Social Citizenship: Grounds of Social Change

Maurice Roche. Handbook of Citizenship Studies. Editor: Engin F Isin & Bryan S Turner. Sage Publication. 2002.

This chapter is concerned with understanding ‘social citizenship,’ or more accurately the social dimension of citizenship, against the background of the citizenship discourses and regimes which have been established in modern nation-states and in their postwar ‘welfare states.’ Subsequent social change and the emergence of challenges to these discourses and regimes in the contemporary period imply that social citizenship is recurrently being rethought in theory and either has been, or needs to be, renewed in practice (see also Roche 1987, 1992, 1995a, 1995b) The general aim of the chapter is to explore these issues particularly in relation to national-level versions of social citizenship. The contemporary challenges include on the one hand ideological critiques from across the political spectrum, and, on the other hand, the structural imperatives and institution-building responses generated by globalisation. The chapter is divided into two main sections addressing these two types of challenge.

The first section aims to review the analysis of national-level social citizenship and also to discuss some of the ideological critiques. The focus is on the key themes of ‘complexity’ and ‘context’ in the mainstream analysis of social citizenship, and on the need to rethink the analysis in theory and renew it in practice. It is suggested that, in spite of their apparent differences, these challenges have connections and lead to comparable policy responses. Thus the section discusses what can generally be called new ‘social contractualist’ approaches to social policy and social citizenship in the contemporary period, in which various attempts have been made to review and renew the postwar ‘social contracts’ prevailing between nation-states and their citizens.

The second section is concerned with differences and commonalities in national versions of social citizenship in comparative and international perspective. On the one hand it aims to review analyses and assessments of the internationally diverse range of models of national social citizenship and national ‘welfare capitalism’ that have emerged in the developed societies in modernity and their capacity for adaptation and renewal in contemporary conditions. On the other hand it reviews analyses and arguments relating to ‘the new convergence thesis,’ namely commonalities in approaches to social policy and social citizenship deriving particularly from the impacts of globalisation.

In conclusion it is suggested that the contexts in which national-level forms of social citizenship are theorised and practised are changing. These changes require us to attempt to understand new transnational levels of theory and practice in the fields of citizenship in general and social citizenship in particular, both the global level and also the level of world-regional formations of the kind currently being pioneered by the European Union (Roche 1992: Ch 8; 1997; 2000).

Social Citizenship: Rethinking Contemporary Debates

This section critically reviews contemporary debates in the analysis of citizenship in general and social citizenship in particular. After an outline of the main positions and developments, the focus is on the key themes of complexity and context, and on the challenges of additional complexities and contexts evident in the contemporary period. The strategy of ‘social contractualism’ is considered as a common societal and policy response to these challenges.

The Study of Social Citizenship: T.H. Marshall and Subsequent Developments

There is a good case for regarding the British sociologist T.H. Marshall as the writer who put citizenship ‘on the map’ for sociology and the social sciences more generally, in his early seminal lectures on ‘Citizenship and Social Class’ in 1949 (Marshall, 1973). He argued that there are three main dimensions to citizenship – civil, political and social. These dimensions involve distinct rights and three sets of institutions in modern societies (namely legal systems, democratic government systems and welfare systems respectively) have developed to address and service them. These dimensions of citizenship rights and systems developed as part of modernisation processes in Western societies involving the development of industrial, capitalist and nation-state-based societies from the eighteenth century onwards. Citizenship status extended throughout modern societies and it intensified and accumulated first the civil dimension, subsequently the political dimension, and finally the social dimension. Marshall illustrated the analysis particularly in relation to Britain and its modernisation process, and argued that in the British case this sequence occurred over the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries respectively. Generally Marshall saw the principles of citizenship and the principles of capitalism as being ‘at war’ in the course of which the former operated to ‘civilize’ the latter (ref). Relatedly Marshall also saw modern society as a complex (or ‘hyphenated’) structure, consisting of varying combinations of the three systems of political democracy, welfare state and capitalist economy.

Marshall’s analysis initially found a resonance in historical and comparative postwar American sociology, particularly that concerned with understanding the modernisation process (Bendix, 1964; Rimlinger, 1971). The impetus he gave to the sociology of citizenship in general and of its social dimension in particular seemed to be lost for a period in the late 1970s and early 1980s. However, it revived substantially in the early to mid-1980s and early 1990s (Giddens, 1983; Turner, 1986, 1993; Roche, 1987, 1992; Barbalet, 1988; Culpitt, 1992; Twine, 1994; van Steenbergen, 1994) and it is currently used as an important reference in the development of the comparative study of welfare regimes and social rights systems (Esping-Andersen, 1990, 1999; also Janoski, 1998; Mishra, 1990, 1999).

Marshall’s analysis has generally helped to inspire the study of social rights and of the ways in which they were or were not served by welfare systems and social policy. However, it is important to note that this study was sociologically and normatively contextualised. It was sociologically based in an analysis of the changing societal context involved in modernisation processes. And it assumed, as matters of both sociological and normative significance, the pre-existence of developed forms of modern citizenship, in particular the civil and political rights, as the context in terms of which the social dimension of citizenship was developed. This contextualising concern also animates the interests of this chapter.

In spite of the changing social context in recent years and the increasing salience and impact of globalisation Marshall’s analysis has continued to be a notable point of reference, whether positive or negative, for studies of the contemporary social and political significance and role of citizenship. This is both in general and also in relation to such particular issues as its relevance for the politics of social obligation (Roche, 1995b; Janoski, 1998; Dwyer, 2000), feminism (Lister, 1997), culture (Isin and Wood, 1999; Stevenson, 2000) and environmentalism (van Steenbergen, 1994). In recent years the sociology and politics of citizenship have also increasingly begun to explore areas which Marshall did not map out, particularly the new normative and structural social contexts and implications of transnational social developments. In relation to the global level this has generated new interest in such topics as universal social rights, global citizenship and cosmopolitan citizenship (Doyal and Gough, 1991; Held, 1995; Deacon, 1997; Mishra, 1999; Delanty, 2000; Falk, 2000). At the ‘world regional’ level it has generated new interest in the topic of European Union citizenship (Meehan, 1993; Roche, 1992, 1995, 1997, 2000; Roche and van Berkel, 1997; Wiener, 1997).

The Importance of Complexity and Context in Citizenship Analysis

The mainstream analysis focuses on national citizenship and provides some key elements of a complex and contextual understanding of citizenship in general and of social citizenship in particular. This analysis stresses (i) the (internally, structurally) complex character of fully developed status of modern citizenship, and (ii) its contextualised character, its dependence on particular sociohistorical conditions in modernity. We can take each of these elements in turn, and then consider some of the main contemporary challenges to them.


In the mainstream theory and practice citizenship is pictured as a multidimensional complex consisting at least of the three familiar dimensions of civil, political and social citizenship, together with their related institutions. To characterise them negatively, modern social rights have been developed to address and minimise individuals’ risks of suffering such problems as poverty and gross inequality and related problems of health and social exclusion in modern capitalist societies. More positively, they refer to such things as individuals’ lifelong rights to income maintenance, and to access to employment, to health services, and to accommodation on the basis of need. Such rights are often rationalised, both in analytic and constitutional terms, as national embodiments of universal human rights (Doyal and Gough, 1991; Held, 1995). Systems of income distribution and maintenance to counterbalance the distributional and cyclical effects of capitalist labour markets and of progression through the life-cycle on individuals’ incomes are traditionally regarded as being at the heart of a state’s commitment to the social rights of its citizens. The extent of this commitment and of these rights can be assessed by the degree to which, and the level at which, they provide need-satisfying consumption resources at all stages of the life cycle and across all of life’s vulnerabilities and risks (in infancy and childhood, through working age, when unemployed, when in and out of married relationships, when in temporary ill health, if permanently disabled, in retirement etc.). Access to state-financed education may also be included as a social right of citizenship, particularly insofar as it develops employable skills and human capital, and life skills more generally (although alternatively it might be seen as central to another dimension of rights, namely the cultural rights of citizenship, see later).


The theory and practice of citizenship require that social rights are seen as being contextualised in both sociohistorical and normative terms. From a sociohistorical perspective in the modern period the capacity of the modern state to directly provide, or indirectly guarantee the provision of, at least needs-adequate minima of incomes and services has always been, and remains, contextualised by (or more strongly, dependent on) the effective organisation of a modern national capitalist economy. In addition, to generate, to continuously replenish and to increase the tax base and the stock of human resources from which rights-oriented distributions can be drawn it has been necessary for the state to embed and regulate the capitalist economy and institutionalise its capacity for innovation and growth. Marshall’s mainstream analysis of citizenship assumes the existence of such systems, which can usefully be refered to as ‘national functionalist’ systems (Roche, 1992).

From a more normative perspective, Marshall and citizenship analysis in general understand social rights as being contextualised by and connected with the prior history and institutionalisation, and the contemporary concurrent operation, of fundamental civil and political rights. Technically it might be possible to develop and deliver social rights in isolation and for their own sake, disconnected from civil and political rights. Indeed, the ruling groups in fascist and communist societies in the early twentieth century arguably developed such de-contextualised social rights precisely in order to buy off demands for civil and political rights, and thus for full citizenship which they otherwise suppressed. However, by comparison, most citizenship analysis addresses citizenship as a complex and contextualised status giving expression to ideals of personal autonomy, social justice, equality and inclusiveness in modern societies, societies which Marshall understands as complex ‘democratic-welfare-capitalist’ formations. In these contexts social rights are best interpreted as serving and giving substance to, rather than helping to repress, the personal autonomy assumed and expressed in the exercise of civil and political rights. In turn, in Marshall’s analysis, the full complex citizenship status, together with the nation-state (‘national functional’) system which supports it, helps to ‘civilise’ the otherwise ‘uncivilised’ and conflictual dynamics of capitalism and capitalist societies.

Much of conventional citizenship analysis, then, is reasonably complex and contextually sensitive. However, this paper argues that if it is to remain relevant to contemporary conditions and to social change citizenship analysis needs to be developed further in at least two main respects relating to the two themes of complexity and context.

Rethinking Citizenship Analysis: Additional Complexities and Contexts

There is now a need to rethink the citizenship analysis and recognise on the one hand underlying and additional dimensions, additional complexities, of the citizenship status, and on the other the additional contexts of social formations beyond the level of the nation state within which we all increasingly find ourselves living and operating, particularly in Europe.

Additional Complexities

Firstly, over the last decade or more there have been various ideologically-based challenges to the mainstream theory and practice of national citizenship from across the political spectrum, from the New Right to the New Left, and from new social movements such as feminism, environmentalism and multiculturalism. These challenges have concerned aspects not adequately recognised or addressed within mainstream analysis. The relevant aspects include the nature and role of citizens’ responsibilities (e.g. Roche, 1992, 1995b; Janoski, 1998). On the one hand this theme has been taken up in political debate from a New Right perspective in relation to the ‘traditional responsibilities’ involved in the longstanding commitment of societies and their members to national versions of the work ethic and the family ethic. On the other hand arguably a ‘new responsibilities’ discourse has been developed in the social movements of feminism (e.g. relating to males’ responsibilities of non-violence and care towards women and children), and environmentalism (e.g. our responsibilities towards other life forms, future generations etc.).

In recent years new social and cultural movements, sometimes arguably labelled ‘postmodern,’ have developed to promote interests and agendas in the fields of the politics of identity and recognition, of multiculturalism and anti-racism, of sexuality and lifestyle, of consumption and communication. These movements have renewed interest in the politics of citizenship in general and also in the theoretical proposition that citizenship has a distinct and analysable cultural dimension of rights and related cultural institutions and responsibilities (e.g. Isin and Wood, 1999; Stevenson, 2000). Arguably a cultural dimension has always been present in the politics of and development of modern citizenship in general since the 19th century, albeit in contestable national monocultural versions. This is evident in the development of such cultural institutions as national education and media systems and citizens’ rights in relation to them. However the cultural dimension, whether envisaged in national monocultural terms or in contemporary multicultural and pluralistic terms has never been adequately represented in the mainstream citizenship analysis. At the very least the new social and cultural movements and their politics can be said to reveal and address new levels of complexity in the status and implications of national citizenship. Thus additional contextualisation is required in the mainstream analysis of citizenship if the nature and prospects of social citizenship in the contemporary period are to be adequately grasped.

Additional Contexts

The nation-state and the national level of citizenship may no longer be adequate units of analysis in the contemporary world, in which globalisation, particularly the creation of a global capitalist economy, is such a powerful long-term dynamic. Taking the transnational level seriously means adding further to the complexity of our understanding of the structures of contemporary citizenship and also adding further to the societal contexts we need to take into account when analysing social rights. These issues are taken up in the second section of this chapter, which provides a link between national-level and transnational contexts by looking at the international context in which different national systems of citizenship and social rights coexist, in which they could be said to compete with each other. Globalisation can be said to be creating a new common context for all countries as welfare states, a context in which, arguably, new ideals and standards of global citizenship and social rights will increasingly need to be envisaged and debated.

Before addressing these issues I shall consider the general nature of the main political responses to the ideological and political challenges outlined in relation to the new complexity theme above. These can be said to have taken the form of versions of ‘social contractualism.’

Renewing the Practice of Social Citizenship: The Development of Forms of ‘Social Contractualism’

The Postwar Social Contract

In effect the social order of modern postwar societies was formed around quasi-constitutional and/or tacit and traditional general ‘social contracts’ (relating to identities, rights and responsibilities) which can be said to exist both between citizens themselves and between citizens and the state (Roche 1992: Chs 1 and 9). These foundational postwar social contracts were mediated through the domains of civil society, the market and the family, all of which involve more particular forms of contractual relationship (e.g. those involved in association membership, employment, marriage etc.). All of these dimensions of the postwar social contract are now the subjects of reflective political activity, are being made explicit, and in many cases are being redefined and renegotiated even where the original arrangements are only being reaffirmed and updated. However, particularly in many European countries at present, they are being changed and a new priority is being given to ‘active’ and new contractualist forms of work and welfare policy development and implementation (Heikkila, 1999).

The Influence of the New Right

Social contractualist political strategies and social policy developments have evidently been influenced by New Right and pro-market political economic ideologies and forces, particularly in the USA and the UK in the 1980s (Roche, 1992; Jordan, 1998). These have included general governmental strategies such as privatisation of state agencies and functions, deregulation of labour markets, ‘cuts’ in public expenditure particularly on the welfare state, and reduction in the power of organised labours particularly public sector workers and professionals. Particularly in the UK, but even in the more pro-market USA, these strategies have been strong on rhetoric, but have had less effect in practice than has often been claimed. The most successful was the reduction in the power of public sector workers and some public sector professionals. The effects on the governance system as a whole have been much less clear. In the UK in particular ‘cuts’ policies have tended merely to exercise a braking effect on the rate of the long-term growth of public expenditure as a proportion of GDP, rather than producing real reductions. Similarly, labour market deregulation cannot be pursued indefinitely: limits are ultimately reached in relation to the basic need of markets for a supportive institutional and legal framework, not to mention workers’ and consumers’ basic constitutional rights and electoral power in modern democratic societies. Finally, in the UK privatisation generated a new wave of ‘regulationist’ activity by the state in order to retain elements of public sector governance and accountability in relation to the services affected on behalf of service user-citizens. This development of a new citizen-oriented ‘regulationist’ approach by the state, although initiated by New Right Conservative governments, has been continued and taken further by the New Labour government since 1997.

The Influence of Changing Structural Contexts

The conditions and stimuli for this ‘social contractualism’ in the reconstruction of the welfare state are emerging in various sectors of contemporary society, notably the labour market and the family. In these two areas contractualism of various kinds is becoming more important, particularly in the labour market, as part of the general ‘flexibilisation’ dynamic in contemporary capitalism and structural socioeconomic change (Standing, 1999). The experience and role of employment are being significantly and irreversibly changed by the increased bargaining power of employers and their pursuit of time-limited and highly conditional ‘economic contractualism’ in the use of their labour. Economic contractualism and the complex and changing environment of economic networks it creates seems to be an adaptive response to the new global-local (transnational-subnational) market dynamics operating within and beyond the sphere of the nation-state and the national economy. As such it is consistent with the emergence of network formations at and between all of these levels as a result of contemporary processes of globalisation and informationalisation (Castells, 1996; Held et al., 1999).

The family is changing profoundly as a result of the contribution of feminism and the movement of women into the labour market in advancing women’s civil, political and social citizenship rights (Lister, 1997; Esping-Andersen, 1999). Particularly in relation to child-rearing, the welfare state (through its childcare services, educational services and juvenile justice services) is pursuing new contractualist and/or quasi-contractualist relationships with parents to ensure that the (citizen) obligations of parenting are carried out, the (citizen) rights of children are protected and the (citizen) rights of parents to state (i.e. tax-payers’) support for the costs of parenting is being promoted. The emergence in contemporary society of newly contractualised labour relations and newly contractualised parenting relations add to the climate in which ‘social contractualist’ processes and politics are likely to develop and take root.

Changing Policy Discourses

The new ‘politics of social contract’ being witnessed in contemporary societies in many different forms is fuelled in part by by the influence of New Right individualistic liberal market ideologies, as already observed. But it is also influenced by the demands of a range of new (and/or renewed) social movements (such as feminism, ecology, and communitarianism, and also consumerism) and also by the evident need to adapt outdated governance and welfare systems to new historical and political-economic conditions and to legitimate these adaptations through the democratic process. The contemporary restructuring of socioeconomic policies under way in European states often manifests itself in the greater prioritisation of ‘citizenship’ and ‘civil society’ concepts and criteria in the genesis, construction, delivery and assessment of social policy in particular. These processes can be understood as involving the development of a new order of ‘social contractualism’ in contemporary societies.

Some examples of ‘social contractualist’ politics in contemporary European societies at various levels from the transnational to the local include: (i) the recurrent constitutional (Europeanist, nationalist, federalist, regionalist) politics involved in the process of European Union (EU) legal and economic integration; (ii) the central and local state ‘contracting out’ public sector social services to either private sector or voluntary sector organisations, while maintaining the state’s regulatory role; (iii) the development of ‘individualised client contract’ and ‘client charter’ approaches in the public and social services in which the rights and responsibilities of both particular citizens (in the former case) and public sector-based agencies (in the latter case) are explicitly recorded as a reference for assessing both citizen and agency actions in a ‘contract-conditional’ way; and (iv) the development of the role of key forms of civil society (i.e. voluntary and community organisations) in work and welfare policy, necessarily involving principles and practices of ‘associationalism’ between citizens and ‘contractualism’ between citizen organisations and the state (also see Culpitt, 1992).

Policies of the British New Labour government elected in 1997 can be said to have this ‘social contractarian’ character. New Labour claims to be pursuing a political agenda influenced by social principles connected with ‘left-centrist’ political approaches such as ‘communitarianism,’ ‘stakeholding’ and a ‘third way’ view of social democracy, rather than the preceding Conservative mixture of New Right neoliberalism and neo-conservativism (Etzioni, 1993, 2000; Giddens, 1998, 2000). However, with the possible exception of their approach to organised worker/professional interest groups, it is arguable whether they have radically reversed the Conservative policies they inherited. New Labour’s approach is that social goals can be achieved pragmatically by a variety of means in addition to and other than direct state provision. These other means include macro economic prudence to create the conditions for economic growth, continued control of the growth of public expenditure, flexible re-regulation of the labour market on the basis of EU rules and principles, and the further development of the regulatory rather than direct provisory role of the central and local state in public and social services, (involving more privatisations, state-private sector ‘partnerships’ and ‘contracting out’).

It would be a mistake to exaggerate the achievements and sustainability of the radical New Right neoliberal agenda which was pursued during the 1980s and 1990s. But it would also be a mistake to reduce the significance of the contemporary New Labour approach merely to a re-run of the New Right agenda and of the ‘liberal market’ type of welfare regime. What was emerging even under Conservative governments in the UK over the last decade using pro-market rhetoric, and what is being developed further by New Labour using communitarian rhetoric, could be described as a new kind of work and welfare regime, a new accommodation between state, market and civil society.

There has been a renewal of interest and reflection by citizen communities and taxpayers, in Britain and in many countries, about the terms and limits of the de facto ‘social contract’ which, in developed and democratic societies, can be argued to exist between them and the state. Citizen community as a whole can be said to contract with state, seen as a political mechanism, to deliver and/or organise a range of services and rights on their behalf, and agree to pay for this via taxes. From the 1980s and through the 1990s we have seen some important shifts in many countries in the nature of the traditional citizen-state ‘social contracts’ established earlier in the 20th century and particularly in the early postwar period. For good or ill as we move into the 21st century these common changes continue. Evidently this rethinking and renegotiating of the various social contracts embodied in the institutional designs of modern societies, particularly those between the citizenry and the state, is more politically visible in some countries than in others. Where it becomes a matter of political visibility and societal reflexivity we can understand it as the addition of a new ‘social contractualist’ policy dynamic, a new commonality increasing the comparability of different nations, their welfare states and their versions of social citizenship.

Social Citizenship in Comparative and Global Contexts: Pressures for Reform and Renewal

This section is concerned with differences and commonalities in contemporary national versions of social citizenship in comparative and international perspective. Firstly it reviews ‘welfare regimes’ analysis and comparisons between ‘worlds of welfare capitalism.’ Secondly, it reviews ‘the new convergence thesis,’ namely the argument that the emergence of commonalities in national approaches to social policy and social citizenship derives particularly from the impacts of globalisation and structural change.

‘Welfare Capitalism’ and Social Citizenship: Reviewing ‘Welfare Regimes’

Marshall, as we have seen, analysed social citizenship rights as a dimension of the full and complex status of citizenship, and argued that this in turn had been achieved in the context of the social politics and historical development of modern ‘democratic-welfare-capitalist’ nation-states and social formations. However, this recognition of complexity and context provides an impetus rather than a terminus for social citizenship analysis. Evidently national citizenship in general and national social citizenship in particular has been established in very different ways during the different experiences of modernisation and nation-building processes in different societies, particularly European societies. Nevertheless Marshall’s conception has been influential in stimulating and informing subsequent comparative developmental, sociological and policy research into and assessment of the systemic differences between social models from early studies (e.g. Bendix, 1964; Rimlinger, 1971) to more recent ones (e.g. Esping-Andersen, 1990, 1996, 1999; Janoski, 1998).

In his notable comparative work Gösta Esping-Andersen in particular (e.g. Esping-Andersen, 1990) has argued for the need to recognise the systemic and traditional political and sociological differences between what he identifies as three main types of national social model or national ‘worlds of welfare capitalism.’ These are, firstly, the liberal market model exemplified particularly in the USA but also to some extent in the UK. In this model priority is given to civil rights and the pursuit of economic growth, and social rights and associated state welfare costs are minimised through means-tested social assistance ‘safety net’ policy approaches. Secondly there is the conservative corporatist model, exemplified particularly by Germany and other continental European societies such as Austria and France. This aims to promote high levels of employment and institutionalises a ‘social dialogue’ in the industrial relations and social policy-making systems between employers’ and workers’ organisations. It protects the social rights particularly of established full-time male employees and their families well, but it also involves rigidities and exclusionary social categorisation in relation to women and the operation of labour markets. Thirdly there is the social democratic model which is exempified in the Scandinavian countries (and also arguably in the Netherlands, Goodin et al., 1999). This aspires to apply egalitarian, universalistic and inclusive ideals and values and thus to address people as modern citizens with legitimate claims to well-resourced social rights. Like the corporatist model this model aims to promote high levels of employment and involves social dialogue approaches to policy-making. In addition it uses relatively high tax levels to fund extensive childcare and related services and public sector employment in order, in turn, to provide employment opportunities for women and generally a family-supportive social and labour market environment for all citizens.

The ‘three worlds’ analysis has been criticised on various fronts, including from feminist perspectives, which argue that it underplays the patriarchally structured second-class citizenship in all welfare regimes associated with the traditionally central role of women and their production of care work and welfare in the family (e.g. Orloff, 1993; Lewis, 1992; Esping-Andersen, 1999). Also, while the analysis could be said to capture reasonably well the main regime differences across much of Europe, nonetheless it is not comprehensive. It has been justly criticised for having little to say about what arguably amounts to an additional regime type, namely the traditionalistic approach to social policy and social citizenship based on the role of the family, civil society and obligations, which is characteristic of Spain, Italy and other southern European countries (Ferrara, 1996). It also needs to be supplemented to take account of the distinctive features presented by citizenship and social rights regimes, such as they are, in the ‘transitional’ post Communist East European societies (Deacon, 1997).

Comparative social policy research has long argued that, compared with the other models, the social democratic model provides the fullest development and realisation of the social rights of citizenship (Ginsburg, 1992; Gould, 1993; Hill, 1996). In recent years the need to adapt to the forces of the relatively unregulated market of the emerging global capitalist economy has gained increased importance in the management of national economies and economic policy-making. Correlated with this has been a increase in the political influence of pro-market neo-conservative and neoliberal political ideologies in most national polities in the developed world. Thus the phenomenon of globalisation could be said to create structural imperatives towards convergent national adaptations to, if not wholescale adoptions of, the liberal market model of ‘welfare capitalism.’ This has led to arguments that the societal and political economic conditions supporting the social democratic model have been fatally undermined, and that the model is in long-term and terminal decline. However, contemporary comparative research indicates that, in spite of these structural pressures towards policy convergence, differences between the main models of welfare capitalism and social citizenship remain marked, and also that the social democratic model is capable of adaptation and renewal. Indeed research findings notably indicate that the social democratic model continues to perform economically as well as the other models, and continues to outperform them in terms of the degree to which it enables social rights and the social dimension of citizenship to be realised in practice.

The most searching recent comparative analysis of social models is that of Goodin et al. (1999). This proposes that national welfare regimes or models of ‘welfare capitalism’ can be assessed, on the one hand in terms of economic efficiency and performance and on the other in terms of their performance in improving people’s lives, by promoting individuals’ (citizens’) autonomy and the social conditions for this, namely minimising poverty, and promoting social equality, social integration and social stability. The study examined comparable longitudinal (over ten years) data sets (particularly household panel surveys) for indicators for each of six variables (efficiency, poverty, equality, integration, stability and autonomy) from the Netherlands, Germany and the USA as key national examples of the social democratic, conservative corporatist and liberal market models respectively. They discussed social citizenship particularly in relation to equality and the social democratic model. They found that:

the social democratic welfare regime is ‘the best of all possible worlds.’ [It] turns out to be the best choice, regardless of what you want it to do. [It] is clearly best on its home ground of minimizing inequality. But it also turns out to be better at reducing poverty than liberal welfare regime, which targets its policy on that to the exclusion of all else. [It] is also at least as good at promoting stability [and… social integration] as is the corporatist welfare regime which ostensibly attaches most importance to those goals. [It] is also best at promoting key elements of autonomy, something valued by all regimes if not necessarily prioritized by any. (Goodin et al., 1999: 260)

[If one’s] ‘bottom-line’ concern with efficiency is with the way in which welfare policy might undermine economic productivity, then the crucial fact is simply that the social democratic system on which we have focussed the Netherlands – managed to sustain economic growth on a rate certainly on a par with (and in some ways higher than) the other countries under study. And both the social democratic and corporatist regimes passed on much more of the growth dividend to middle-income earners than did the liberal regime under study, at least over this period. (Goodin et al., 1999: 261).

This study argues that its findings call into question classical liberal economic assumptions about the social conditions necessary for growth in productivity, and suggest that ‘there seem to be several different paths’ to this goal (Goodin et al., 1999: 261).

The findings of the Goodin team study challenge the mainstream liberal economics-inspired assumption that countries necessarily always face a stark zero-sum choice, a necessary trade-off, in organising economic and social policy between economic objectives and social objectives. These findings about the continued socioeconomic strength and adaptability of the social democratic model have also been confirmed in other recent studies of the Netherlands (Hout, 1997), of Sweden (Esping-Andersen, 1999), of these two countries together with Denmark (Hirst and Thompson, 1999: Ch 6) and of the ‘Nordic Model’ in general (Kautto et al., 1999).

Structural Change, Globalisation and Social Citizenship: Reviewing the ‘Convergence Thesis’

The dominant postwar forms of the welfare state, whatever their apparent differences, can be argued to represent broadly common policy responses to the common needs for welfare and social cohesion deriving from the common causal conditions of capitalist industrialisation, conditions which had developed in comparable ways from from the late nineteenth century to the mid-twentieth century (e.g. Marshall, 1973; Rimlinger, 1971; Roche, 1992; Janoski, 1998). Late twentieth-century and now early twenty-first-century structural change, involving postindustrialism and globalisation (e.g. Castells, 1996; Held et al., 1999), is of a comparable scale. By analogy, then, these new common causal conditions influencing welfare states should produce relatively common social problem effects and social policy responses. As we have seen, Esping-Andersen is a leading proponent of national differences and ‘path-dependent’ logics of development. Nonetheless even he registers something of the force of this ‘logic of common structural change’ perspective when he concludes his collection of studies of the adaptations of national welfare states to globalisation and postindustrialism by observing that ‘[A] major overhaul of the existing welfare state edifice must occur if it is meant to produce a positive-sum kind of welfare for postindustrial society’ (1996: 267).

The impact of globalisation on national social policies, welfare states, and indeed public policy more generally is evidently a major emergent contemporary problem for analysis and policy. However, in spite of this, this structural change paradigm has not yet attracted a sufficiently searching and substantive base of systematic comparative research (see for instance Rhodes, 1996; Castles and Pierson, 1996; OECD, 1996; Gough et al., 1997; and Mishra, 1999). The structural change paradigm has been christened ‘the new convergence thesis’ and the following sections consider some arguments and evidence for and against it.

Common Structural Changes and Social Problems: The Potential for Policy Convergence

According to many observers, structural changes in the labour markets (LMs) and employment regimes (ERs) of the advanced industrial societies in the late twentieth century involved the development of (structural) unemployment and/or underemployment and/or flexibilisation of employment (Standing, 1999). A general picture of these changes can be painted in growth trends in cross-national rates of (i) unemployment (particularly long-term, youth and two-household unemployment); and (ii) part-time and temporary employment. Their effects can be seen in trends in measures of poverty and social exclusion, and also in policy trends such as the development of targeted benefits systems to address these particular problems.

A recent cross-national survey of national social policymakers confirms problems of rising unemployment and the need for employment-creation policies this perception is shared perception across European societies. ‘The big issues are the cost of (welfare, MR) provision and the high levels of unemployment, in line with recent EU debate’ (Taylor-Gooby, 1997: 8). In addition the growth of labour market flexibility, particularly in the form of part-time employment, has been a common feature across Europe, albeit to different extents and at different rates in different nations. Part-time employment, which has tended to be taken mainly by women, grew by 3% per year from 1987 to 1990 in the EU, and in core economies such as that of Germany this was virtually the only kind of employment growth. In the subsequent period 1990–1994 part-time employment grew by 13% in the EU against the background of a decline in the overall number of people in full-time employment. Another indicator of Labour Market flexibility, namely temporary employment, has been growing at a slower rate than part-time employment. Nonetheless it amounted to over 10% of all employment in the EU in 1994, and a much higher proportion of the labour market in particular countries (e.g. it amounted to 33% of total employment in Spain in 1994), (data from Huws, 1997).

These sorts of labour market changes can be argued to promote social exclusion (understood as an undermining of people’s access to the social rights and social goods of recognition, income and work) in two ways at two different levels. Firstly unemployment and/or underemployment can be said to directly produce exclusionary experiences among individuals involuntarily affected by them through the loss of income and work they involve. Secondly, they can be said to indirectly produce the potential for individual exclusionary experiences, by their effects at the macro level generally on state taxation sources and spending constraints, and thus on social policy and the welfare state. Under the common structural change pressures indicated above, welfare regimes have commonly tended to respond by moving towards more targeted and selective patterns of welfare income distribution.

Policy Responses to Structural Change: For and against the Convergence Thesis

In Favour of the Convergence Thesis

Cross-national commonality of policy response to structural change can be seen in a number of areas. These include the development of ‘social contractualist’ and ‘active’ approaches to labour market and employment policy noted earlier. They also include social assistance policy. Each of the main models of postwar welfare state, in spite of their differences, has typically consisted of two parts. The primary part has conventionally been regarded as the widespread or universal provision of welfare benefits for those not able to support themselves on income from the labour market because of unemployment, sickness or retirement. This was often organised by the state through funds created by contributory insurance schemes for employees and/or financed by the state through transfers from current taxation. The part conventionally regarded as of secondary importance in the characterisation and assessment of the postwar welfare state is often referred to as ‘social assistance.’ This part typically aims to provide ‘a safety net’ for those people not supported by market income or by the primary welfare system, and is characterised by various forms of targeting and conditionality (via income/means tests, work availability/work search tests etc.) rather than universality in the provision of benefits. It deals with the truly disadvantaged, those unemployed people who have never or rarely been employed, the long-term unemployed, those raising young children for long periods in households with low income and little or no employment, and so on, who effectively become significantly ‘dependent’ for their survival in society and their quality of life on this part of the welfare system.

A notable comparative study of social assistance policies in 24 countries was conducted for the OECD in 1996 (Eardley et al., 1996; Gough et al., 1997). The study focused on policy inputs rather than outcomes. The authors aimed ‘to chart and classify the species of social assistance we observe in the world rather than to offer a comprehensive theory of their variety and different forms of evolution’ (Gough et al., 1997: 18). The major groups of recipients of social assistance are (i) the unemployed, (ii) older people, (iii) lone parents and (iv) women (p. 28). The findings of the study indicate that ‘means-testing, targeting and selectivity’ need to be ‘brought back into the comparative study of European and wider welfare systems’ (p.17). They showed that ‘All types of welfare regime exhibited a rising share of expenditure on means-tested schemes in the 1980s – a notable convergence of otherwise disparate national patterns’ (Eardley et al., 1996: 3) These social assistance schemes tend to develop new combinations of incentives and sanctions intended to influence the attitudes and behaviour of benefit recipients, in particular to influence them to search for, gain and hold employment in the labour market. The incentives typically include such policies as: reducing the (pre-existing and usually dis-incentivising) rate of withdrawal of benefit as employment-based earnings rise; providing education, training and work experience programmes for the unemployed; and extending childcare and other benefits to enable claimants with caring responsibilities to combine these with paid work. The sanctions typically include such policies as: enhanced monitoring of able-bodied claimants; stricter tests of job-search activities, time-limited benefits, and reductions in benefit levels relative to income available from the labour market (Eardley et al., 1996: Ch. 8).

The study analysed the social conditions generating the common growth of social assistance and the new patterns of benefit provision observed into ‘external’ and ‘internal’ pressures on states. ‘External pressures’ are trends operating generally throughout the advanced societies. They include demographic trends (an ageing population, etc.), family structure changes (fragmentation of family types, the rise of lone parent families etc.), labour market changes, and housing and fuel costs increases. ‘Internal pressures’ are political factors operating within each nation. They include the perceived breakdown in the effectiveness of traditional social insurance and welfare systems, programmes of public expenditure limitation, conflicts between central and local government around these programmes, and pressure from public sector workers, trade unions, professions and clients.

Overall the OECD study argues that ‘means-tested social assistance schemes have in recent years acquired an importance which has not been reflected in the comparative literature on welfare states’ (ibid: 40/1). This is because such schemes are more relevant to the ‘new poverty’ and the new problems of social exclusion connected with contemporary social conditions than to the older problems which welfare states were originally developed to address. The authors argue that these schemes should now be seen as having a new strategic significance in the current operation and the future development of social policy and the welfare state in the advanced societies.

Against the Convergence Thesis

A notable comparative study which suggests limits to ‘the convergence thesis’ is that of Castles and Pierson (1996). They provide a cross-national assessment of the degree of impact of globalisation on social policy in the UK, Australia and New Zealand. As background to this study Castles and Pierson acknowledge some limited validity in the idea of commonality and convergence in the early development of modern welfare states in response to the developing needs of industrial capitalist societies. They also acknowledge that international economic crises and developments in the mid-1970s had a major impact on most developed countries, particularly the three under consideration in this study. The inflationary impact of the increased price of oil imports on all these countries affected their monetary and fiscal policies, were connected with changes in their labour markets, and led them to adopt similar neoliberal solutions to their problems. These three countries were selected in part to maximise the possibility of finding significant commonalities in their contemporary social policies. They share a common language and an interconnected history and culture, and they face common challenges in the new global economic environment facing nation-states.

Castles and Pierson suggest that ‘The big question for the new convergence thesis… is whether the social policy reforms made under these circumstances (MR of common international pressures) have all been in the direction of the leaner, meaner welfare state supposedly implied by economic inter nationalisation.’ Their study found that while the three countries did develop similar sorts of policy instruments there remained significant differences between them. In the UK throughout the decade of the 1980s there was a disjunction between, on the one hand, the governmental rhetorical threats to ‘roll back’ the welfare state associated with Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and with the hegemony of the neo-libertarian ‘New Right’ in terms of political ideology and policy discourse, and on the other hand the failure of these forces actually to make any significant reductions in the absolute and relative level of state spending on the welfare system. By contrast in New Zealand substantial real reductions in welfare spending were achieved. Finally, in Australia an increase in the targeting of welfare spending, normally associated with an effort to reduce spending levels in general and benefit levels of those targeted in particular, in practice involved increases in benefit levels for those targeted.

Castles and Pierson argue that ‘the new convergence thesis fails to capture the reality of these countries’ social policy development in the 1980s.’ While there may have been a similarity in the policy rhetoric of the need for reductions in state welfare spending, the effects of this in policy practice, particularly in the UK and Australia cases, were variable and characterised by caution. These effects were just as predictable from a knowledge of the traditional class-related power bases and coalitions connected with the postwar welfare state as they were from knowledge of the new international pressures affecting these countries. They argue that any single-factor explanation for contemporary social policy and welfare state developments and changes, such as that involved in a prioritisation of the globalisation factor, is inadequate. Any explanation requires at least three factors to be considered. Firstly there is globalisation. They acknowledge that ‘Certainly global economic forces are likely to have some impact on domestic public policy’ and that this is all the greater when those forces are actively embraced by governments and policymakers. Secondly there are the interest groups involved in the operation of the welfare state and general popular support for relatively high levels of public spending on welfare systems. Thirdly there are the poor and the ‘have nots’ who have traditionally benefited from the welfare state’s redistributive effects and whose interests can exercise a pressure on governments. In general Castles and Pierson conclude that in such comparative analyses ‘politics still matters’ and thus national differences still matter. In their view, although the convergence thesis contains some substance, it needs to be ‘heavily qualified.’ This picture is consistent with other recent comparative research and analysis (e.g. Hirst and Thompson, 1999; Alber and Standing, 2000).

In his review of the literature on the impact of globalisation on welfare states, Rhodes (1996) argues that the current crises of national welfare states in the West derive from two connected contradictions. Firstly globalisation tends to generate unemployment, and thus simultaneously raise the cost of welfare while undermining the tax base necessary to pay for it. Secondly, although globalisation depends to a significant extent on nationally and internationally based social compacts, arrangements and cohesion (particularly between classes associated with power in the realm of the state and the economy and their hegemonic influence over subordinate classes and groups), nonetheless it stimulates forces which are destabilizing and destructive of these national and international social orders. The future of welfare is bound up with the capacity of states individually and collectively, through such world regional organisations as the EU, to manage and balance these contradictions. One of Rhodes’ main concerns is to assess whether it is credible to consider that there might be a ‘third way’ between globalist and nationalist approaches to economic growth and the provision of welfare. He recommends a ‘progressive competition state’ approach which aims to simultaneously develop the innovative capacity of nation-states (their capacity to innovate economically, socially, politically and institutionally), and build public coalitions of support for the welfare functions of compensating ‘the victims of globalization,’ and suggests that the EU has a role to play in promoting this agenda (also see Deacon, 1997 and Mishra, 1999).

To summarise, many of the analyses of social citizenship considered here stress the role and diversity of response of the nations and their citizens’ political debates and decisions. However, they also recognise the great and arguably increasing importance in such processes of the kind of common structural change factors I have outlined. As noted, Esping-Andersen characteristically endorses the relevance of the political dimension. Nevertheless he does concede the importance of structural change in his concern with ‘national adaptions’ to ‘global economies’ and to ‘postindustrialism.’ He suggests that ‘The political problem today is how to forge coalitions for an alternative, postindustrial model of social citizenship and egalitarianism’ (Esping-Andersen, 1996: 267). Comparably Rhodes, while he is sceptical about European nations’ and the EU’s capacity to contribute to the process of ‘compensating the victims of globalization,’ nonetheless implies that this might be conceivable providing the member states committed themselves to the development of social citizenship at the transnational EU level (Rhodes, 1996, also see his contribution to Ferrara et al., 2000).


This chapter has recognised that there are important and enduring differences between national models of citizenship and social rights in the developed and democratic societies. Nevertheless these societies each inhabit new and changing international political-economic contexts in which alternative national models of ‘welfare capitalism’ coexist and compete, and in which pressures deriving from globalisation are increasing (Deacon, 1997; Mishra, 1999). This new international context and the new dynamics operating between, on the one hand, ‘path-dependent’ diversity and, on the other, pressures towards convergence need to be taken into account when attempting to understand the contemporary condition of and prospects for national-level social rights and social citizenship within any given nation-state. Some of the main commonalities are the increasing importance of the social assistance element within welfare systems, the growth of ‘active’ approaches to labour market and employment policy, and generally the growth of what can be called varieties of a new ‘social contractualism’ in the relation between citizens and the state in the contemporary period. These issues are not always adequately addressed within mainstream comparative social policy and social citizenship research.

The review of the topic of social citizenship undertaken in this chapter suggests that projects and processes of renewal will have to engage with the new complexities and new contexts of citizenship in general. It is suggested that, in future projects of renewal of social rights, the originary and fundamental connections of social rights, on the one hand, with social responsibilities and, on the other hand, with citizenship’s civil, political, and cultural rights and responsibilities more generally, will need to be reaffirmed and re-institutionalised. In addition projects to renew national social rights will need to be undertaken in an awareness of the relevance of transnational levels of rights and responsibilities. At a global level this involves taking seriously the possibilities for developing the interest in and capacity of global policy institutions such as the United Nations, the International Labour Organisation, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to recognise and promote social rights and the full complex of rights associated with citizenship (Held, 1995; Deacon, 1987; Mishra, 1999). In Europe, understood as a ‘world region,’ this involves particularly an awareness of the increasing importance for individuals and nations of their participation in the European Union (EU) and thus of the possibilities for developing social citizenship at a transnational as well as at national levels.

What the development of the transnational EU project means for the national-level citizenship regimes of EU member states in general, and their social citizenship regimes in particular, is currently not at all clear. On the one hand, and in the short to medium term, there is the possibility that there may be few implications. This is because of the diversity in national social models around Europe noted in this chapter and also, within the EU system, because of the subsidiarity principle and the persistence of national control and veto power over taxation and welfare policies. On the other hand, and in the medium to longer term, arguably there is a political and social logic connected with the economic logic of the construction of the Single Market, the single currency and the Economic and Monetary Union project in general. This could generate policy ‘spill overs’ into the spheres of social and citizenship policy, comparable with ‘spill over’ processes in many policy areas which have long characterised the process of development of the EU. In addition the process to enlarge the EU to include postcommunist Eastern European states and the Economic and Monetary Union integrative process in general, if they are successful, are each likely to lead to increases in intra-EU labour mobility. These issues are likely to increase the pressure to develop more standardised and portable EU-level citizenship and social rights systems, and this in turn may require a reorganisation and relative standardisation of elements of national social policies and welfare systems. The adaptability of the well-resourced national social citizenship systems of the social democratic model to globalisation reviewed in this chapter will need to be matched by further adaptation to the related transnational process of Europeanisation. For the future of the citizens of the member states of the increasingly interconnected and interdependent European Union it is now time to begin to put some flesh on what are currently only the bones of EU citizenship and social rights (Roche, 1997; Roche and van Berkel, 1997). Processes of reform and renewal of social citizenship at the national level in European societies during the early 21st century will increasingly need to take this transnational EU level of social citizenship into account.