Voluntarisms and the Welfare State

Voluntarisms and the Welfare State

Academic book reviews tend to take a long time before they appear in print. Some take longer than others. David Cameron was still Prime Minister when I promised to write a review of Armine Ishkanian and Simon Szreter’s edited collection on the ‘big society’ for the journal Cultural and Social History. By the time I returned to this, after coming out the other end of a heady string of short-term contracts, the topicality of the book had come to look plain dated. Yet, it had also come to serve as the answer to a question.

Voluntarism is notably absent from the whistle-stop tour Andrew Gamble gives to the history of the welfare state, missing out exactly the kind of history Ishkanian and Szreter had so expertly compiled only a few years earlier as well as those associational traditions presented as ‘alternatives to state-socialism’ in Peter Ackers and Alastair Reid’s edited volume.

Why have these histories, so heavily discussed by historians of voluntary action, failed to be integrated to these more common narratives of the rise and crisis of the welfare state? Might part of the answer lie in their being badged as historical perspective for the fascile sloganeering of a fleeting political moment? Bringing these three books together in a combined review was a good way of thinking not just about each one but where they sit in relation to each other.

The review is available online from Cultural and Social History (behind a paywall, though free to the first 50 people to click here).


In the meantime, I’ve also reviewed Sarah Roddy, Julie-Marie Strange and Bertrand Taithe’s excellent co-authored book on the emergence of business-style fundraising practice in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries.

As I note in the review, it offers a much-needed corrective to notions of the charity sector being historically amateurish and only recently turning to the world of business to up its game.

This review is free to read on the US-based Economic History Association’s website EH.net

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