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Unit information: Theorising Social Welfare in 2020/21

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Unit name Theorising Social Welfare
Unit code SPOL20059
Credit points 20
Level of study I/5
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Doogan
Open unit status Not open




School/department School for Policy Studies
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


This is a period in which the provision of social welfare is subject to immense social and economic pressures. A seemingly endless period of retrenchment and austerity poses risks to the sustainability of key welfare services. Additionally the demographic timebomb and the migration crisis in Europe raise major questions about the viability of social welfare provision. In these contexts the unit will ask what is the future for social welfare?

The unit examines the big questions about social welfare’s current developments and future prospects. The ‘state’ in this case implies the economic conditions and the political and institutional environments in which welfare operates. It will explore the relevance of key theoretical contributions to the understanding of welfare origins, trajectories and futures. It will examine the contributions of Marxism, Varieties of Capitalism, Social Reproduction Theory, and The New Political Economy of Welfare, with a particular focus on the contributions of Polanyi, Foucault, Thelen and Schmidt. In looking at the current period it will exam welfare in crisis and welfare retrenchment and resilience and will consider recent debates about labour market change, social differentiation and dualism. The institutional environment will be examined in the decommodification and recommodifcation of welfare and a review of international experience will explore the varieties of liberalisation.

The unit aims to:

Familiarise students with the theoretical literature on social reproduction and the current literature on welfare trajectories.

Familiarise students with an understanding of the variable impacts of the economic crisis

Facilitate an understanding of the impact of fiscal and demographic (age and migration) pressures on welfare services

Facilitate an understanding of the debates around social differentiation and dualism and their relevance for social welfare provision

Intended learning outcomes

On successful completion of the unit students

  1. Use a range of theories to analysis social welfare
  2. Describe and analyse the impact of fiscal and demographic change on welfare services
  3. Critically assess the impacts of economic crises on different groups and in different locations
  4. Describe and critically assess debates concerning social differentiation and dualism and understand their relevance for social welfare provision

Teaching details

Teaching for this unit will be delivered through blended leaning involving a combination of synchronous and asynchronous sessions across the teaching block. Taught content will inlcude self-paced activities such as narrated slides and other teaching materials, as well as activities to be undertaken individually, in small groups, or peer-to-peer. Live sessions will be scheduled and might include discussion, presentations, and clarification of learning with the tutor and other studnets. A weekly office hour will be scheduled and responses to any online discussion spaces and activities provided.

Assessment Details

Policy review (1000 words) (25%)

Essay (2000 words) (75%)

Reading and References

Bonoli, G., and Natali, D., The Politics of the New Welfare State, (2012) Oxford University Press

Castels F., (et al) eds (2010) The Oxford Handbook of The Welfare State, Oxford University Press

Esping-Andersen G.,(1990) Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism, Princeton University Press,

Polanyi The Great Transformation (2001) Boston, Mass. : Beacon Press

Doogan, K (2009) New Capitalism? The Transformation of Work

Farnsworth, K. and Irving, Z., (2015) Social policy in times of austerity : global economic crisis and the new politics of welfare

Garland, D., (2016) The Welfare State, A very short introduction, Oxford, Oxford University Press

Pierson, C, Castles , F. Naumann, K(eds) (2014) The welfare state reader

Pierson, P, The New Politics of the Welfare State, (2001) Oxford University Press

Thelen K., (2014) Varieties of Liberalisation and The New Politics of Social Solidarity New York Cambridge