis), it has become apparent throughout that most of these differing viewpoints share a common view of capitalism. In particular, they see capitalism as a motivational benign hierarchy that is best suited to promote prosperous and harmonious human relations. In sum, we have begun to unravel the entangled web of complementary ideas that underpin the functionalism behind the policies of New Labour.
In this chapter, the process of discovery takes a step further. Initially, the chapter discusses the ‘third way’ and how it represents a clear manifestation of communitarian beliefs. By implication, this also represents another demonstration of New Labour’s functionalism. Later, it addresses New Labour’s penchant to give primacy to the concept of ‘equality of opportunity’. As will become apparent, this is also premised upon visions of a benevolent arena of competition in an equally benign social hierarchy.