Barrault-Stella and Weill, Creating Target Publics

Lorenzo Barrault-Stella and Pierre-Edouard Weill, Creating Target Publics for Welfare Policies: A comparative and multi-level approach, Springer, Cham, 2018, ix + 310 pp, 3 319 89595 6, hbk, £79

Every social policy has in view a ‘target public’. Policymakers will relate in various ways with the different publics relevant to different social policies; the institutions of the welfare state will exhibit practices that target relevant publics; and those publics will react in a variety of ways. The editors have brought together a number of authors to tackle this agenda, and have ensured that the book offers comparative and diverse approaches, and references plenty of empirical research.

The first chapter, by the editors, introduces the agenda, outlines the structure of the book, and suggests that policy needs to be studied in relation to groups of people at multiple levels: high-level policymakers, street-level bureaucrats, and recipients. The editors identify an important shift during the 1980s from a ‘universal’ welfare state to a more individualized approach.

Chapter 2 finds that Italian Fascism emphasised trade union organisation and social protection policies that would promote the development of the middle class, and then mobilised that class; and chapter 3 finds that the middle class is a significant target of policy discourse and design. Chapter 4 might be particularly relevant for the readership of this review as it asks how in practice policymakers ‘target’ conditional cash transfers in the US and France, and important consequences of this practice are to expose the behaviours of the poor to public gaze and to structure social stratification – so counterintuitively, a significant target is the middle class. Chapter 5 finds that data mining and artificial intelligence aimed at the poor in France have increased the level of surveillance and thus of social control over disadvantaged households. Chapter 6 finds that a shift in understanding of disability, and in particular of autism, from a medical model to a social model, has loosened the boundaries around target publics, and has relocated psychiatry from constituting a medical model of disability to serving an educational model, which has limited the extent of the shift from a medical to a social model. Chapter 7 studies the different ways in which migrant women are integrated into society in France and Finland, and finds that the different effects have multiple roots. Chapters 8 and 9 study how street level bureaucrats draw boundaries around target publics by developing rules to enable them to allocate social housing.

The final chapter, by the editors, suggests that political sociologists as well as social policy academics should study target publics; asks for careful study of the relationship between policymakers’ intentions and the effects of their policies; and asks that social and political effects should be studied together in order to understand policy feedback.

This is a most interesting and well researched book with a distinctive focus. The chapters’ subject matters are of course determined by the research interests of the authors as well as by the agenda of the book, but they are none the worse for that. All of them contribute to the multilevel understanding of target publics with which the book will leave its readers.

Where the various authors use the term ‘universal’ to refer to a welfare state, a social security benefit, or a public service, they mean that the institution, benefit or service is available to everyone who fulfils certain conditions. They do not imply that everyone will receive the benefit or service. This is important, because it means that the book contains no discussion of unconditional provision. Given the book’s agenda, this is not a surprise. The concept of a target public implies that there are members of the general public who are not the target of the policy in question. Unconditional benefits or services are therefore by definition outside the scope of this book. What would now be interesting to see, possibly from some of the same group of scholars, would be a book that asks what the effects on society and on individuals would be of social policies that takes for their target public the entire general public of a particular jurisdiction.