The Student's Companion to Social Policy 2nd EditionPete Alcock and Angus Erskine and Margaret May (edited)
Blackwell Publishers: Oxford
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This is an expanded 2nd edition of The Student's Companion to Social Policy. For this edition the glossary that was included in the first edition has been removed and readers are advised to purchase the Blackwell Dictionary of Social Policy. The book is intended for purchase by undergraduate students on Social Policy and related degrees and is designed to be a resource that they can use for the whole of their period of study. It is not intended as an introductory textbook but as providing a comprehensive guide to Social Policy theories, issues and topics. Each chapter provides an overview and a brief annotated guide to key further reading. The Social Policy Association managed the academic production of the book and the contributors are all acknowledged UK-based academic experts in the area of their contribution.
The book is divided into six sections: What is Social Policy?; Values and Perspectives; The Production, Organization and Consumption of Welfare; Issues in Social Policy; Resources; Careers in Social Policy. The coverage is comprehensive and students should find the section on resources, which includes chapters on doing a Social Policy project and doing a placement especially useful. The guides to learning resources are clear and will encourage students to use the Internet and sources of UK and international data that are of particular value to Social Policy students. There is good guidance on evaluating the reliability of sources of information on the Internet and on how to access the more reliable sites. Many lectures will also welcome a text that encourages students to undertake further reading and does not claim to provide all the information that students require.
A reviewer can always find omissions or things they would have done differently. Given that many students now do multi-disciplinary degrees in the social sciences and / or take options or electives in other social sciences I felt there could have been more on the relationships with / differences between Social Policy on the one hand and Sociology, Politics and Economics on the other. There is a useful chapter on History and Social Policy. The section on journals in the learning resources section could have been expanded to include more specialist journals given that the companion is designed to be used by students throughout their degree programme. I was also somewhat surprised that there was not a chapter on Social Capital, given the importance now attributed by many to Social Capital in promoting the welfare of individuals and communities.
The individual contributions are of a uniformly high standard, however, and will be accessible to undergraduate students. They each provide an overview to which Social Policy students can return as they progress through their degree. They will also provide a useful resource for students when they are revising for examinations. This is a book that many Social Policy lecturers will recommend to their students and which students will find a good investment.
In reviewing the book for a Sociology journal two further questions are worth considering: whether the book under review would be of value to Sociology students, and whether the British Sociological Association should consider producing a comparable Companion for Sociology Students. Sociology students would find the Resources sections of use but I do not think that is a sufficient reason to recommend it for purchase. However students on Sociology degrees who take at least one Social Policy course would find it very useful and it would be worth at least considering recommending it for purchase to these students. I have reservations about suggesting that Sociologists should produce a Student's Companion to Sociology. My main concern is that the contents of such a companion would come in some way to be seen as defining a Sociology curriculum - something that Sociologists made clear they wanted to avoid when the Sociology Benchmark Statement was being developed. However it is certainly worthy of consideration and possibly something on which the British Sociological Association could consult its members.
Glasgow Caledonian University