Center for Interdisziplinary Research

In search of the ‘social’
European and global perspectives on the idea of the welfare state
Author’s colloquium with Franz-Xaver Kaufmann

Date: December 14 – 15, 2012

Convenor: Lutz Leisering (Bielefeld)

The Author's Colloquium celebrated Franz-Xaver Kaufmann, the doyen of the sociology of social policy in Germany, on the occasion of his 80th birthday in 2012 and the publication of three of his key books in English. Kaufmann's sociological approach to social policy has a stronger basis in social theory than the dominant normative, descriptive or political economy approaches. German social policy researchers and scholars from non-Western countries - sociologists, political scientists and lawyers - came together at the ZiF to take Kaufmann's ideas as starting points for deliberating upon the past and future of social policy in a global age. Theoretically framed empirical studies focussed on the question: What is the 'social'? Kaufmann's theory emphasizes the cultural dimension of social policy and the welfare state. Based on analyses of the idea and semantics of 'social policy' and 'the social' Kaufmann makes clear that the social is more diverse and changeable than suggested by the dominant images of West and North European post-war welfare states. The papers read at the Colloquium and the discussions substantiated Kaufmann's analysis of the 'variations' and the 'idiosyncrasies' of national welfare states. Martin Seeleib-Kaiser (Oxford) compared Germany and the USA, providing remarkable evidence that in some respects the USA are as 'social' or even more 'social' than the German welfare state. Philip Manow (Bremen) showed that social policy in Southern Europe differs markedly from the classical Continental and Northern varieties. Provisions are particularistic and the state is weak. 'Social Europe' is a social construction. Manow explains the peculiarities of South European social policy by recourse to religious cleavages rather than by the conflict between capital and labor which is usually seen as the key variable. Social policy originated as a project of European nation states. But the papers made clear that Kaufmann's concepts of social policy and welfare state 'travel' to the globe more easily than other approaches. Kim Wonsub (Seoul) and Shi Shih-Jiunn (Taipeh) showed that their countries are not only 'emerging markets' and 'new democracies' but have recently turned into welfare states even if Confucianism is far removed from the Western ideational roots of the welfare state. The ideas of the social and social policy travel even further, to international organisations and international law. Ulrike Davy (Bielefeld), taking Kaufmann's path-breaking analysis of 'welfare internationalism' further, argued that the 'global social' is a reality, to be found in the social rights under UN human rights law. However, the 'global social', too, is diverse and changing. Kim Wonsub and Shi Shih-Jiunn showed that the parallel rise of the welfare state in South Korea and Taiwan as well as the differences between the two countries can partly be traced to the impact of global actors. Elmar Rieger (Bamberg) located the social in an even wider setting, arguing that the social is about images of a just and socially coherent society which go back to early civilizations like ancient Judaism. Jürgen Kaube wrote an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in which he reflected on the Colloquium. The social, he argued, is not just about welfare provisions but reflects a basic cultural order. At the same time, the social continuously eludes clear definitions or scholarly classifications. The quest of the social will always be with us. The papers from the Colloquium will be published as a themed issue of the International Journal of Social Quality.


John Berten (Bielefeld, GER), Tobias Böger (Bielefeld, GER), Ingo Bode (Kassel, GER), Ulrike Davy (Bielefeld, GER), Irene Dingeldey (Bremen, GER), Karl Gabriel (Münster, GER), Dieter Grunow (Duisburg, GER), Bettina Heintz (Bielefeld, GER), Jürgen Kaube (Frankfurt am Main, GER), Franz-Xaver Kaufmann (Bonn, GER), Won Sub Kim (Seoul, KOR), Jürgen Kohl (Heidelberg, GER), Stephan Leibfried (Bremen, GER), Stephan Lessenich (Jena, GER), Michael Leutelt (Bielefeld, GER), Philip Manow (Bremen, GER), Frank Nullmeier (Bremen, GER), Barbara Riedmüller (Berlin, GER), Elmar Rieger (Bamberg, GER), Fritz W. Scharpf (Köln, GER), Manfred G. Schmidt (Heidelberg, GER), Martin Seeleib-Kaiser (Oxford, GBR), Shih-Jiunn Shi (Taipeh, TPE), Li Sun (Bielefeld, GER), John Veit-Wilson (Newcastle upon Tyne, GBR), Ines Vitic (Bielefeld, GER), Georg Vobruba (Leipzig, GER), Moritz von Gliszczynski (Bielefeld, GER), Katrin Weible (Bielefeld, GER), Hans-F. Zacher (München, GER)

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