Rethinking The Conceptual Foundations Of Social Policy: Theoretical Insights and Lessons From The Global South?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 5:30 PM
Room: F203
Oral Presentation
Jimi ADESINA , College of Graduate Studies, University of South Africa, City of Tshwane, South Africa
This paper starts with a set of arguments regarding some of the contemporary foundations for Social Policy theorising. We commence with the proposition that Gøsta Esping-Andersen's notion of "de-commodification" (and "commodification") in characterising social collectivisation of risk misrepresents the processes involved. While driven more by Karl Polanyi, Esping-Andersen, nonetheless, suggests that he drew from the other Karl (Marx).

First, the idea "commodification of [the] workers" is misleading. Second, transfer income in welfare regimes involves, in large part, ensuring that people continue to engage in commodity relations. Third, even from the side of social services, the proposition that something stops being a commodity because you are not paying for it at the point of consumption misses, fundamentally, the point about circulation of capital across various departments. Here, Polanyi becomes less helpful and we must turn to Marx. Fourth, and where Marx was himself wrong is in the idea of "generalised commodity relations": at best an ideal-type capitalism but which should not be confused for actually existing capitalism, economy, or society.

As a starting point for rethinking the conceptual foundations of Social Policy we argue that rather than Polanyi, Amartya Sen may offer a more viable conceptual handle on the processes are at work: 'entitlement', 'capability', 'functioning', concerns with substantive equality, and Public Reasoning. Sen, we propose may offer a better inspiration for making sense of what encompassing and transformative social policy are (and should be) about. We supplement the conceptual offerings from Sen with insights drawn from social practices that we often characterise as "non-formal" social policy, especially around the norms of solidarity and social reciprocity.