Social Policies: Europe, the United States and the Politics of Welfare

University Programme Course Overview

Social Policies: Europe, the United States, and the Politics of Welfare

  • Professors: Bruno Palier, Allison Rovny, Konstantinos Eleftheriasis
  • Session: July
  • Language of instruction: English
  • Number of hours of class: 36

Download the 2020 course overview for "Social Policies" (pdf, 347 KB)

Objective of the Course

The comparative analysis of social policies, programs and institutions helps us understand why, how and to what effect nations deal with important social problems and issues. The aim of the course is to provide students with a clear idea of the diversity of European social policies, of their historical and political origins, and to allow for the assessment of their performance. The course will also provide an in-depth account of current welfare reforms, in light of their historical development.


Since World War II, Welfare States have become a crucial element of modern Western societies, giving rise to new forms of citizenship and constituting a major element in the policy-making process of the Nation-state. The emergence and the institutionalization of Welfare States were indeed the main dynamic behind the expansion of the State throughout the growth era that characterized the post-war period until the mid-1970s in most Western countries. From the 1980s, many politicians and analysts started to view the retrenchment of social policies as an economic and political necessity. The aging of the population, the globalization process and the development of normative critiques against public policies paved the way for deep welfare state reforms in many countries. However, starting in the late 1990s, new visions for the Welfare systems have been put forward around the notion of social investment and especially investment in human capital, and which seek to address both the economic and social needs of post-industrial societies.

The course will focus on these dynamics and, more precisely, will analyse why Welfare State reforms are such prominent issues. It will seek to identify the vulnerabilities and assets that various forms of welfare systems experience, to analyse the different forms of policies that have been conducted during the past few years and to discuss the justifications and the perspectives that animate the political debate today. Is the globalization process a dynamics that systematically has a negative impact on domestic social policies? Can new social policies become an economic asset in the global competition? How are different countries dealing with the ageing of the population? Is the political debate still dominated by neoliberal arguments, or is it possible to identify new diagnoses and new propositions that provide a new role for the Welfare State?

Organisation of the course

  • Theme 1: The European origins of the welfare state
  • Theme 2: The diversity of welfare models.
  • Theme 3: Gender, social citizenship and welfare state regimes.
  • Theme 4: Principles of redistribution and strategies of equality
  • Theme 5: The crises of the welfare state
  • Theme 6: The three worlds of welfare state reforms
  • Theme 7: Pension systems and pension reforms
  • Theme 8: Health care systems and their reforms
  • Theme 9: Care policy reforms in Europe.
  • Theme 10: The dualisation of Europe
  • Theme 11: Towards a social investment welfare state?
  • Theme 12: Welfare State comparative indicators exercise
  • Theme 13: The Welfare facing ethnicity and immigration
  • Theme 14: The welfare and the LGBTQ question: Age and health
  • Theme 15: Asian perspectives on the welfare state
  • Theme 16: Group debate: The Basic Income

Professors' Biographies

Bruno Palier is CNRS Research Director at Sciences Po, Centre d’études européennes. Trained in social science, he has a PHD in Political science, and is a former student of Ecole Normale Supérieure. He is studying welfare reforms in Europe. He is Honorary Professor in Welfare state research at the University of South Denmark.  He was Guest Professor at the University of Stockholm (Spring 2009 and 2010), Visiting Scholar at Northwestern University (Spring quarter 2007), at Center for European Studies from Harvard University in 2001 and Jean Monnet Fellow in the European University Institute in Florence in 1998-1999. He has published numerous articles on welfare reforms in France and in Europe in Politics and Society, Journal of European Social Policy, West European Politics, Governance, Socio-Economic Review, Global Social Policy, Social Politics, and various books. In 2012, he co- edited The Age of Dualization: The Changing Face of Inequality in Deindustrializing Societies. (with Emmenegger, Patrick, Häusermann, Silja, and Seeleib-Kaiser, Martin), Oxford University Press, and Towards a social investment welfare state? Ideas, Policies and Challenges, (with Morel, Nathalie and Palme, Joakim), Bristol: Policy Press. In 2010, he edited A Long Good Bye to Bismarck? The Politics of Welfare Reforms in Continental Europe, Amsterdam University

Allison E. Rovny, Ph.D., is Administrative Director at MaxPo, the Max Planck Sciences Po Center on Coping with Instability in Market Societies ( She was a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Gothenburg, Centre for European Research (CERGU). Her research focuses on the welfare state, the presence of new social risks in postindustrial political economies, and the growing divide between those deemed to be insiders and outsiders. The term “new social risks” arguably signifies one of the defining areas of contemporary research on welfare state adaptations in advanced affluent democracies. In Rovny’s research, she examines how the various worlds of welfare provision —specifically, social policy tools—affect the well-being of new social risk groups, and whether we are indeed witnessing an emergence of labor market and welfare state outsiders. She has  investigated the determinants of outsiderness expressed as single parent income, child poverty rate, and youth unemployment. She has also analyzed the effects of social policies on the  likelihood of being poor among low-skilled populations. Her recent research has investigated the extent to which insider-outsider labor market dualisms manifest themselves in divergent  voting behavior, as well as explored the diverging paths of European countries in terms of both social policies and electoral behavior.

Konstantinos Eleftheriadis, Ph.D., teaching fellow of Sociology at Sciences Po-Paris. His research focuses on the politics of gender and LGBTQ mobilizations, the interactions with the State, and minorities’ counterpublic spheres. In his current work, Eleftheriadis examines the way LGBTQ questions reconfigure international relations and diplomacy. In his previous work, he studied how queer actors are constructing new imaginaries on families, relationships and sex and how traditional ideas about the latter are challenged in prefigurative political festivals.

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