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Civil society or the state? Recent approaches to the history of voluntary welfare

Kidd, Alan J. (2002) Civil society or the state? Recent approaches to the history of voluntary welfare. Journal of historical sociology, 15 (3). pp. 328-342. ISSN 1467-6443

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Abstract

Since the 1970s a drift away from state corporatist solutions to social welfare problems has had its parallel in an academic rediscovery of the voluntary sector. Revived confidence in non–statutory approaches often assumes two things. Firstly, that voluntary action is a vital component in civil society and that civil society itself is an attribute of liberal democracy. These ideas are central to the perceived 'crisis of the welfare state'. They are also related to debates about political culture and the future of democracy with the institutions of civil society cast positively as 'schools of citizenship'. Secondly, it is frequently assumed that there is an opposition in principle between the voluntary and the statutory and in some quarters an assumption (reversing an earlier presumption about the rationality of state welfare) that voluntary action is the superior mechanism (at least morally). The purpose of this paper is threefold. First, I want to reflect on the revival of interest in the role of the institutions of civil society in the history of welfare provision. Second, I will survey some recent approaches to voluntary action and 'civil society'. Third, in the process of this survey I discuss the relevance of these approaches to the study of past states of welfare.

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