Today I gave a plenary paper to a conference of the Wales Institute of Social and Economic Research and Data, under the title of The welfare state: a communitarian perspective. The conference brought together Welsh academics and researchers with practitioners from the voluntary sector. Here is the abstract:
Communitarianism is not, as some critics imagine, an argument for the dominance of the community over the individual. It begins from the view that our rights, responsibilities and moral understandings are rooted in the society of which we are part; these phenomena are socially constructed, relative, contingent and particular. A society is not a single ‘thing’: it is a network of networks, depending on a mesh of interactions, exchanges and obligations. Welfare provision has developed from the networks, duties and conventions which bind a society together.
The welfare state is commonly understood in three ways: as provision by government, as a complex set of systems for social protection, and as a normative ideal. This presentation will argue for a fourth understanding. The welfare state is a way of describing a set of normative aspirations. These aspirations are sometimes thought of as universal, but all welfare states apply principles of ‘bounded solidarity’; the terms of the welfare state depend, like ideas of equality, social justice, or democracy, on the context of the society in which they are applied. The ‘welfare state’ is a direction of travel, not a destination.
The paper is online here, on my access page.