The global field of social policy is multifaceted and explores ongoing challenges of unequal nature. From healthcare and education to human development and social security, researchers and practitioners of social policy tackle a wide range of issues around people’s quality of life. Many of the world’s most pressing problems linked to welfare are transnational in nature and reflect complex dynamics of replication, diffusion, interdependency, and contingency. But the concerns inspiring research, policy, and political action around social issues remain the same: to understand and improve the living conditions of communities. In an increasingly interconnected world, these challenges often remain anchored in national and local contexts, but demand an informed understanding of similar and comparable contexts, of historical developments locally and elsewhere, of good practices and global dynamics.

This is how Social Policy Worldwide came to be. A group of researchers based in Bremen resolved to create a platform that could allow such exchanges: an international blog, a forum for information and discussion among researchers, policymakers, and practitioners, a place to share their insights and experiences and to learn from one another.

The development of Social Policy Research in Bremen

Social Policy Worldwide is hosted by the SOCIUM Research Center on Inequality and Social Policy at the University of Bremen. Our institutional predecessor, the Center for Social Policy (1988- 2015), became a highly regarded research institution that, however, focused solely on comparative research on social policy in OECD countries. The Center offered a large-scale research structure with over a dozen research projects, set to timeframes of four years, that converged around questions of the transformations of the State. But, with few exceptions, those questions centered exclusively on global north countries. The conceptual and regional limitations of such a research agenda became apparent over time, and so we realized the need for a broader understanding of global developments. We believe many institutions and researchers share a similar trajectory and might have reached a similar conclusion: more international exchange is urgently needed.

Global political and societal developments demand a more comprehensive understanding that was not possible under such restrictive focus. There was agreement, too, on the need to tackle the fixation of social policy over comparing countries as self-enclosed blocs. The reciprocal influences between countries and societies, the dynamics of policy diffusion, as well as the role of international organizations, were all additional factors to be taken into account. Any country's social policy is always determined - to a varying degree - by developments at the global level and beyond its borders.

In response to this realization, our Center shifted its research focus to a more comprehensive approach that recognizes the reciprocal influences between countries and societies, as well as the role of global stakeholders. After a decade of comparative social policy research, in 2018, we began working on creating a new Collaborative Research Centre focused on the "Global Dynamics of Social Policy." Our inaugural conference in the autumn of 2018 gathered a community of researchers from around the world and engaged in lively discussions about the progress and regress in social policy across different regions. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the continuation of this exchange, making it challenging to achieve the center's goal of internationalizing research. While we attempted to give continuity to international conversations via the CRC 1342 Covid-19 Social Policy Response Series, much remains to be done to internationalize and decentralize social policy conversations.

Creating a Platform for a Global Community

SOCIUM remains committed to its medium-term objective of creating a collaborative and integrative environment that fosters long-term, international, and global cooperation, especially with researchers and practitioners based in the global south, the majority world. We are working on multiple strategies to foster internationalized research and collaboration despite the often strictly domestic funding available for the social sciences.

This platform is one step toward that goal. Social Policy Worldwide provides a stage for social policy specialists across the world to share their insights and experiences, and to engage in meaningful discussions on pressing social issues. We will feature analyses by researchers, practitioners, journalists, and policymakers, tackling questions of inequality, social cohesion, and global solidarity from a global and pluri-local perspective.

By bringing together diverse perspectives and experiences, we hope to contribute to developing and strengthening the global community of inquiry and praxis around social issues, broadly understood. We are interested in understanding the complex interrelations between political and economic developments and how they affect people’s life courses, their access to welfare and social security, their health and income; but also their relation to land and productivity, their political attitudes and personal decisions. As the world grows increasingly interconnected, and our lives digitally and globally entangled, we need a more nuanced and informed understanding of the complex interplay of factors that shape social policy, and the role that social policy plays in those global developments.

We hope Social Policy Worldwide will play a vital role in facilitating this dialogue by showcasing research, analysis, and perspectives from different regions and encouraging cross-disciplinary and cross-regional comparisons. We are open to contributions that foster these essential and much-needed conversations, and that invite readers to engage in constructive and thought-provoking discussions. Only in this way can we truly learn from difference.

Header photo by Jan Antonin Kolar - Unsplash