Peter Taylor-Gooby's recent contribution to the debate on globalisation and the logic of welfare retrenchment with which it has come to be so closely associated (1997), represents a valuable and timely intervention in a debate whose significance can scarcely be over-stated. Our assessment of the extent to which the contours of the contemporary global political economy circumscribe the parameters of the politically and economically possible is crucial to our understanding of the trajectory and future of the welfare state in a post-Keynesian era, as it is to any attempt to reclaim a positive agenda for welfare reform in a context in which social policy is increasingly being subordinated to the perceived imperative(s) of economic competitiveness. Yet, despite its important challenge to the equation of globalisation, ‘new times’ (however labelled) and welfare retrenchment, Taylor-Gooby's intervention is not unproblematic. The counterposing of an ‘old sociology’ concerned with class, capital and the state with a ‘new sociology’ of fragmentation and diversity (a sociology of and for new times) is ultimately unhelpful. It presents an artificially stark choice between a celebration of the novel that threatens to prove complicit with contemporary welfare reform on the one hand, and a reassertion of continuity and the continuing relevance of ‘second-best theory’ on the other. It is the argument of this brief response that is only by rejecting the dualistic pairings of ‘old’ and ‘new’ sociology, ‘old’ and ‘new’ times alike, that we can fashion a sociology and attendant political economy capable of detailing the complex and contingent processes currently restructuring the welfare state and of charting the space for positive alternative trajectories of welfare reform. In so doing we must resist the temptation to make do with second-best.
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