Welfare States: Construction, Deconstruction, Reconstruction, by Stephan Leibfried and Steffen Mau (eds.)

Volume I: Analytical Approaches; volume II: Varieties and Transformations; volume III: Legitimation, Achievement and Integration,

Edward Elgar, 2008, 2,176pp, hbk, 1 84720 080 X, £495

This three-volume set collects together sixt y-three journal articles dating from 1974 to 2005 and is an absolute must for any library, think-tank or university department serious about studying the welfare state.

The introduction is informed by a broad definition of the welfare state which includes the activity of voluntary organisations as well as that of the State. It is in general a judicious and brief account of the development of the welfare state in Europe and elsewhere alongside studies in the development of welfare state theory and typology. The introduction and the collection as a whole are more present- and future-oriented than past-oriented. Looking to the future, the editors find an intriguing connection between religious and social policy developments and they also discuss the possible effects on the welfare state of the multi-layered nature of modern government. Their verdict is that change in the nature of the State and change in welfare states (in the plural) have always influenced each other and will continue to do so.

Volume I starts with papers on the development of welfare state theory, follows with some classic articles from T.H. Marshall on citizenship and social class and Richard Titmuss on the nature of social policy, and then ranges across a variety of theory types. There is material on structural functionalism (which sees the welfare state as the solution to problems emerging from industrialisation at the end of the nineteenth century), neo-Marxist theories (which ask about the social function of social policy institutions and how the welfare state functions in a capitalist state), the ‘power resources’ approach (in which the welfare state is a struggle for power between different social and demographic groups), the welfare state as the management of risk (which employs both ‘insurance’ and ‘solidarity’ ideas), and a polity-centred and institutional approach (which asks how and why decisions about welfare states are made).

Volume II collects papers on the categorisation of welfare states, and it starts quite correctly with three chapters from Esping-Andersen’s classic The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. Bonoli’s and other classifications follow, as does recent work on East and South-east Asian welfare states. The rest of the volume is on ‘transfigurations’: the ways in which the world is changing and the ways in which this is affecting welfare states. There are sections on globalization, on post-industrialisation, on Europeanization (i.e., on how greater European integration is changing Europe’s welfare states), and on whether a global social policy is emerging.

Volume III contains an interesting mixture of papers. The first section contains John Rawls on distributive justice, and papers on other justifications for the welfare state: for instance, on the prevention of exploitation and on the satisfaction of needs. Sections follow on outcomes, trade-offs and dysfunctions, and human motivation ( – policy-makers now assume that we are all self-interested agents rather than altruistic contributors or passive recipients). Finally come chapters on attitudes to redistribution, on ethics and social diversity, on gender, and on pensions and the generational contract.

Following the introduction in volume I, there is an excellent bibliography which will be helpful to anyone studying social policy; and there is a name index, though unfortunately no subject index. Whilst we recognise that creating subject indexes takes a huge amount of time ( – the reviewer knows this from experience) and are often not included in anthologies such as this, they really are important if volumes like these are to be maximally useful to students, teachers and researchers.

But that caveat aside, these really are splendid volumes and for some time to come they will be essential reading for anyone seriously interested in welfare states and welfare state theory. Researchers might not be able to afford their own sets, but they should certainly ask their university or departmental library to obtain them.