Understanding Social Citizenship, by Peter Dwyer

The Policy Press, Bristol, 2004, pb, 1 86134 415 5, £17.99, hb, 1 86134 416 3, £50. Also in paper back £17.99 Order this book

Peter Dwyer’s book is essentially an introductory textbook on the history of citizenship and the theoretical debates that inform modern conceptions of citizenship. It is designed for students on social policy, sociology, social work and certain politics courses. At times it might be a little dry for the ‘general reader’ but it is informative for those interested in the history of citizenship and how this affects attitudes towards social policy. Nested within the chapters are boxes containing bullet points or summaries of the main arguments and points. These will be useful for students and those ‘cramming’ on the subject.

The book is divided into three sections, Part One dealing with Citizenship and Welfare, Part Two with ‘Issues of Difference’ – meaning how one designs social policies for those facing different kinds of problems; and Part Three looking to citizenship beyond the nation state and towards the European Union and beyond.

The main themes of Part One include the needs of citizenship seen largely as a collective coalition of contractually obliged individuals who can work together to fulfil each other’s needs. Welfare issues are discussed in traditional categories such as ‘equality’, ‘need’, ‘desert’, and the issues of universality and conditionality contrasted. Chapter Two examines the major traditions of citizenship, liberalism and the renewed contender ‘civic republicanism’, which seems to include communitarianism here. Chapter Three is addressed to a British audience and discusses the thinking of T.H. Marshall. The final chapter of Part One discusses Marxist challenges, the new right, and the communitarianism of Etzioni. A final brief discussion considers the policies of ‘new labour’, though says so little that it hardly seems worth the while.

Part Two tackles poverty, what gender issues throw up for citizenship rights and welfare, and the problems of disabilities, and race or ethnicity. For some reason some people imagine that these ‘issues of difference’ cause problems for universal benefit schemes, which simply seems a misunderstanding of the terms of the debate, but Dwyer discusses these issues in a generally sensible and sensitive manner.
The final part looks towards the possibility of a social Europe where citizenship and social security schemes might converge. Whilst a theoretical possibility, convergence is only likely to be towards the lowest common denominator since too much that is different is already invested in the diverse systems, unless, that is, a radical alternative – such as a Basic or Citizen’s Income – can be instituted throughout Europe. The final chapter considers globalization.

This is an excellent student textbook for specialist courses on citizenship and social welfare. It covers a lot of historical material in a competent and thorough manner. I would have liked the author’s voice to shine through more, however, and there could have been more extensive discussion of the possible radical alternatives to the traditional accounts covered here.

Keith Dowding, London School of Economics and Political Science