Rethinking Welfare Regimes

Chapter
Part of the Studies in the Political Economy of Public Policy book series (PEPP)

Abstract

Welfare regimes analysis (WRA) is a body of theoretical literature that has sought to understand and account for the determinants of institutional arrangements governing welfare and stratification across countries and the manner in which different types of institutional arrangements affect how welfare is created and allocated and its stratification effects. WRA developed initially through nationally-scaled comparative studies that sought to explain variation in welfare institutions observed across the welfare states in Western Europe and North America and is most associated with the seminal work of Esping-Andersen. Within the last two decades, analysts have extended ideas from WRA to a broader array of geographical settings, including middle- and low-income countries. While these studies showed great promise, WRA remains controversial. Some critics reject the very notion of welfare regimes and dismiss its value as an analytic concept. Others have questioned its practical relevance, particularly in developing countries where welfare states, the initial focus of WRA, are variously less developed, embryonic, or altogether absent and where inclusion in the market, rather than protection from markets ought, perhaps, to be the paramount concern. Leading theorists of globalization claim WRA’s analytic rootedness in the nation state limits its theoretical purchase in today’s increasingly transnational global political economy. This chapter aims to delineate core strengths of WRA, address prominent criticisms, and explore its value and limitations for theorizing determinants of welfare and inequality in marketizing East Asia and other settings. It is argued that while WRA retains promise as a conceptual framework and an explanatory strategy with the potential to illuminate East Asian welfare systems, the determinants of welfare and inequality are best understood through a more encompassing approach. Such an approach might begin by calling off the search for putative “welfare regimes”—whether ‘ideal typical’ or ‘real typical’—in favor of explorations of the dynamic properties and constitution of nationally-scaled political economies as globally embedded and internally variegated social orders.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Leiden UniversityLeidenThe Netherlands

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