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 four 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  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.)
  3. They have to be free.  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.
  4. 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

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 100 published works, including seven full-length books.

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 6000 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, or Titmuss - don't make the cut.  International and American sources have a much greater reach.

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 (Jan. 2023)
P Freire, The pedagogy of the oppressed, 1970
M Foucault, Discipline and punish (Surveiller et punir), 1975 141150
R Puttnam, Bowling alone, 2001 77832
J Coleman, Social capital in the formation of human capital, American Journal of Sociology 1988 61750
G Hardin, The tragedy of the commons, Science 1968 52291
G Esping-Andersen The three worlds of welfare capitalism, 1990 44657
S Arnstein, A ladder of citizen participation, Journal of the American Town Planning Institute 1969 28982
M Friedman, Capitalism and freedom, 1962 28167
World Health Organization, Obesity, 2000
W Wilson. The truly disadvantaged, 1987
M Lipsky, Street level bureaucracy, 1980 23969
J Coleman, Equality of educational opportunity, 1966 23415
A Sen, Development as freedom, 1999 20850
WHO, International classification of functioning, disability and health 20729
E Goffman, Asylums, Penguin 1961 19515
M Foucault, Madness and civilisation (Historie de la folie) 1961 17268
S Bowles, H Gintis, Schooling in capitalist America, 1976 17152
C Hood, A public management for all seasons?, Public Administration 1991 16522
A Sen, Poverty and famines, Oxford 1983 16396
A Sen, Inequality re-examined, 1995 16098
T Marshall, Citizenship and social class, 1950 14803
C Pollitt, G Bouckaert, Public management reform, 2004  14283
R Herrnstein, C Murray, The Bell Curve, 1994  12889
A Sen, Commodities and capabilities, 1999  12988
G Esping-Andersen, 1999, Social foundations of post industrial economies. Oxford University Press  11565
A Hollingshead, F Redlich, Social class and mental illness, 1958  10783
J Habermas, Legitimation crisis, 1975  11753
C Jencks, Inequality, 1972  8317
P Townsend, Poverty in the United Kingdom, 1979 7397
WHO, World Health Report 2002 6897
WHO, World Health Report 2000 6872
C Murray, Losing Ground, 1984
P Pierson, Dismantling the welfare state?, 1994
P Pierson, The new politics of the welfare state, World Politics 1996
WHO, World Health Report 2001: Mental illness 6248

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), some of the arguments are very weak (Hardin does not seem to understand the difference between common grazing rights and robbing banks), and one item on this list is offensively racist.  They should not be taken on trust.