Universität Bielefeld

Global Social Policy

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The term ‚global social policy‘ refers to both a field of academic study and a political practice (Yeates, 2008). As a scholarly field, ‘global social policy’ embraces a wide range of issues and topics falling within two forms: on the one hand, the prescriptions of global social policy actors on national social policies; and on the other hand, various forms of global social redistribution, global regulation and the formulation of global social rights (Deacon, 2007). As a political practice, it refers to normative conceptions about the desirability of particular forms of global social policy contributing to more equity and universal rights at transnational policy levels.

Global Social Policy Scholarship

Global or transnational social policy has mainly originated from British scholarship. In 1997, Bob Deacon and colleagues published the first book using the term ‘global social policy’ (Deacon et al., 1997). This was followed by the foundation of the journal ‘Global Social Policy’ which since 2000 has published articles on transnational dimensions of social policy, social development, and social governance. The purpose of ‘global social policy’ was indeed two-fold: it added another dimension to the study of social policy in introducing potentially powerful global social policy actors, ideas and discourses to the picture. It was further concerned about the social dimensions of globalization, and the need to develop global social policies along with increasing global economic and trading patterns. The scholarship on ‘global social policy’ has grown ever since, and has been increasingly recognized by the broader social policy community as an important dimension to national social policies. However, it is still rather limited with regard to its conceptualization and theorization, and has not yet been incorporated into the national and comparative social policy scholarship in a coherent way.

Northern American scholarship on ‘global social policy’ is also evolving. Related publications, however, do not necessarily come under the terms ‘global / transnational social policy’. Mitchell Orenstein, for example, has provided important studies on the World Bank’s ideas and impact on national pension policies (Orenstein, 2008). Robert O’Brien has co-edited (from 2005-2010) the ‘global social policy’ journal and contributed to the literature on global social governance (O’Brien et al., 2000) and global labor policies. Since 2011, the journal has been under fully Canadian editorship, including Rianne Mahon and Stephen McBride, who have been studying the OECD’s role in social policies (Mahon and McBride, 2008). Southern America has been in the focus of global social policy studies, particularly as to the influence of the World Bank and the IMF on national social policy reforms. The ‘global social policy journal’ regularly includes these kinds of contributions (for example, Dion, 2008). An edited volume on regional social policies (Deacon et al., 2009) contains Manuel Riesco’s chapter ‘Regional Social Policies in Latin America’. The international graduate school ‘Global Social Policies and Governance’ at the University of Kassel is particularly interested in exploring north-south relations.

Forms and Mechanisms of Global Social Policy

Referring back to the different forms of global social policy distinguished above, their application and relevance with regard to the Americas are briefly illustrated. Concerning the social policy prescriptions by global social policy actors, reference has already been made to the influence of international financial institutions (World Bank and IMF) and connected (US American) epistemic communities on Southern American social policy reforms. The ‘Washington Consensus’, a strategy emphasizing the importance of markets and openness to globalization, was rather unilaterally applied and affected welfare state institutions negatively. However, more recently and partly connected to the global economic and financial crisis from 2008 onwards, some kind of a new developmental welfare state model seems to be emerging.

Mechanisms of global social redistribution comprise development assistance, transnational taxes, global funds, and various other global and regional institutions of (re)distributing resources across countries. The US and Canada are traditionally engaged in various ways of providing development assistance, even if their GDP shares to official development assistance are comparatively low. Southern American countries have also developed their independent institutions of global social redistribution, for example by means of MERCOSUR.

In the field of global regulation, regulation affecting social policies, for example through multilateral trade agreements and the regulation of cross-national migration, is also evident as part of the relationships between the Americas. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), for example, enables free trade, but does not include sufficient consideration as to its social policy impact and the need to be combined with social regulation.

Global social rights are about those global human rights that usually need resources in order to be met. They may be related to particularly vulnerable groups, or to particular social problems. The Southern American countries have commonly been seen as strong promoters of social rights to the international human rights agendas, while Northern countries are rather focused on civil and political rights.

Final Conclusions and Critical Discussion

The examples mentioned in this entry hint at the complexity of ‘global social policy’, both as to its various forms and dimensions, and as a multidisciplinary challenge in the study of ‘global social policy’. The examples provided also suggest a complex relationship, both ideationally and concerning resource flows between the Americas of the North and the South. Traditionally rather in a rather dependent position from U.S. based international financial institutions and related epistemic communities, there have also been processes within Southern America to facilitate more regionalized institutions and mechanisms of transnational social policies, and to develop own welfare state models and global social policy positions.

Alexandra Kaasch

Please cite as:
Kaasch, Alexandra. 2012. “Global Social Policy.” InterAmerican Wiki: Terms - Concepts - Critical Perspectives. www.uni-bielefeld.de/cias/wiki/g_Global_Social_Policy.html.


Deacon, B. 2007. Global Social Policy and Governance. London, Sage.

Deacon, B. / Macovei, M. C. et al., (Eds.). 2009. World Regional Social Policy and Global Governance. London, Routledge.

Deacon, B., with M. Hulse and P. Stubbs. 1997. Global Social Policy: International Organizations and the Future of Welfare. London, SAGE.

Dion, M. 2008. "International Organizations and Social Insurance in Mexico." in Global Social Policy 8 (1): pp. 25-44.

Mahon, R. / McBride, S (Eds.). 2008. The OECD and Transnational Governance. Vancouver, Toronto, UBC Press.

O'Brien, R. 2000. Contesting global governance : multilateral economic institutions and global social movements. Cambridge, UK ; New York, Cambridge University Press.

Orenstein, M. A. 2008. Privatizing Pensions. The Transnational Campaign for Social Security Reform. Princeton, Oxford, Princeton University Press.

Yeates, N., Ed. 2008. Understanding Global Social Policy. Policy Press.

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