Hostname: page-component-5d59c44645-n6p7q Total loading time: 0 Render date: 2024-02-29T07:31:10.849Z Has data issue: false hasContentIssue false

Choice and Voice – A Review

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 April 2008

Ian Greener*
School of Applied Social Sciences, University of Durham E-mail:


‘Choice’ and ‘voice’ are two of the most significant means through which the public are able to participate in public services. Choice agendas position public service users as consumers, driving improvements by choosing good providers over bad, which then thrive through greater allocations of funds as money follows their selections (Le Grand, 2007). Choice-driven reforms tend to be about trying to make public services more locally responsive (Ferlie, Freeman, McDonnell, Petsoulas and Rundle-Smith, 2006). Voice-driven reforms, on the other hand, tend to position public service users as citizens, suggesting an emphasis on accountability mechanisms to drive service improvements through elections, with the possible removal of low regarded officials, or a greater involvement of local people in the running of services (Jenkins, 2006). Voice implies that citizens hold the right to participate in public services either through the political process, or through their direct involvement in the running or delivery of the services themselves. Of course, it is also possible to combine choice and voice mechanisms to try and achieve greater service responsiveness and accountability. In this review, choice reforms will be treated as those which are based upon consumer literature, and voice reforms those based upon attempting to achieve greater citizenship.

Citizenship and consumption are two areas with significant literatures in their own right, but whereas the citizenship literature is widely cited in the social policy literature, the consumption literature appears rather more selectively. This review examines each area in turn in terms of its application to social policy, and then presents a synthesis of commonalties in the two literatures, which represent particularly promising avenues for exploring the relationship between public services and their users.

Review Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2007

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below. (Log in options will check for institutional or personal access. Content may require purchase if you do not have access.)


6, P. (2003), ‘Giving consumers of British public services more choice: what can be learned from recent history?’, Journal of Social Policy, 32, 2, 239270.Google Scholar
Abercrombie, N. (1994), ‘Authority and consumer society’, in Keat, R., Whiteley, N. and Abercrombie, N. (eds), The Authority of the Consumer, London: Routledge, pp. 4357.Google Scholar
Aldridge, A. (2005), The Market, Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar
Ball, S., Bowe, R. and Gewirtz, S. (1995), ‘Circuits of schooling: a sociological exploration of parental choice of school in social class contexts’, The Sociological Review, 43, 1, 5278.Google Scholar
Barber, B. (2007), Consumed: How Markests Corrupt Children, Infantilize Adults and Swallow Citizens Whole, London: W. W. Norton & Co.Google Scholar
Barber, M. (2007), Instruction to Deliver: Tony Blair, the Public Services and the Challenge of Achieving Targets, London: Portoco's Publishing.Google Scholar
Bauman, Z. (2007), Consuming Life, Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
Beveridge, W. (1942), Social Insurance and Allied Services, London: HMSO.Google Scholar
Birchall, J. and Simmons, R. (2004), User Power: The Participation of Users in Public Services, London: National Consumer Council.Google Scholar
Callon, M. (1998), ‘An essay on framing and overflowing’, in Callon, M. (ed.), The Laws of the Markets, Oxford: Blackwell, pp. 244269.Google Scholar
Callon, M., Meadel, C. and Rabeharisoa, V. (2002), ‘The economy of qualities’, Economy and Society, 31, 2, 194217.Google Scholar
Clarke, J. (2004), Changing Welfare, Changing Welfare States, London: Sage.Google Scholar
Clarke, J. and Newman, J. (1997), The Managerial State, London: Sage.Google Scholar
Clarke, J., Newman, J., Smith, N., Vidler, E. and Westmarland, L. (2007), Creating Citizen-Consumers: Changing Publics and Changing Public Services, London: Paul Chapman Publishing.Google Scholar
Daly, M. and Rake, K. (2003), Gender and the Welfare State, Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
Dean, H. (2002), Welfare Rights and Social Policy, London: Pearson.Google Scholar
Dwyer, P. (2000), Welfare Rights and Responsibilities, Bristol: Policy Press.Google Scholar
Ferlie, E., Freeman, G., McDonnell, J., Petsoulas, C. and Rundle-Smith, S. (2006), ‘Introducing choice in the public services: some supply side issues’, Public Money and Management, 26, 1, 6372.Google Scholar
Fitzpatrick, T. (2001), Welfare Theory: An Introduction, Basingstoke: Palgrave.Google Scholar
Flanders, J. (2007), Consuming Passions: Leisure and Pleasure in Victorian Britain, London: HarperPress.Google Scholar
Gabriel, Y. and Lang, T. (2006), The Unmanageable Consumer, London: Sage.Google Scholar
Galbraith, J. (1958), The Affluent Society, London: Penguin.Google Scholar
Giddens, A. (1998), The Third Way: The Renewal of Social Democracy, Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar
Giddens, A. (2002), What Now for New Labour? Cambridge: Polity.Google Scholar
Giddens, A. (2007), Over to you, Mr Brown, Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
Greener, I. (2002), ‘Agency, social theory and social policy’, Critical Social Policy, 22, 43, 688706.Google Scholar
Harris, J. (1996), ‘“Contract” and “Citizenship”’ in Marquand, D. and Seldon, A. (eds), The Ideas that Shaped Post-War Britain, London: Fontana Press.Google Scholar
Hirschman, A. (1970), Exit, Voice and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations and States, London: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
Janoski, T. (1998), Citizenship and Civil Society: A Framework of Rights and Obligations in Liberal, Traditional And Social Democratic Regimes, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Jenkins, S. (2006), Thatcher and Sons: A Revolution in Three Acts, London: Allen Lane.Google Scholar
Jessop, B. (2002), The Future of the Capitalist State, Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
Klein, R. (2003), ‘Governance for NHS foundation trusts’, British Medical Journal, 326, 174175.Google Scholar
Le Grand, J. (2003), Motivation, Agency and Public Policy: Of Knights, Knaves, Pawns and Queens, Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
Le Grand, J. (2007), The Other Invisible Hand, Woodstock: Princetown University Press.Google Scholar
Lee, S. and Woodward, R. (2002), ‘Implementing the Third Way: The Delivery of Public Services under the Blair Government’, Public Money and Management, 49–56.Google Scholar
Lister, R. (1997), Citizenship: Feminist Perspectives, London: Palgrave.Google Scholar
Marshall, T. H. (1950), Citizenship and Social Class, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Minister of State for Department of Health, Minister of State for Local and Regional Government, and Minister of State for School Standards (2005), The Case for User Choice in Public Services, London: Public Administration Select Committee into Choice, Voice and Public Services.Google Scholar
Mouzelis, N. (2001), ‘Reflexive modernization and the third way: the impasses of Giddens' social-democratic politics’, Sociological Review, 436–456.Google Scholar
Needham, C. (2003), Citizen-Consumers: New Labour's Marketplace Democracy, London: Catalyst Forum.Google Scholar
Paterson, M. (2006), Consumption and Everyday Life, London: Taylor & Francis.Google Scholar
Roche, M. (1992), Rethinking Citizenship: Welfare, Ideology and Change in Modern Society, Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
Sayer, A. (2005), The Moral Significance of Class, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
Schwartz, B. (2004), The Paradox of Choice: Why Less is More, New York: Harper Collins.Google Scholar
Secretary of State for Health (2000), The NHS Plan: A Plan for Investment, A Plan for Reform, London: HMSO.Google Scholar
Stoker, G. (2006), Why Politics Matters: Making Democracy Work, London: Palgrave.Google Scholar
Veblen, T. (1970), The Theory of the Leisure Class, London: Unwin.Google Scholar
Welshman, J. and Walmsley, J. (eds) (2006), Community Care in Perspective: Care, Control and Citizenship, London: Palgrave.Google Scholar
Westergaard, J. (1999), ‘Where does the Third Way Lead?’ New Political Economy, 4 (3), 429436.Google Scholar
Wilmot, S. (2004), ‘Foundation trusts and the problem of legitimacy’, Health Care Analysis, 12, 2, 157169.Google Scholar