RN26 - Sociology of Social Policy

RN Coordinator:

Johans Tveit Sandvin, University of Nordland, Bodø, Norway


The aim of the RN 26 (Sociology of Social Policy and Social Welfare network) is to provide a broad arena for the discussion, dissemination and development of research on all aspects of social policy and social welfare in Europe. Importantly, the network wants to make a difference by placing the emphasis on a sociological perspective on this topic. Its research agenda includes the theorizing, analysis and evaluation of welfare institutions, organizations and policies and the ways in which they connect with the living conditions of citizens. This embraces welfare provision in a broad sense, including fields such as social policy, social work or health care. For the 12th conference of the ESA, RN 26 suggests three thematic streams for its proceedings. For all streams, we welcome papers from scholars at various career stages (including doctoral students); however, papers should not be early stage sketches of research or PhD projects. The streams are:

  1. General session: Social welfare and inequalities - sociological imagination

As highlighted in the general outline for the conference, a major issue for the global society posing significant challenges for current welfare states is the exponential increase in social inequalities, aggravated by the late economic crisis. This open stream calls upon analyses of the forces and mechanisms, policies and initiatives, theories and methodologies that can help us better understand how social inequalities are produced and how they can be alleviated. As forms and causes of inequality intersect, such analysis should also investigate how inequalities relates to other forms of difference; such as gender, social class, age, ethnicity, disability, religion and sexual orientation, and how the expressions of such differences intersect. Social policy and social welfare provision are addressed by various disciplines, and often by interdisciplinary approaches and research communities. However, from the perspective of sociologists, it appears crucial to understand the added-value provided by their own discipline in analysing social inequalities. We invite scholars to provide empirical and theoretical contributions to the understanding of inequalities and differences that can inform and guide the development of policies and strategies to promote social justice and social cohesion. The opening sessions should cover perspectives from various parts of Europe, also with regard to national traditions in sociological thinking about social inequality and social policy.


  1. Subtheme 1: Inequality in post-industrial times: Do current welfare states make differences?

According to widespread assumptions, welfare systems, understood as sets of regulations, institutions and social interventions, are meant to impact on patterns of those inequalities modern, market-based economies bring, or have brought, about. Global processes of social and cultural change towards what many have coined a post-industrial society appear to have challenged the willingness or capacity of states to ensure this function of welfare systems. Statistical data, collected individual experience as well as perceptions of major stakeholders of these systems bear ample witness to this, and there are concerns that this may be a threat to social cohesion and democracy. At the same time, it is argued that the era of the industrial welfare state was poorly equipped for doing justice to differences emerging and broadening with social modernisation, e.g. concerning social dimensions such as gender, age, ethnic background, religion, sexual orientation and the like. Reforms have been enacted that promise pluralisation and choice, and sometimes also an answer to what has become labelled new social risks. Yet it is also claimed that some of these reforms re-energize logics of intergroup differentiation or stigmatisation through more harsh activation policies and measures geared to downsize benefits and service provision. In the light of this complex configuration, sociologists concerned with the analysis of welfare states or welfare systems are facing the challenge to understand the role and impact of these states or systems when it comes to the (re)production of social inequality in our times. The discussion envisaged for this sub-theme will revolve around two sets of questions: 1.) Do current welfare states differ in this role and impact when regarding regime types across Europe? Does a given welfare state design make a difference concerning the functioning of welfare-related programs and interventions when it comes to issues of social inequality? Are certain regimes currently or by tradition more amenable to the rise of such inequality than others? 2.) Do current welfare state arrangements (in a broad sense) in themselves produce new social divisions? Or do we find evidence for welfare systems taking new social and cultural differences more widely into account? And are we, as it is argued by some scholars, actually facing a dualisation of social protection and service schemes through which the middle classes continue to enjoy organized welfare whereas a large societal majority says ‘fare-well’ to the underclass(es)? Papers submitted to this sub-theme should engage with one of these questions and offer a sociological perspective on the problems and phenomena they address. Both comparative work and contributions focusing on one country and/or one sector are welcome.

  1. Subtheme 2: Understanding and transcending fragmentation in welfare systems

In accordance with the introduction to subtheme 1, one could argue that welfare systems are designed to alleviate social inequalities and to effectively meet individual needs. However, as societies have become increasingly complex, welfare states and their various systems have grown into ever more differentiated structures, eventually making them difficult both to comprehend and to manage. This development has also been propelled by global organizational reforms such as those associated with New Public Management (NPM), making welfare systems becoming increasingly fragmented and thus corresponding unsuitable for concerted action to address complex challenges. Hence, over the last couple of decades we have witnessed a growing interest for partnerships, networks and other forms of inter-organizational collaboration in welfare services, apparently aiming at increasing the efficiency and problem solving capacity of welfare systems. In most advanced Welfare States, networks and partnerships have become omnipresent in discussions of social policy reform. It is still an open question whether the discourse on collaboration and networking actually reflects real changes in welfare systems’ manner of operation – or has the potential to do so – or whether it is yet another ‘evergreen’ with merely symbolic effects. To this second sub-stream, we welcome analyses of the organizational fragmentation and disintegration in welfare systems, as well as the various collaborative responses aiming at transcending fragmentation in order to improve the accuracy, comprehensiveness and coordination of welfare services to citizens. We especially welcome contributions that investigate the processes of inter-organisational collaboration and networking; how such initiatives are introduced (top-down or bottom-up?), how they unfold, the obstacles revealed, and how they may be related to professional, institutional or other contextual factors. As there is an overrepresentation of particular service domains (health-care for instance), and an underrepresentation of comparative studies in inter-organisational analyses in welfare service provision, contributions reflecting cross-national and/or across-domains research are particularly welcome.

Notes for authors

Authors are invited to submit their abstract either to the general session or any specific session. Please submit only to one session. After abstract evaluation, coordinators will have the chance to transfer papers between sessions where applicable.

Abstracts should not exceed 250 words. Each paper session will have the duration of 1.5 hours. Normally sessions will include 4 papers.

Abstracts must be submitted online to the submission platform, see below. Abstracts sent by email cannot be accepted. Abstracts will be peer-reviewed and selected for presentation by the Research Network; the letter of notification will be sent by the conference software system in early April 2015.

Abstract submission deadline (extended):                                                                                    15th February 2015

Abstract submission platform:                                                                                          www.esa12thconference.eu

If you have further questions on the conference, please visit the conference website. For further information on the Research Network, please visit www.europeansociology.org.