Politics of Social Policy: A Comparative Historical Perspective

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Course TypeCourse CodeNo. Of Credits
Foundation CoreNA4

Semester and Year Offered: Monsoon semester, 2nd Year

Course Coordinator and Team: Ekta Singh

Email of course coordinator: ekta[at]aud[dot]ac[dot]in

Pre-requisites: None

Aim: This is a survey course designed to introduce students to the configuration and dynamics of social policy in countries that represent different welfare models. While aimed at identifying trends and patterns, the course is intended to help students understand the distinctiveness of social policies in different contexts and the forces -both historical and cultural - shaping them. The course adopts a political economy perspective to make sense of comparative social policy. By comparing what counts as social policy (and what does not) in different contexts - both temporally and geographically, the course problematizes the concept of social policy to discern any possible ‘politics of social policy’. The overarching theme that cuts across the course is exploring role of ideas, institutions and processes in determining the shape of social policy. Country and region-specific case studies will be used to compare select social policies.

Course Outcomes:

At the end of the course students will be able to-

  1. To appreciate the purpose, relevance and tools of comparison in political analysis
  2. Be aware of the diverse forms and meanings of social policy across different regions to be able to discern any possible ‘politics of social policy’.
  3. To be able to discern trends and patterns in social policy configuration and derive crucial insights from important policy experiences in other environments, notwithstanding the cultural differences in which the social policies or sets of policies are conceived and implemented.
  4. Develop critical thinking and analytical skills

Brief description of modules/ Main modules:

  1. Understanding Social Policy: Key Concepts, Theories, and Ideologies:The module introduces students to the concept of social policy by laying emphasis on how ‘social policy’ is different from ‘public policy’ and familiarizing students with the normative debate around ideas of welfare (state). Rather than treating social policy as a technical or politically neutral concept students will be encouraged to see social and economic policies in conjunction. In other words, the emphasis will be laid on the ‘political economy of social policy’, including global political economy. Major concepts, theories and ideologies that have shaped social policy will be discussed. At the end of the module students will be able to identify what qualifies as ‘social policy’ and how ‘social policy’ is different from ‘public policy’. This will be explained through suitable examples of what constitutes and what does not constitute as ‘social policy’.
  2. Comparative Social Policy: Theories, Methods, and Frameworks: The unit introduces students to ‘comparative methods’ as an analytical tool to compare social policies through an exposition on different units, levels, and scales of comparison. The purpose and relevance of a comparative approach in illuminating the policy process in different contexts and its contribution to the development and confirmation of theory will be stressed. At the same time the limitations and challenges of a comparative framework will be discussed. Particular emphasis will be laid on ‘comparative case study’ method in discovering contrasts, similarities, or patterns across cases. Typologies as a tool for comparison will be dealt with, especially Esping Andersen’s comparative framework of ‘welfare state regimes’ and Gough and Wood’s typology.
  3. Mapping Social Policy Globally: A Comparative Historical Approach:The module will adopt a comparative historical approach to acquaint students with the historical development of social policy (and welfare state) as it emerged in Europe and the diverse forms it took in different parts of the world. Rather than treating ‘social policy’ as a universal category, the module will focus on the differential ambit and purview of what has come under social policy in different regions at different points of time across the world. The idea is to help students situate historically the discourse of social policy and appreciate the prevalence of any possible ‘politics of social policy’. The contested nature of the substantive focus of social policy across the world will be discussed through comparative historical case studies. Students will also be made conversant with challenges of policy diffusion and policy transfer in different contexts and debates around convergence. Capitalist, communist, postcolonial and post-communist/post-socialist models of social policy will be discussed. Impact of neoliberalism and the more recent rightist turn on social policy in post-communist/communist world (China, Russia, Cuba) and the postcolonial world will be dealt with.Case Studies: Rehabilitation & Resettlement Policies in cases of land acquisition and displacement, Child Labour, Universal Basic Income, Employment Education, Healthcare.
  4. Regime Type and Social Policy: Moving Beyond: The module will explore the relationship between regime types and social policy outcomes. In particular, the emphasis will be on understanding whether authoritarian and democratic regimes produce different types of policies? Is democracy really better than authoritarianism in promoting human welfare? Students will be encouraged to see democracy and authoritarianism not as dichotomous but in a continuum. At the same time limitations of comparisons along regime type will be discussed in the context of globalization through methodology of ‘convergent comparisons’. Case Study: Comparative study of China’s ‘Social Credit’/ ‘Hukou’ and India’s ‘Aadhaar’.
  5. State Capacity and Role of Bureaucracy: The module will investigate the role of bureaucracy in the success or failure of social policy. Idea of ‘street-level bureaucracy’ and its implications for shaping social policy will be stressed. In addition, the module will focus on - What do we mean by ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ state and its relationship with bureaucracy? The larger point of discussion will be the impact of political institutions (transnational and multilevel governance) and the differential roles that bureaucracy has been adopting in different contexts at different points of time.

Assessment Details with weights:

  1. The first assessment will be a continuous assessment which will be gauged through periodic write-ups like policy briefs, class tests and group discussions. (30%)
  2. The second assessment will involve an assignment based on comparative case study of student’s choice. (35%)
  3. The third assessment will consist of final examination (35%).

Reading List:

  1. Richard M. Titmuss (1974). ‘What is Social Policy?’, in Brian Abel-Smith and Kay Titmuss (eds), Social Policy: An Introduction, NY: Pantheon Books.
  2. Section on ‘The Political economy of social policy’ in James Midgley & Michelle Livermore (2000) ed. The Handbook of Social Policy, Sage.
  3. P. Alcock, May, M and S. Wright (2012) The Student's Companion to Social Policy, (4th Ed.). Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.
  4. Jayati Ghosh (2002). ‘Social Policy in Indian development’, Social Policy in a Development Context Series.
  5. J. Hopkin (2002). ‘Comparative Methods’ in D. Marsh and G. Stoker (eds.)Theory and Methods in Political Science, Macmillan: Basingstoke.
  6. Jochen Clasen (2004). ‘Defining Comparative Social Policy’ in Patricia Kennett ed. A Handbook of Comparative Social Policy, Edward Elgar.
  7. Mabbett D. and H. Bolderson (1999). ‘Theories and Methods in comparative social policy’ in J Clasen ed. Comparative Social Policy: Concepts, Theories and Methods, Blackwell, Oxford.
  8. Barbara Geddes (1990). ‘How the cases you choose affect the answers you get: Selection bias in Comparative Politics’, Political Analysis, 2 (1): 131-150.
  9. G. Sartori, (1970). ‘Concept Misformation in Comparative Politics’ American Political Science Review,Vol. 64, No. 4. pp. 1033-1053.
  10. Charles C. Ragin (2014).‘Case-Oriented Comparative Methods’ in The Comparative Method: Moving Beyond Qualitative and Quantitative Strategies, University of California Press.
  11. Alvin Finkel (2018). Compassion: A Global History of Social Policy, Red Globe Press.
  12. P. Alcock, May, M and S. Wright (2012) The Student's Companion to Social Policy, (4th Ed.). Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.
  13. Christopher Pierson (1991), ‘Origins and Development of the Welfare State 1880-1975’ in Christopher Pierson (ed.), Beyond the Welfare State? The New Political Economy of Welfare, Cambridge, Polity Press, pp. 102-140.
  14. Edwin Amenta (2011). ‘What We Know about the Development of Social Policy: Comparative and Historical Research in Comparative and Historical Perspective’ in James Mahoney & Dietrich Rueschemeyer (eds.), Comparative Historical Analysis in the Social Science, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
  15. Herbert Obinger, Carina Schmitt and Peter Starke (2013). ‘Policy Diffusion and Policy Transfer in Comparative Welfare State Research’, Social Policy and Administration, Vol.47, No.1.
  16. Alvin Finkel (2018). ‘Post-Communism’ in Compassion: A Global History of Social Policy, Red Globe Press.
  17. Bob Deacon and Michelle Hulse (1997). The making of Post-Communist Social Policy: The Role of International Agencies, Journal of Social Policy, Vol.26, Issue 1.
  18. Alvin Finkel (2018).‘The Postcolonial World 1945-1990’ in Compassion: A Global History of Social Policy, Red Globe Press.
  19. Anis Dani, Arjan DeHaan Inclusive States: Social Policy and Structural Inequalities.
  20. Ian Gough and Geof Wood, Insecurity and Welfare Regimes in Asia, Africa and Latin America , Cambridge University Presss.
  21. Stephan Haggard and Robert R. Kaufman (2008), Development, Democracy, and Welfare States, Princeton University Press, 2008
  22. Dwaipayan Bhattacharya (2014). ‘How to Govern the Poor? The Role of Social Policies in Economic Transformation’, in Nandini Gooptu and Jonathan Parry (ed.s). Persistence of Poverty in India, Social Science Press, New Delhi
  23. Louis Tillin ed. (2015). Politics of Welfare: Comparisons across Indian States. Oxford University Press.
  24. James Manor and Jane Duckett (2017).‘Significance of Political Leaders in Social Policy expansion in Brazil, India, China, South Africa’, Commonwealth & Comparative Politics, 55:3.
  25. Sarah A. Berens (2016) “Crowding Out or Welfare Promotion? How Foreign Aid affects social expenditures in Latin American Welfare Systems”, Social Policy and Administration, Vol.50, No.3, pp.353-78.
  26. Sara Niedzweicki and Jennifer Pribble (2017). ‘Social Policies and Centre-Right Governments in Argentina and Chile’, Latin American Politics and Society, Wiley.
  27. Jìmí O. Adésín (2011), “Beyond the social protection paradigm: social policy in Africa’s development”, Canadian Journal of Development Studies, 32: 4.
  28. Michael W.Kpessa and Daniel Beland (2013) “Mapping social policy development in sub-Saharan Africa”, Policy Studies, Vol.34, No.3.
  29. Mancur Olson (1993). ‘Democracy, and Development’,American Political Science Review, 87 (3).
  30. Michael Ross (2006). ‘Is Democracy Good for the Poor?’,American Journal of Political Science, Vol. 50, No. 4.
  31. David Lake and Matthew Baum (2001). ‘The Invisible Hand of Democracy, Political Control and the Provision of Public Services’,Comparative Political Studies, 34:6.
  32. AmartyaSen (1999). ‘Democracy as a Universal Value’,Journal of Democracy, Vol. 10, No. 3.
  33. Prasenjit Duara and Elizabeth Perry ed. (2018). Beyond Regimes: China and India Compared, Harvard Contemporary China Series.
  34. Peter Evans (1989). ‘Predatory, Developmental and other Apparatuses: A Comparative Political Economy Perspective on the Third World State’, Sociological Forum, 4:4.
  35. Guy Peters (2010). The Politics of Bureaucracy: An Introduction to Comparative Public Administration, London: Routledge.
  36. Bo Rothstein (2015). ‘The Chinese Paradox of High Growth and Low Quality of Government: The Cadre Organization Meets Max Weber’, Governance: An International Journal of Policy, Administration, and Institutions, Vol. 28, No.4.
  37. Yamini Aiyar, Dongree, A. & Davis, V. (2015). ‘Education Reforms, Bureaucracy and the Puzzles of Implementation’. Available online:
  39. Paul Spicker (1995). Social Policy: Themes and Approaches. London: Harvester Wheatsheaf
  40. Daniel Beland and Martin Powell (2016). ‘Continuity and Change in Social Policy’, Social Policy and Administration, Vol.50, No.2, March 2016, pp.129-147.
  41. Steen Mangen (2004). ‘‘Fit for purpose?’ Qualitative methods in comparative social policy’ in Patricia Kennett ed. A Handbook of Comparative Social Policy, Edward Elgar.
  42. Linda Hantrais (2004). ‘Crossing cultural boundaries’ in Patricia Kennett ed. A Handbook of Comparative Social Policy, Edward Elgar.
  43. Neera Chandhoke (1996). Limits of Comparative Political Analysis, Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 31, Issue no.4, Jan.
  44. Christian Aspalter (200 ‘New Developments in the Theory of Comparative Social Policy’, Journal of Comparative Social Welfare, Vol.22, Issue 1.
  45. Robert George Adolf (2011) “Are Liberal Regimes more protective of Economic and Social Rights than Authoritarian Regimes? Asian Politics and Policy, Vol.3, Issue 3, p.433-460.
  46. Menno Fenger (201.‘The Social Policy agendas of populist radical right parties in comparative perspective’, Journal of International and Comparative Social Policy, 34:3.
  47. Bureaucracy and Society in Transition: Comparative Perspectives, Comparative Social Research, Vol. 33, p.1-11.
  48. Mangla, A. (2015). Bureaucratic Norms and State Capacity in India: Implementing Primary Education in the Himalayan Region. Asian Survey, 55 (5), 882–908.