Welfare States – Welfare Regimes

Analytical Perspectives

See as well website Welfare Regimes and Administrative Traditions




A regime is understood as a particular constellation of social, political and economic arrangements which tend to nurture a particular welfare system, which in turn supports a particular pattern of stratification, and thus feeds back into its own stability.


(Peter Taylor-Gooby: The Response of Government: Fragile Convergence? In: Vic George/Peter Taylor-Gooby (Eds.) European Welfare Policy. Squaring the Welfare Circle; Houndmills et.al.: Macmillan Press Ltd., 1996: 199 ff.; here: 200)




De-commodification occurs when a service is rendered as a matter of right and when a person can maintain a livelihood without reliance on the market.

(Esping-Andersen: The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism; Cambridge: Polity Press; 1990)

Steering of Political Processes

Two major distinctions of steering political processes can be seen in the following:


First distinguishing the «activity level», namely

Ø         negative integration

Ø        positive integration

(introduced by Scharpf)


Second distinguishing the «kind of intervention», namely

Ø    regulative policies

Ø    distributive policies

(introduced by Majone)

Though the debates of both concepts had been tabled in the context of analysing and contemplating processes of European integration they can be largely applied as well to the debate of national politics and policies.

Further of interest for the analysis, are terms based on political-economic approaches, in particular the regulationist approach (introduced by and linked to in particular Michael Aglietta, Bob Jessop, Nicos Polunatzas).

Accumulation Regime

‘a particular combination of production and consumption which can be reproduced over time  despite conflictual tendencies’

(Jessop, passim)

Mode of Regulation

‘an institutional ensemble and complex of norms which can secure capitalist reproduction pro tempore  despite the antagonistic character of capitalist social relations’

(Jessop, passim)

In some research on third level education together with Deirdre Ryan, we build on this and tried to draw attention on the paralleling patterns «coining» people’s life. For this we introduced the following terms:

Life Regimes

combination of factors regarding  the individual, locating to the physical and social environment which can be reproduced over time despite conflictual tendencies


Mode of Life

an ideological and psychological  constellation of various and complex of norms which can secure the individual’s integration into the capitalist circle reproduction

(Herrmann, Peter/Ryan, Deirdre, forthcoming)


Functions of social policy play a different role in the concrete settings, being combined in specific ways of the regime in question. The main functions can be seen in the following:

Protective function

Protection against negative consequences arising from working life; including intervention into the economic system
Protection of the employee to maintain the ability to work

Function of distribution

Determination of income as means or reproduction

Function of productivity

Securing the ability to work and securing against abuse of the workforce (including health, education etc.).
Including as well the provision of societal and social stability (industrial peace)
In this context as well the provision of military forces.

Function of societal politics

social policy – having a socio-political function or being social politics

Function of re-distribution

interpersonal re-distribution
inter-temporal re-distribution


As much as they «shape» the systems in terms of the historical development, they play as well a role as «outcomes» of the systems. An important factor in this context is what is called «path-dependency».

Constitution and Analysis

The question here is to see the two mechanisms, namely that any political systems in general and welfare regimes in particular have the two dimensions,


  being «designed» from the top, following functionalist requirements of the ruling classes and


  being «shaped» by movements from the bottom, following the demands of the people to shape their own life and take part in the given society.

This at the end dialectical principle had been most pronouncedly put into words by Karl Marx, writing:

The first work which I undertook to dispel the doubts assailing me was a critical re-examination of the Hegelian philosophy of law; the introduction to this work being published in the Deutsch-Franzosische Jahrbucher issued in   Paris  in 1844. My inquiry led me to the conclusion that neither legal relations nor political forms could be comprehended whether by themselves or on the basis of a so-called general development of the human mind, but that on the contrary they originate in the material conditions of life, the totality of which Hegel, following the example of English and French thinkers of the eighteenth century, embraces within the term "civil society"; that the anatomy of this civil society, however, has to be sought in political economy. The study of this, which I began in   Paris  , I continued in   Brussels, where I moved owing to an expulsion order issued by M. Guizot. The general conclusion at which I arrived and which, once reached, became the guiding principle of my studies can be summarised as follows. In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or — this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms — with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure. In studying such transformations it is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophic — in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out. Just as one does not judge an individual by what he thinks about himself, so one cannot judge such a period of transformation by its consciousness, but, on the contrary, this consciousness must be explained from the contradictions of material life, from the conflict existing between the social forces of production and the relations of production. No social order is ever destroyed before all the productive forces for which it is sufficient have been developed, and new superior relations of production never replace older ones before the material conditions for their existence have matured within the framework of the old society. Mankind thus inevitably sets itself only such tasks as it is able to solve, since closer examination will always show that the problem itself arises only when the material conditions for its solution are already present or at least in the course of formation. In broad outline, the Asiatic, ancient, feudal and modern bourgeois modes of production may be designated as epochs marking progress in the economic development of society. The bourgeois mode of production is the last antagonistic form of the social process of production — antagonistic not in the sense of individual antagonism but of an antagonism that emanates from the individuals' social conditions of existence — but the productive forces developing within bourgeois society create also the material conditions for a solution of this antagonism. The prehistory of human society accordingly closes with this social formation.

(Marx, Karl: A contribution to the critique of the Political Economy – Preface; see the complete text in the general literature section)

Furthermore, it has to be considered that the constitution and shaping of  a concrete society does not follow an abstract blue print. Rather, it is based on the specific interaction by the people, the members (and even non-members) of a given society. This can be conscious interaction and even planning – in particular more recent developments of societal planning since the middle of the last century give evidence; however, this can be – and in actual fact always is to some extent – as well the interaction of different forces by which the result is different from what each of the actors individually and they all together intended to achieve. In this sense, non-intended consequences of action play actually an important role in determining the final outcome of social processes. Thus, we have to look at the different forms and directions of social action, namely






non-intended consequences of (inter-)action.

Other relevant «concepts of acting-frameworks» in this connection are hierarchical and competitive structures respectively.

Further consideration has to be given between different forms of- (inter-)action, namely institutional action on the one hand and non-institutional («movement») action on the other hand. Having used these terms two questions arise.

The one is concerned with what «non-institutional action» actually means – a look at different terms for Third-Sector-activities and organisations may give some ideas of the difficulties to elaborate an appropriate definition (see «nearly straightforward – some more fundamental differences between organisations of the sector», linked from the literature on the Third Sector.

The other question is how far and in which ways the different forms and ways of action actually transform themselves in terms of the different characteristics mentioned below. Finally, already any status quo shows features from «other sectors», thus making a clear classification nearly impossible. This includes questions of institutionalisation and bureaucratisation of «social movements» and NGOs etc.


Characteristics of the Different Sectors of Welfare Production





Civil society

Sector of welfare production

Market sector

State sector

Informal sector/sector of household production

Non-profit sector/intermediary sector

1.  Principle of coordination of action



Personal obligation


2.  Central collective actor


public administrations

Families (neighbourhoods, network of kinship in a wide understanding, colleagues, relationships based on friendship


3.  Complementary role on the side of demand

consumer, customer

social citizens

member of the community (e.g. of the family, nation etc.)

member of association, fellow citizen

4.  Rule of access


legally established rights

ascription, cooptation


5.  Medium of exchange



valuation, respect

arguments, communication

6.  Central value of reference

freedom (of choice)


reciprocity, altruism


7.  Additional criteria of quality

wealth, affluence


personal participation

social and political activation

8.  Central deficit and disadvantage

inequality, denial of non-monetary costs/consequences

neglect of minority needs, limitation of freedom of disposition, discouragement of motivation of self-help

limitations of the freedom of choice by moral obligation, exclusion of non-members

unequal distribution of provisions and goods, deficits of professionalism, reduced effectiveness of management and organisational structures


Evers, Adalbert/Olk, Thomas: Wohlfahrtspluralismus. Analytische und normative-politische Dimensionen eines Leitbegriffs (Welfare pluralism. Analytical and normative-political dimensions of a leading term; in: Evers, Adalbert/Olk, Thomas (eds.): Wohlfahrtspluralismus. Vom Wohlfahrtsstaat zur Wohlfahrtsgesellschaft (Welfare pluralism. From the welfare state to the welfare society); Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1996: 9-60; here: 23; translation: P.H.

Foundation for Acting

(acting being different from actors and action, mainly a practical answer on legitimacy)


Trust I

Ø kinship

Ø sense of belonging

Ø mutuality

Ø dependency


Trust II

Ø professionalism

Ø legal provisions and the accountability of law

Ø material and cash flows



Ø material resources

Ø ideal resources

Ø actors

   all of which can be closely linked to questions of trust and the Characteristics of the different sectors of welfare production.

All this can be closely linked to the debate on the secular development of societies «from status to contract». As cross-cutting factors knowledge and experience are prevalent. Though different due to the different conditions of departure of knowledge and experience, they build an instance which mediates between objective factors and the actual action of the individuals and social groups.

Social Services – Action and Acting

As matter of constituting  «welfare regimes».

They are closely linked in the foundations of acting and the patterns of legitimacy as they had been mentioned before. Thus, the following aspects have to be considered, questions have to be asked (these are just some basic guidelines, not mentioning many other important questions:


the role of religion

Ø catholic

Ø protestant

Ø balanced/mixed


dominant cleavages

Ø classes

Ø religion

Ø urban/rural

Ø ethnic

Ø gender

(e.g. Peter Flora, Stein Kuhnle, Derek Urwin (eds.): State Formation, Nation-Building, and Mass Politics in Europe. The Theory of Stein Rokkan; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999)


administrative structure I

Ø centralist

Ø federal

Ø local autonomous


administrative structure II

Ø public

Ø private

in the tensions between individual and social action.


expenses and finances

Ø How much is spent

Ø for what

Ø and what kind of resources are used?

Financing here is an indicator of the

Ø actual form of solidarity and

Ø the grounds of legitimacy and

Ø in particular the accumulation regime and mode of regulation. The latter, both concretising themselves e.g. in employment structures, women’s employment, distribution of resources, sectoral structures etc.pp.

This complex picture makes as well clear some possible reasons for contradictions between different policies and actually politics.



Note: the factors suggested are largely Eurocentric, meaning they are taken from the experiences from the so-called Western European Welfare States. For instance, other religions do not (yet) play a role; the political and administrative structure starts as well from a thus limited understanding etc.


 PS: In terms of documents that are important for primary research it important not to reduce research by looking at documents which are immediately linked to social policy issues (e.g. «social law»). Rather, important information can be found as well in areas that are concerned with citizenship (e.g. the recent Swedish Citizenship Act), administrative settings (as e.g. local government in both Ireland and Sweden) and others.