An innovative approach: Contributions to existing research

WelfSOC has four strengths:

Firstly, the main strands in theoretical discussion about the past development of welfare states and of future trajectories emphasize the role of solidarities and cleavages by class and more recently by gender, age, generation, ethnicity and citizenship-status. This project will contribute to theory-building about future directions in European state welfare by generating new knowledge on the solidarities that the priorities, assumptions and values of different social groups will sustain to enable testing of current theoretical approaches.

Secondly, economic pressures constrain policy-making at a time when social changes, shifts in labour markets and population ageing are imposing new demands for services. Up-to-date knowledge about people’s priorities and the strength with which they hold them is particularly important in planning sustainable policy responses.

Thirdly, the research will develop new qualitative cross-national research methods, including deliberative democratic forums, which are have rarely used in welfare state research. It will promote methodological development and encourage other researchers to use and refine these methods.

Fourthly, it will establish a data-base on which future cross-national studies can build to explore changes over time and shifts in the patterns of attitudes within and between different social groups.

Much current research is essentially backward-looking. Projections of how welfare states will develop are based largely on analysis of relevant factors such as population ageing, pension and health care costs, changing demands for labour, immigration rates, future spending on human services, global economic developments or the costs of reducing carbon emissions. This approach assumes that the future will follow the patterns of the past.

This project is forward-looking. It examines aspirations for the future, the assumptions underlying current patterns of attitudes, the strength with which positions are held, the arguments used to support them and the emerging cleavages and solidarities between different groups. These factors will be key drivers in the unfolding of the politics of welfare and in shaping the way in which welfare states respond to current policy development and to future pressures.