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Blackwell Dictionary of Social Policy

Pete Alcock, Angus Erskine, and Margaret May
Blackwell Publishers: Oxford
0631218475 (pb)

xiv + 290 pp.

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Front Cover
'Another social science dictionary' is what struck me when I first saw this book, and that's exactly what it is with a few notable exceptions. It is worth mentioning this is the first comprehensive and authoritative dictionary in this subject. Why? All disciplines are subject to change and progression, but Social Policy is a subject in constant flux and until now the lack of a Social Policy dictionary has indicated that it is problematic to define for reference, terms, many of which are likely to be defunct within a few years. The authors hint at this in the introduction where they justify omitting names of organisations, agencies and statutes on the basis that they are likely to become outdated. These omissions are a problem for this compilation. They may well be the very points where clarity of definition and purpose is most needed for the students most likely to use the dictionary. It may also be part of the reason why others have not previously attempted to compile a dictionary in this subject.

My sole criticism dispensed with, the book has a range of points in its favour. The team of experts selected provide the range of experience and exposure to the issues necessary to make such a publication a success. Alcock's excellent introductory Social Policy texts highlight the pedigree of the editors in producing concise accessible information for students. The book will no doubt be of great use to those new to the discipline and is likely to become a standard student reference guide. Moreover, despite the problem of omissions, the book largely avoids the challenge of entries becoming outdated by concentrating on terms and concepts that will outlive the changing ideas of particular policy makers There are of course certain central concepts, ideas and thinkers, entries for which will last the test of time.

The authors provide extended entries for key contemporary terms such as 'citizenship', highlighting its relevance to other capitalised entries, such as 'asylum seekers'. The omissions discussed above, allow for the inclusion of more unusual terms such as the Habermasian 'legitimation crisis' and 'normative theory' and how they relate to the particular contexts of Social Policy. In this respect the book is provocative and stimulating, opening up unexpected areas likely to be confusing for those recently introduced to the subject. It is useful therefore not only as a student dictionary, but also for anyone interested in understanding the scope of Social Policy and how the philosophical ideas underpinning most social science disciplines relate and are expressed through the particular subject area. Whilst providing the terms and concepts in modern Social Policy, the editors importantly include key historical terms such as 'Poor Law' for those interested in the history of Social Policy and understanding the incremental way in which policy is often made.

Edward Phelps
University of Sussex

Copyright Sociological Research Online,