An introduction to Social Policy

Social Policy: Theory and Practice - 3rd edition

Paul Spicker

Readings in Social Policy

The readings listed here have been chosen to complement the text of Social Policy: Theory and Practice.

Almost all the readings are PDF downloads.They have been selected to meet three basic criteria:

  1. Although some of the readings are wide-ranging, and they may include material that is also relevant elsewhere, they needed to relate to the material covered in the relevant chapter.
  2. They have to be freely and legitimately available on the Internet for all users. (I have confined the links to sites that appear to be legitimate, including university sites, publishers' sites and institutional repositories. If I am mistaken, please inform me and I will take down the link.) It has already happened that an open-access reading from this list has been replaced with a pay-to-view link; if this happens again, let me know and I will take the link down.
  3. They cover general issues in social policy rather than material that is specific to one country. The selection is skewed, as a result, to the work of international organisations.

Students in universities will usually have a much wider range of options to choose from.The process of selection means that these are not necessarily the leading references in the field, but they are all worth reading, and they generally go further than the text alone.

Readings to accompany Social Policy: Theory and Practice

1. The nature of social policy

Part 1: Social policy and society

2. Welfare in society

3. Inequalities

4. Problems and responses

5. Needs and welfare

6. Indicators - quantifying social issues

Part 2: Policy

7. Public policy

8. Welfare states

9. Principles and values

10. Strategies for welfare

11. Policy in practice

Part 3: Social administration: The organisation and delivery of welfare

12. Welfare sectors

13. The organisation of public services

14. Value for money

15. Service delivery

16. Receiving welfare

17. The administrative process

Part 4: The methods and approaches of social policy

18. Research for policy

19. Evidence and policy

20. Social policy for practice.

Social Policy: Theory and practice (Policy Press, 2014)

Social Policy: Theory and Practice can be ordered from the Policy Press's website.

The most cited works in Social Policy

This is a different kind of reading list, which will mainly be of interest to people who have already decided to make their way in academic social policy.  It has been selected by identifying all the works relating to Social Policy which have been cited in Google Scholar more than 5000 times.  Many of these works have come to form part of the common vocabulary by  which the subject is discussed.

The list does not include every influential work in social science, politics or economics; it is confined to texts which relate directly to social policy as well as to the authors' own discipline.   Using a count of citations leads to some bias:  works are cited more often if they appeal to a range of disciplines, and some of the references are specifically concerned with the USA. By contrast, most of the the leading works in UK social policy - the Poor Law report, the Beveridge report, Titmuss or Townsend - don't begin to approach the reach of these international and American sources.

Books have far more influence than academic articles; it is worth noting that only four of the texts below come from journals. Martin Powell has run an analysis of the impact of five leading journals: the highest rate of citation on Google Scholar for any single article was under 1200.  That article was Arts, W.and Gelissen, J. (2002), Three worlds of welfare capitalism or more? A state-of-the-art report, Journal of European Social Policy, 12, 2: 137-58. Most of the most cited articles were conceptual rather than research-based.  See M Powell,  2016, Citation classics in social policy journals, Social Policy and Administration 50(6) 648-672.

Published text          
citations (Apr. 2017)
P Freire, The pedagogy of the oppressed, 1970  
M Foucault, Discipline and punish (Surveiller et punir), 1975 60729
R Puttnam, Bowling alone, 2001 42492
J Coleman, Social capital in the formation of human capital, American Journal of Sociology 1988 37425
G Hardin, The tragedy of the commons, Science 1968 32881
A Sen, Development as freedom, 1999 28577
G Esping-Andersen The three worlds of welfare capitalism, 1990 27476
W Wilson The truly disadvantaged, Chicago 1987 16796
M Friedman, Capitalism and freedom, Chicago 1962 16702
J Coleman, Equality of educational opportunity, 1966 14721
S Arnstein, A ladder of citizen participation, Journal of the American Town Planning Institute 1969 13861
WHO, International classification of functioning, disability and health 13458
M Lipsky, Street level bureaucracy, 1980 11363
E Goffman, Asylums, Penguin 1961 10986
M Foucault, Madness and civilisation (Historie de la folie) 1961 10700
A Sen, Poverty and famines , Oxford 1983 10280
T Marshall, Citizenship and social class, 1950  9798
C Hood, A public management for all seasons?, Public Administration 1991  9186
A Hollingshead, F Redlich, Social class and mental illness, 1958  8563
WHO, World Health Report 2002  8528
R Herrnstein, C Murray, The Bell Curve, 1994  8464
R Thaler, C Sunstein, Nudge, 2009  8084
J Habermas, Legitimation crisis, 1975  7771
G Esping-Andersen, 1999, Social foundations of post industrial economies. Oxford University Press  7716
A Sen, Commodities and capabilities, 1999  7428
C Pollitt, G Bouckaert, Public management reform, 2004
S Bowles, H Gintis, Schooling in capitalist America, 1976
C Jencks, Inequality, 1972  6060
C Murray, Losing Ground, 1984

Most of these works are available on the internet in PDF format, but I have not been able to establish whether the copies are legitimate.

The inclusion of these works in this list should not be taken to indicate agreement with their content.   Some of them are rather badly informed (for example, Foucault on mental illness; consult Kay Jones' Asylums and After for a devasting critique) and some of the arguments are very weak (Hardin does not seem to understand the difference between common grazing rights and robbing banks).  They should not be taken on trust.

Updating and commentary

Paul Spicker's blog on social policy issues includes updates on social policy and comments on new developments; his open access page includes links to more than 90 published works, including five full-length books.