Stream 6

The Uses of Social Investments and its Critics

Stream convenors:  
Over the past decade, the idea of social investment gained considerable purchase in scholarly debates and policy-making environments. However, as the social investment perspective moved from the periphery to the centre of the global social policy debate, an impressive stream of critical studies on social investment have appeared bringing a number of limitations of the perspective to the scholarly debate; doubts have been raised with respect to claim of the superiority of ‘active’ over ‘passive’ social policy interventions. Other scholars have taken issue with the narrow focus on ‘new social risks’ as the lynchpin underlying the new paradigm, especially in the wake of a return of the ‘old’ social risk of mass unemployment since the onset of the financial crisis. Probably the fiercest critique is that social investment is plagued by perverse ‘Matthew Effects’, with the middle class disproportionally benefiting from social investments at the expense of the worse off. Finally, there is the pessimistic thesis that discretionary social investments will most likely be outflanked by austerity reform in many years to come.
The critics have raised justified warnings against some of the exaggerated expectations of earlier social investment research, warranting a considerate rejoinder on the theories, methods and empirical research, particularly in the light of the social aftershocks of the global financial crisis. This is exactly what the social investment ‘stream’ for the 2016 Espanet Conference purports to do. The overriding purpose of the stream is to survey the emergence, global diffusion, merits and weaknesses of social investment as a distinctive welfare policy paradigm. We welcome both conceptual papers, papers addressing the methodology behind social investment and papers addressing the empirical effects of social investment in terms of (mitigating) poverty, inequality, dualization and social exclusion.
We suggest to include this stream as a separate stream theme in the list. The reason is that the suggested stream themes are organized around a particular sub dimension of social policy (i.e pensions, labour market, family, health care, education, etc,). We propose to organize this stream from an integrated and multidimensional perspective, transgressing the different thematic clusters. We emphasise a four-cornered responsibility mix, which is sometimes labelled as the ‘welfare diamond’, assigning different welfare responsibilities to: the state, the market, the family, and the community or civil society. This approach extends well beyond the traditional boundaries of state-centred (re-)distributive social policy narrowly understood as social protection. Throughout their lives all citizens –at various stages– rely on welfare provision from the family for socialisation, on the state for education and health care, and episodes of inactivity, and the (labour) market for income and participation, and civil society support for social integration and various other reasons. We especially welcome contributions that are sensitive to the multidimensional nature of social investment reforms.

⟨ List of Stream Themes