Welfare (Key Concepts Series)

Daly, Mary
Polity Press, Cambridge
9780745644714 (pb)

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Cover of book This new edition takes a broad look at the term "welfare". Mary Daly brings together interdisciplinary and multi-theoretic perspectives to welfare instead of the usual social problem-specific approach making the book useful for a wide audience. The book traces the uses of the term welfare in historical, economic, political and social contexts in general and in social science scholarship. It discusses the relationship of welfare to other related concepts such as "well-being" and "care" and highlights much of the contemporary scholarship associated with welfare. This includes philosophical theorising and research on the welfare state. It also offers a wide lens on welfare in its material and social forms using descriptive statistics and a review of recent findings. The book is very broad in scope, perhaps too broad to serve a clear purpose as a course reader or research guide. However, taken as respective sections and sub-sections, the book offers great insight into a range of research, policies and disciplines loosely organised around the concept of welfare.

The introduction and first chapter offers some definitions. Daly reminds us that the term "welfare" broadly refers to ideals and practices that characterize human behaviour in a variety of settings (p. 6) and brings with it a diversity of denotations, for example, "material sufficiency, well-being, the absence of negative conditions, physical and mental health, satisfaction of desires, and provision for need within the context of organised services for the needy" (p. 13). Instead of narrowing in on her own definition of welfare, she discusses a spectrum of definitions from other welfare scholars. She quickly shifts the reader's focus away from defining the term to an exposition on the usages of welfare in classic and contemporary social science in three realms; one where economists focus on preference satisfaction, mostly material in nature; another where political scientists look at the idea of welfare in policies and institutions such as the state; and a third in which sociologists research how individuals and societies respond to social problems. The second chapter is a long digression on satellite terminology, most explicitly well-being. Daly lists many recent works that shift the classical focus of the 1970s and 80s on welfare as the provision of material resources, to more recent usages of agency and "the intrapersonal and relational processes through which people give meaning and value to each other and what they do" (p. 58).

The third and fourth chapters offer a concise yet thorough description of welfare in theory, and how societies organise their welfare states. In chapter three, Daly captures much of the social science and philosophical theories of welfare by placing them into four broad categories of liberalism, democratic socialism, Marxism, and conservatism. Mirroring these theoretical types, Daly also locates the welfare state systems of the most advanced nations of Europe, North America and the Antipodes in liberal, social democratic or conservative regimes; with any Marxist/socialist regimes left in existence today written off as a defunct form of communism because they are residual in nature and often rely on heavy privatization of welfare services (p. 99). Thus she traces the classic welfare state models of Europe and a few other English-speaking nations through their historical evolutions as part of the rise of welfare states after World War II, including a focus on the most recent two decades' transformations which are wrought with crises and forms of retrenchment.

The fifth chapter builds a statistical description of where individuals obtain their welfare and how this differs across a handful of welfare states. She first covers material needs such as paid employment and poverty due to lack of employment. She keeps a keen eye on findings related to gender and social inequalities. She also discusses what kinds, and how much individual welfare comes from the market as compared with the state in Germany, Sweden, the UK and US. The sixth, and last, chapter shifts the focus to welfare obtained through social relations, most importantly families. It also touches on immaterial welfare acquisition, or social capital. Finally, it concludes with the relationship between the welfare state and families and how this impacts the welfare of individuals in different societies of Europe.

The book comes with some weaknesses, although some may be a product of limited space. It skips over religion which historically and at present is a key source for welfare in material and intrapersonal forms. Also missing is health care and health care systems, which are critical pieces of welfare, welfare policies and welfare state research. The book only briefly considers Eastern Europe and ignores the rest of the world which is filled with examples of welfare and welfare states that do not fit the standard, western regime models. Turkey, South Africa and China are some larger and more highly developed national examples which should not be left out of a discussion of the entire concept of welfare. Also, by merging well-being into welfare, Daly argues that how people feel about their situation should be brought into the discussion because this is "arguably, as important as the conditions in which they consume and live" (p.37-38). This is not a contentious point and it seems that the reason social science effectively utilizes two terms (welfare and well-being) is that they denote two different things. Although they may have many interesting causal and theoretical interrelations, I see it as unnecessary to merge them into one concept. Both may be discussed independently or in their relationship to one another without redefining one or both of the terms. Without directly arguing for it, Daly appears to be an advocate of redefining the term "welfare" to include well-being and even care and happiness. She offers only brief practical reasons for doing so, such as "an improved reading of the architecture of social and economic life and how it is instrumental in shaping the contours and courses of people's everyday lives" (p.156).

Despite these issues, the book generally follows its purpose of being a guide to the concept of welfare. However, its broad coverage of topics makes it difficult to place it in a practical setting. It is unclear what type of general academic course, or what casual reader would utilise such a book cover-to-cover. Scholars who wish to link welfare and well-being or happiness would find chapter 2 of great use. Scholars who are first entering the field of welfare would greatly benefit from chapters three and four. Finally, those interested in a quick statistical portrait of welfare in four prototypically studied nations will benefit from chapters five and six. The book's greatest utility may come as a shelf reference for anyone who operationalize or discusses welfare in their work. Some other excellent features of the book are Daly's strong reminder that the usage of the term "welfare" derailed in the US where it has a negative connotation related to dependency on or misuse of basic income replacement; whereas the remaining world both in general and in science utilizes the term in a less negative-value laden manner. Another practical feature is her compact review of Gough's 'five I's'(industrialization, interests, institutions, ideas, and international, supra-state influences) to explain welfare state development (p.100). This is a key reminder to welfare state scholars that there is always more than simple institutional, economic or value-related explanations for welfare state outcomes. This shows that welfare is both broad and complex and social scientists' hypotheses and theories should be formulated accordingly. The book is available in paperback, reasonable priced at $24.95.

Nate Breznau
Bremen International Graduate School of Social Sciences, Germany