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Robert Pinker, the Idea of Welfare and the Study of Social Policy: On Unitarism and Pluralism

  • JOHN OFFER (a1)

This article reappraises the distinction upon which Robert Pinker has insisted since the 1970s between the heuristic and the normative dimensions of concepts and theories associated with ‘welfare’ in social policy studies, a distinction prompted by, for instance, the writings of Richard Titmuss. It discusses Pinker's differentiation of forms of study which seek to account for the likenesses and unlikenesses within and between the welfare systems of different countries from forms of study aiming to establish moral criteria by which one system of welfare can be deemed superior to another. In particular, it highlights his emphasis on the need for social policy as a subject to attend to: (a) the reality of everyday ideas of social welfare and ‘faring well’ in general; (b) how everyday ideas of ‘faring well’ are exhibited in what he has called ‘conditional altruism’, whether exercised within families, towards strangers or across nations; (c) the practices undertaken by individuals and families to attain freedom and security as well as to meet those of their needs commonly taken within social policy studies to be the components of ‘welfare’; (d) the difficulties, moral, political, social and economic, associated with Titmussian welfare unitarism, in contrast to welfare pluralism. The article thus provides a review of aspects of Pinker's many published papers as well as his influential Social Theory and Social Policy and The Idea of Welfare.

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A. Deacon and K. Mann (1999), ‘Agency, modernity and social policy’, Journal of Social Policy, 28: 3, 413–35.

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R. A. Pinker (1995b), ‘Golden ages and welfare alchemists’, Social Policy and Administration, 29: 2, 7890.

R. A. Pinker (2000), Review of J. T. Godbout in collaboration with A. Caille, The World of the Gift, 1998, in Journal of Social Policy, 29: 1, 150–2.

R. A. Pinker (2006a), ‘From gift relationships to quasi-markets: an odyssey along the policy paths of altruism and egoism’, Social Policy and Administration, 40: 1, 1025.

R. A. Pinker (2006b), ‘Citizenship, civil war and welfare: the making of modern Ireland’, 21st Century Society, 1: 1, 2338.

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Journal of Social Policy
  • ISSN: 0047-2794
  • EISSN: 1469-7823
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-social-policy
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