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Martin Lengwiler & Beat Stüdli

History of the welfare state

ISBN: 978-3-906817-08-8
DOI: 10.13098/infoclio.ch-lb-0004
Publication date: 2016


For a long time, sociological comparative studies strived to explain national characteristics of welfare states with a few model-like types. By contrast recent historical research papers emphasize the plurality of welfare systems.


This diversity is shown, on one hand, by international comparison of welfare states. In addition to contrasting approaches an approach focusing on transfer history is also possible. The importance of transfers lived significant changes throughout welfare state history. The trade union movement and international expert panels carried out 19th-century sociopolitical transfers. In the 20th century they were partly completed and replaced by international and intergovernmental organizations such as the International Labour Organization and the International Social Security Association.


On the other hand, the diversity of welfare states is also apparent within individual welfare state systems. This inner heterogeneity is based on varying linkage and interdependence structures of public and private actors, as exemplified for instance by the history of health insurance. In this matter the role of public actors is better researched than that of private actors and the role of the labor movement and philanthropy better than that of commercial actors, which remain unexplored for many welfare states.


The functional heterogeneity and organizational fragmentation of modern welfare states require a new comprehension of Statism. A more fruitful analytical approach consists in pluralizing the term of modern Statism by thinking of a multitude of “styles of Statism.”