The most cited works in Social Policy

I’ve recently added a section to the page of readings in Social Policy on my website,  identifying the most cited works in Social Policy.    These are all the pieces I’ve identified so far that have more than 5000 citations on Google Scholar.

Published text Google
(Jan. 2016)
P Freire, The pedagogy of the oppressed, 1970 51179
M Foucault, Discipline and punish (Surveiller et punir), 1975 50195
R Puttnam, Bowling alone, 2001 35667
J Coleman, Social capital in the formation of human capital, American Journal of Sociology 1988 31530
G Hardin, The tragedy of the commons, Science 1968 28073
A Sen, Development as freedom, 1999 23973
G Esping-Andersen The three worlds of welfare capitalism, 1990 23146
A Maslow, A theory of human motivation, Psychological Review 1942 15472
W Wilson The truly disadvantaged, Chicago 1987 14825
M Friedman, Capitalism and freedom, Chicago 1962 14674
J Coleman, Equality of educational opportunity, 1966 13006
S Arnstein, A ladder of citizen participation, Journal of the American Town Planning Institute 1969 11017
WHO, International classification of functioning, disability and health 9371
E Goffman, Asylums, Penguin 1961 9133
A Sen, Poverty and famines , Oxford 1983 8922
M Foucault, Madness and civilisation (Historie de la folie) 1961 8357
R Herrnstein, C Murray, The Bell Curve, 1994 7681
A Hollingshead, F Redlich, Social class and mental illness, 1958 7549
C Hood, A public management for all seasons?, Public Administration 1991 7498
M Lipsky, Street level bureaucracy, 1980 7249
T Marshall, Citizenship and social class, 1950 7163
J Habermas, Legitimation crisis, 1975 6703
A Sen, Commodities and capabilities, 1999 6286
WHO, World Health Report 2002 6046
R Thaler, C Sunstein, Nudge, 2009 5842
C Pollitt, G Bouckaert, Public management reform, 2004 5693
S Bowles, H Gintis, Schooling in capitalist America, 1976 5448
C Jencks, Inequality, 1972 5434


Using a count of citations biases the list towards inter-disciplinary stuff (such as Freire or Maslow) and American sources (such as Coleman or Hollingshead and Redlich.)  By comparison, well-known works in the UK like Poverty in the United Kingdom or The Gift Relationship only weigh in at about 3500 each.  After I’d put up the first draft of this list on the Social Policy mailing list, I had an excited request from George Couthino, a lecturer in Brazil, who wanted to know more about the impact of Paulo Freire.  I’ve posted a comment about Freire on his blog.

It’s difficult to know what to include, and what not.  If you believe that everything about society or politics is also about social policy, there’s no basis to leave out anything written in the social sciences.  I left out things that seemed to me to be mainstream social theory (such as Foucault’s History of Sexuality, or Bourdieu), political theory (A Theory of Justice), econometrics (the FGT index) or about other subjects (The Limits to Growth).  I couldn’t quite decide about Beck’s Risk Society (27754) but on balance I don’t think there’s enough policy in it to be included; I also dropped Goffman’s Stigma (23066) on the same basis.

It probably shouldn’t pass comment, too, that some of the pieces that do get included are pretty dreadful.  Hardin doesn’t understand there’s a distinction between communal grazing of land and robbing a bank.  Foucault was clueless about mental illness (try Kay Jones’ Asylums and After for a corrective). The Bell Curve is racist.  If we’re going to cite these works, we should know what’s in them.

Update, April 2017:  This list has recently been updated on the website page covering readings in Social Policy.  Blog entries have an original date and don’t generally get updated; the website, which is an educational resources, does.


One thought on “The most cited works in Social Policy”

  1. Interestingly the first 3 are the recommended readings for Community Education along with Gramsci. I took social policy /politics of the welfare state as outside subjects and loved them.

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