The origins of the Welfare State

The Origins of the Welfare State: Global and Comparative Approaches
A special issue of «Zapruder World: An International Journal for the History of Social Conflict»
Co-edited by Stefano Agnoletto and Cristina Palmieri

Journal presentation

Zapruder World is an online, open-access and peer-reviewed history journal coordinated by an international network of activists and scholars, both academic and independent. The journal’s parent organization, Storie in movimento (SIM), has been active since 2002 and continues to publish the Italian journal Zapruder.

The project of Zapruder World stems from our desire to broaden, at a global level, the scope of the organization and of its publications. It is guided by the same principles that have inspired SIM so far, namely direct participation, self-funding, and horizontal decision-making.

The aim of Zapruder World is to create a wide arena in which to exchange critical knowledge based on both individual research and collective elaboration. The journal focuses on social conflict paying particular attention to conflicts as movements rather than focusing on their resolutions, so as to better connect the history of social conflicts with current transnational cycles of protest. It therefore uses “social conflict” as an interpretative category rather than simply an object of analysis, exploring it through concepts and methodologies that address the complex interaction between the “local” and the “global.” Zapruder World is animated by an aspiration towards “global history” but intentionally leaves its actual definition, contents, and methods open for discussion.

Volume 3

This special issue will mainly include articles but also other types of original works, both accompanying the articles themselves and as autonomous contributions (such as photographs, videos, interviews, drawings, comics, songs, hyperlinks to online resources, multimedia, etc.). In general, and if possible, we encourage our authors to think about incorporating multimedia both into their pieces proposed for Zapruder World and in the sections (e.g. “yesterday” and “today”) we have implemented on our website.


We invite article proposals for a global and comparative approach to the history of the welfare state that seeks to overcome the epistemological Eurocentrism that many scholars have employed, whether consciously or unconsciously. Thus, this volume of Zapruder World aims to investigate whether or not the welfare state was/is a global or a regional phenomenon. Moreover, alongside the study of national cases, this volume questions the possibility of a transnational or supranational understanding of the mechanisms that characterized the origins of the welfare state during the twentieth century.

Context and Aims

As scholars and activists, we face the hegemony of neoliberal ideologies and their consequences in terms of attacks on public programs in areas such as health, education, income-transfers, housing and so on. We aim to consciously contrast the normalization and dominance of “liberal thought” which consistently downplays the role of welfare legislation and institutions. At the same time, we do not want to “celebrate” the welfare state in itself. In looking at history as, essentially, a space for conflict challenging liberal-conciliatory descriptions of the past, we propose the same critical approach to the history of the welfare state.

In particular, a large part of the debate about the welfare state has discussed whether or not “it has a future.” We think that the awareness of the transformations undertaken by both the notion and the organization of the welfare state at the beginning of the twenty-first century can serve as a starting point for a critical reconsideration of its history and its representation. Recent cultural and political debates on the role of the State, on social movements and trade unions, etc., can also offer important insights.

Moreover, new theoretical challenges have emerged from public debates such as the idea of overcoming the Market vs. State dualism. These approaches, however, risk blurring the critical difference between neo-liberal views and activist strategies of self-organization. For this reason, this volume aims to retrace the origins of the welfare state and illustrate its many possible articulations in order to demonstrate how the Market vs. State dualism has influenced its development. Thus, discussing the origins of the welfare state will allow us to further comprehend the complex and sometimes contradictory factors which led to different articulations of the welfare state in different parts of the world and in different periods.

In conclusion, this special issue of Zapruder World seeks to challenge the dominant emphasis on the “crisis” of the welfare state while, simultaneously, encouraging critical reflection on the possible alternatives offered by the welfare state in responding to people’s basic needs.

Examples of Research Questions:

  • Class, gender and ethnicity during the origins of the welfare state: What role did each play? How did they interact?
  • The welfare state: a European and/or Western issue? A benign form of Eurocentrism or neocolonialism?
  • Is a global approach to the welfare state possible? Are different experiences comparable? Is it possible to have “global answers” to the question: Why did the welfare state emerge? Were there turning points which globally or regionally affected the development of the welfare state (e.g. the 1929 crisis, the World War II etc.)?
  • Was/is there a welfare state outside of the West?
  • What was the role played by the State in the creation of the welfare state?
  • The influence and the role played by ideologies (Marxist, religious, paternalism, Liberalism, etc.).
  • Going beyond Esping Andersen’s classification.
  • A concession of the State and/or a people’s achievement? The need for new categories.
  • Rethinking welfare state paradigms and periodization.

Ideas for Articles: (Although history is the main focus of this journal, contributions that merge an historical perspective with other disciplines are highly encouraged.)

  • Global, transnational, and supranational approaches and perspectives on the history of the origins of the welfare state.
  • National cases studies: The role played by different social and/or institutional actors, groups, and ideologies within the origins of the welfare state.
  • Comparative approaches: Pursuing different case studies on the origins of the welfare state.
  • New hypotheses on the classifications of the patterns of the welfare state during the twentieth century.
  • New and innovative theoretical and historiographical approaches and classifications for a global/supranational/transnational understanding the origins of the welfare state.
  • Thematic approaches to the origins of the welfare state (such as class, gender, ethnicity, etc.).
  • Sectorial approaches to the origins of the welfare state (such as health, education, housing, etc.).
  • Before of the welfare state (eighteenth through twentieth centuries): On the experiences of active solidarity and social cooperation (communitarian, trade unionist, etc.) and their influences on the origins of the welfare state. (National, transnational, supranational global and comparative approaches.)


Abstracts in English (300-600 words) shall be sent by April 15, 2015 to submissions [at]

All contributors will be informed about the status of their abstract submission by June 1, 2015. Full articles (6,000-9,000 words) shall be sent by September 1, 2015. Final drafts, after reviews and comments, shall be expected by December 15, 2015 (in order to publish the completed volume by January 31, 2016). The Manifesto of Zapruder World, the journal’s previous volumes, as well as guidelines for prospective authors can be found at

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