Conference announcement, An Intellectual History of Basic Income

Cambridge, 14th January 2019

The conference organisers say this about the event:

The last ten years have witnessed a major revival of interest in the Universal Basic Income proposal. After a nationwide debate in the United States in the early 1960s, the idea crossed the Atlantic in the 1970s and slowly disseminated itself into national politics in the Netherlands, Belgium, France, and Britain. Later, the debate went global through the development of the Basic Income European Network, founded in 1986 at Leuven University. Today, the proposal is back on the agenda of both political parties and social movements, with proponents such as Philippe Van Parijs claiming that a “conjunction of growing inequality, a new wave of automation, and a more acute awareness of the ecological limits to growth has made it the object of unprecedented interest throughout the world.” For its growing band of enthusiasts, UBI is nothing less than “an idea whose time has come”.

The story of how the basic income proposal has achieved global prominence has only recently begun to attract significant scholarly attention. This conference will bring together historians and social policy experts from around the world to explore the contemporary history of basic income from the 1960s to the present. We invite papers which explore how UBI proposals have been developed and received in different ideological and political contexts, and the ways in which the concept has been shaped by changing attitudes to welfare provision, income inequality, and the future of work. In the United States, for example, theorists such as Milton Friedman, Robert Lampman and Robert Theobald turned to guaranteed income proposals during the 1960s in a belief that post-war remedies had lost their effectiveness in the face of persistent poverty. From this perspective, the appeal of a basic income appears to be closely linked to the decline of work as a normative value for industrial society.

The conference organizers are also interested in understanding how an idea that emerged as a response to a specific situation in industrialized countries in the 1960s and 70s has become an important tool for rethinking development policy in the global South. More generally, we hope to discuss how changing conceptions of ‘poverty’ within international institutions such as the United Nations and World Bank have shaped discussions of material inequality and focused attention on the potential impact of cash transfers.

The aim of the conference is to examine (1) the intellectual content of basic income as it emerged in the 20th century, (2) the specific contexts in which it has attained popularity, (3) the role of institutions and networks in its global dissemination, and (4) the relationship between UBI and wider debates about social justice. We invite papers from researchers in the fields of History, Social Policy, Philosophy, Economics, Sociology, and History of Science.

Conference Aims and Format

This small conference will serve as a forum for discussion of these themes with a view to the publication of an edited collection with a leading academic press. With this aim in mind, we will prioritize innovative papers accessible to an interdisciplinary audience. Authors whose paper proposals are accepted will be invited to pre-circulate short papers ahead of the conference, and selected contributions will later be developed into full book chapters.

The conference will be held in Cambridge on 14th January 2019.

The organisers of the conference are:
Daniel Zamora (Université Libre de Bruxelles)
Peter Sloman (University of Cambridge)
Pedro Ramos Pinto (University of Cambridge)

Proposal Submission

Please send an abstract of no more than 500 words, accompanied by a short CV to by September 1, 2018.

For further details, see the conference website.