Here you can find the latest updates on the Collaborative Research Centre "Global Dynamics of Social Policy": summaries of current research results, references to our latest publications, outcomes of events and more news from the projects and their staff members.

Dr. Kressen Thyen, Dr. Roy Karadag
Dr. Kressen Thyen, Dr. Roy Karadag
Kressen Thyen and Roy Karadag have investigated why Tunisia is holding on to subsidies despite international criticism, while Egypt has undertaken reforms. In the interview, they talk about their findings, which they have recently published.

Who is benefitting most from food subsidies in Tunisia and Egypt – the poor, or the elites?

Kressen Thyen: There are several ways to answer this question, I suppose. But first, let us look at how that is done: Public authorities have acted after World War II in different spheres to lower and stabilize the price of food, be it by setting incentives for peasants to produce wheat and other products for local markets, by providing inputs to peasants to make that production possible, and for some time even by distributing and redistributing land to smallholders. Plus, favorable price policies stabilized the profit expectations of peasants, millers and traders and secured deliveries of enough food into the cities where most of that food is consumed. While all of these economic actors also profit from the state’s regulation of food markets, the main beneficiaries would still be the urban poor.

Roy Karadag: Well, with that question, one already gets to the tricky aspect of having systems of food subsidization and the ways it has been contested since the 1980s. And that contestation lives with these stark contrasts, having the poor on the one side and the elites on the other side. And since those first studies done under the purview of the World Bank in the early 1980s which academically produced the field of food subsidies in Egypt, for example, that was very much the focus: arguing that food subsidies do not benefit the poor as much as they do richer people.

Kressen Thyen: Of course, that is much more complicated and cannot be put in these general frames, as the question of ‘benefitting’ definitely needs further qualification. What is obvious is that people and families from middle and higher social classes have more money and can buy more food, and members of these groups have, of course, also bought foodstuff to benefit from cheap prices. In the language of targeting, yes, that has always been a bone of contention. But then again, given that poor people do not have as much money, they are much more dependent on these cheap prices in order to get food on the table for themselves and their children. So, in relative terms, the poor benefit more or most from food subsidization. Because the alternative to buying cheap bread, rice etc. is to suffer from undernutrition and hunger.

Food subsidies have been criticised as being an expensive and insufficient measure to reduce poverty. Do you agree with this critique?

Kressen Thyen: Well, in this case, too, the issue is one of appropriate and fair framing. Food subsidies are not a good tool if you really aim to reduce relative poverty and to redistribute resources. But then again, are they supposed to do that? Rather, they are tools to help poor people having access to enough food on the table. So, one may rather frame it that they do not reduce relative poverty, but that they are there to fight and overcome hunger. And with respect to the latter, North African countries have seen enormous improvements with respect to hunger and malnutrition since World War II.

Roy Karadag: Yes, I mean, sure you can criticize the ways that material goal of eradicating hunger translates into specific public procedures of price-setting, of directing agriculture and providing infrastructures of stores and bakeries to reach the poor. But the overall goal is to have affordable food, and I do not see any problem with that goal, especially in countries that are much poorer than here in central Europe, for example.

Kressen Thyen: One will be able to set up comparisons between poor countries in the 1950s and their developmental trajectories until the 1980s and today. And then, you easily find successful ways out of poverty where states did not have to rely on similar forms of food subsidization as in North Africa. And where states have rivalling forms of social safety and poverty alleviation. But that is no justification to attack subsidies in contexts where poverty has remained pervasive.

Roy Karadag: One need not categorically reject attempts to have better targeting or to be aware of the financial limitations of food subsidization. That has been accepted ever more since the 1970s and the connection between high subsidy expenditure, budgetary pressures and mass protests. Countries that ultimately depend on having to provide cheap food will run serious legitimacy deficits if they cannot control prices – as in this region where countries have become food import dependent since the 1960s and 70s. That is a problem, and it would, of course, be better if there were enough other forms of social security and welfare. But that does not mean that one can just get rid of food subsidization and the public promise of affordable food and nurturing the poor.

There are alternatives to food subsidies on the “social policy tool market”: very popular among these are social cash transfers that became widely applied in many low- and middle-income countries. Would not these be more targeted to support the poorer parts of society than food subsidies (– at the end of the day there are only so many loafs of bread you can eat)?

Roy Karadag: I would argue that this global drive toward cash transfers is nothing but a financial compensation for all those contexts when there are no other welfare policies available or when those are not wanted and do not fit the dominant developmental scripts. Yes, I am for more money in the pockets of poor people, but the reason this idea is becoming hegemonic across all developmental organizations is that it does not get into the way of liberal welfare understandings. But what would the difference be to existing welfare benefits when you have to spend that money for more expensive food? I doubt that.

Kressen Thyen: It is questionable to assume that such cash transfers will actually be more redistributive than existing frameworks. If the critique toward food subsidization is: They are not redistributive enough and stabilize highly unequal social settings, then one should also confront cash transfer ideas with that same critique and question whether they are truly redistributive. And that is just one dimension. Think also of the consequences of targeting and the drive to ever more and better targeting to really make sure that only the needy receive those payments. The registration of the very poor under conditions of significant parts of the population facing structural poverty is very tricky, needs a lot of financial and bureaucratic resources and needs to be legitimized.

Roy Karadag: The other overarching issue or argument focuses on the liberalization of agriculture and food markets: this is what actors like the World Bank and proponents of neoliberal ideas are after, their argument, promise and hope being that liberalized markets will bring more and, ergo, cheaper food to the cities, as the existing inefficiencies and crony networks would be broken up, competition would rule, and that there would be enough incentive to get food to the urban poor at the right price level. This is the liberal promise: but one should seriously question this claim. Why should food be as cheap in the future without public subsidization? When countries are dependent on food imports, have free floating currencies, and when agricultural producers earn more with cash crops for international markets. You need a lot of trust and belief in market mechanisms making sure that there would be no price escalation against which one would offer no price cushion, any longer.

Kressen Thyen: Think of the loss of legitimacy this would entail, and of the potential for mass protests. As we spell out, there is a concrete tragic of food subsidization: If you offer too much, you will run into budgetary and financial pressure, in particular when you cannot control the price of food due to your position in global food and agriculture markets. But if you reduce them too much to counter that budgetary pressure, you run the risk of triggering food riots. Experts critical of subsidies want to get countries out of that food subsidies trap. But they cannot guarantee another trustworthy future with stable food prices in a world without subsidies.

The international pressure to abolish food subsidies was high for many years if not decades, and the costs of the subsidies are very high and volatile. Why do Tunisia and Egypt do stick with it anyway (– to a greater and lesser extent)?

Roy Karadag: Well, because of their enormous symbolic value in North African societies. Hunger and undernutrition have been devastating in times of economic crises and war in past centuries. And past collective exposures to hunger continue to determine what people expect of their governments, affordable food being very high on the agenda.

Kressen Thyen: Don’t forget that this is also the only social policy tool with which the state actually reaches the entire populace. That is not the case for other policy fields in which the reach of the state is much more limited, for example in labour policy and social security. Informal labour relations are just too prevalent in Egypt and Tunisia, and formalization may be a fine goal, but it is very complicated to realize under the existing conditions. The same goes for all those promises of universal healthcare and public schooling, of child welfare and social assistance. But everybody comes to the market to buy and consume food. Which is why you reach everybody with these measures. And the fact that ‘bread’ was also one of the big rallying slogans in the mass protests of 2010 and 2011 emphasized this symbolic value and its place in society. People do not want to relieve the state of its obligation to guarantee affordable food.

Roy Karadag: One should keep in mind that inequality has been increasing over the past century, that there is enormous pressure across middle classes, who struggle to keep their social positions. The danger of impoverishment is very much felt by middle classes who join and participate in mobilizations for maintaining subsidies. And, as I said, food is a symbolically much more relevant field than, e.g. in transport and energy, where states cut much more subsidies. There, too, there were protests against high costs of living, but not with that same fervour as usually happens in context of bread price increases.

Kressen Thyen: So, that was now all limited to expectations among the populace and issues of legitimacy beliefs and mobilization capacities. The other dimension is then on how that translates into actual government policies to live with that kind of pressure and generalized expectations. And, here, we enter the field of internationalized reforms, of the modes through which pressures from above and below are mediated by ruling elites. And, in brief, this has mostly been in the mode of brokerage, meaning ruling elites muddling through these pressures, trying to maintain enough leverage vis-à-vis both sides.

Roy Karadag: And then, with the regime changes and new internationalized politics after a first couple of transitional years, paths actually diverge, and there is much more movement in Egypt and none, anymore, in Tunisia, as we lay out in the article. But, more movement did not mean abolishing them, just liberalizing more than others to get all that praise from expert communities.

In your paper you write a very strong sentence: “The internationally recommended adjustment of North African welfare systems to more market-friendly economic policies is empirically tied to violence and repression.” Could you explain that please? And does that mean that IOs and other international actors should rather stop pushing towards welfare state reforms in Northern Africa?

Kressen Thyen: The linkage between violence, state coercion and autocracy, on the one hand, and economic liberalization, on the other hand, is a quite established one. Not just for this region. And in this more concrete case, yes, you have experts calling for the implementation of policies that are not popular and would not survive a democratic process. That is also not specific to these countries: welfare state retrenchment is always a tricky affair and usually leads to protest mobilization and contestation. That is one reason why Tunisian politics could not be steered in the post-2013 years to move to further subsidy cuts or to even think of more targeting measures. And it is one big factor in overcoming that huge gulf between IO demands and popular demands. That was only overcome in the context of crushing activist space and oppositional networks and of crushing the most powerful oppositional political bloc of that time, i.e. the Muslim Brotherhood.

Roy Karadag: Yes, it is not because of smarter policy outlooks or of better political communication between the various interest groups that the new military rulers under the Sisi government managed to stage themselves as transformative reformers as in the case of the 2014 food subsidy reforms. What sets them apart from earlier governments is, instead, their transformative use of repression and coercion.

Now, if one is politically or academically in line with liberal reform demands from the IMF, the World Bank, the EU, from actors like Germany and the US, then one may surely continue pressing for policy changes. But one should be very much aware what the signal is when one positively credits governments like the Egyptian one for its capacity to introduce such changes. Because such certification and legitimization also legitimizes the enormous violence associated with that policy. And here, I would very much urge people to not do that. And to be appropriate in one’s academic judgment as to why things happen the way they did.

Kressen Thyen: Yes, we did not write this to say there should be no international cooperation or that there must not be policy recommendations by such organizations or even that subsidy systems should be upheld as they are. We mainly wanted to highlight the hypocrisies that such globally oriented organizations and big actors like Germany, to name just one big actor, stand for. Germany continues to express its hope in cooperating with this Egyptian government to make for a better economic future for Egypt and for Egyptian-German development cooperation, irrespective of the human rights record of Egyptian rulers. You may say, okay, that is Realpolitik. Fine, but what about expert communities hailing Egypt as a success and even model case? That should just not happen.

Roy Karadag: Yes, there is a lot of hypocrisy out there, which is nothing new in international and in Middle East and North African politics. We will not change that. But we at least wanted to make sure where the contradictions of internationalized food subsidy reforms lie, and that one should not gloss over all the violence associated to real life policy changes.


Read the full paper online:

Thyen, Kressen; Karadag, Roy, 2021: Between Affordable Welfare and Affordable Food: Internationalized Food Subsidy Reforms in Egypt and Tunisia, in: Social Policy & Administration, online first,

Dr. Roy Karadag
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy, Institute for Intercultural and International Studies
Mary-Somerville-Straße 7
28359 Bremen
Phone: +49 421 218-67468

Dr. Kressen Thyen
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy, Institute for Intercultural and International Studies
Mary-Somerville-Straße 7
28359 Bremen
Phone: +49 421 218-58515

India in lockdown (Photo: ThroughMyEyes, Adobe Stock)
India in lockdown (Photo: ThroughMyEyes, Adobe Stock)
Part 4 of the CRC 1342 Covid-19 Social Policy Response Series has been published. For India, Stefan Kühner, Keerty Nakray and Daniel Neff conclude: The relief efforts have not been able to adequately address the social and economic suffering.

In their essay, Stefan Kühner, Keerty Nakray and Daniel Neff summarise the broad contours and key characteristics of the Indian government’s social policy re­sponse to the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing nationwide lockdown (up to the end of September 2020). This far, the authors write, the Indian government’s Covid-19 relief measures have not been able to adequately address the social and economic grief in the country, as there were no adequate safety nets in place to counter immediate social emergencies to begin with.

Not a single piece of new legislation has been implemented in response to the COVID-19 crisis. Instead, the authors found a large "and at times bewildering" array of temporary relief measures by ordinances, specifically targeting distinct groups, for example 'the poorest of the poor', elderly, widows, disabled, farmers, construction workers, unorganised sector workers, and fishermen. Apart from a housing scheme, the authors did not find any new longer-term scheme that has been devel­oped directly in response to the pandemic.

Kühner, Nakray and Neff conclude: "The initial picture suggests that the Indian government’s response to the pandemic prioritised economic and fiscal measures, relied on the existing inadequate safety net, and was not timely enough to support millions of inter-state migrants." Although all measures added up to being fiscally quite expansive, the benefit levels granted fall far short of the sums needed to compensate for Covid-19-related income losses.

The authors’ analysis of policy documents suggests that the Indian government’s Covid-19 crisis response has been merely incremental rather than resulting in any radical or structural adjustments of the In­dian social policy status quo.

Read the full essay and the appendix documenting the government's measures: India’s Social Policy Response to Covid-19: Temporary Relief in a Rigid Welfare Landscape

See the other parts of the series: CRC 1342 Covid-19 Social Policy Response Series

Öktem earned his PhD at Bilkent University in Ankara with a thesis on the emergence of welfare systems in the Global South. In the interview, he talks about his academic career and explains his role in the CRC.

Dear Kerem, you have moved to the University of Bremen a few weeks ago and are now also working in the CRC project B01 - welcome! What topics and tasks will you be working on in the next few months?

Kerem Öktem: As a member of the project on "Mechanisms of social policy diffusion", I will be looking in particular at the development of Turkish social policy. A particular focus of my work will be to understand which causal mechanisms have played a role in the introduction and development of unemployment insurance in Turkey.

After your studies in Bayreuth, you moved to Bilkent University in Ankara. What were your reasons for doing your PhD there?

Already during my studies in Bayreuth, I did an internship abroad at the Turkish Human Rights Foundation (TIHV) and a semester abroad at the Middle East Technical University (METU/ODTÜ) in Ankara. For private reasons, it was obvious for me to stay in Ankara and so I decided to do my PhD at Bilkent University.

There is probably hardly a phase in the career of a scientist in which one can deal with a topic as intensively as during the PhD period. Your dissertation is entitled: "Pathways to universal social security in lower income countries: explaining the emergence of welfare states in the developing world". From your point of view, what was the most important insight you gained?

My dissertation is dedicated to the question of under which circumstances relatively poor countries develop such comprehensive social policies that they can be described as welfare states. What particularly surprised me was that social policy was developed in very different contexts, by governments and regimes of very different kinds. Two of the cases I looked at in detail were Brazil and South Africa. Here, for example, it was shown that in Brazil not only the democratic centre-left governments of the 2000s, but already the right-wing military regime from 1964 to 1985, and in South Africa not only the governments formed by the African National Congress (ANC) in the post-apartheid era, but already governments during the apartheid era expanded social policy for very specific motives.

In 2017, you moved to the University of Bielefeld and worked on the project "How 'Social' Is Turkey"? Can you give an answer to that - how social is Turkey?

The question "how 'social' is Turkey?" in the project title referred to our attempt to understand to what extent a social policy similar to European welfare states has emerged in Turkey. In doing so, we found that in recent decades the main social policy programmes that constitute the modern welfare state, such as an old-age pension or health insurance, have been introduced in Turkey and gradually extended to a large part of the population. In this respect, Turkey is now quite similar to European welfare states. However, if one looks at the details of the programmes, one sees that differences still exist. For example, there is no legal entitlement to basic material security as there is in Germany. If one takes a broader view of the context and sees the European welfare state embedded in the democratic constitutional state, the comparison obviously becomes even more difficult.

Will Turkey remain a focus of your academic work or will your interest shift to another region?

Researching Turkish social policy from a comparative perspective will remain a focus of my work. However, I would also like to turn more to other countries. If I have the time, I will, for example, look at social policy developments in India, which are surprisingly little discussed in international research.

Dr. Kerem Gabriel Öktem
CRC 1342: Global Dynamics of Social Policy
Mary-Somerville-Straße 7
28359 Bremen

In his Working Paper, our Mercator Fellow Stephen Devereux analyses how international agencies initiated the introduction of cash transfers and social protection systems in Africa.

Stephen Devereux has published a paper in the SOCIUM SFB 1342 Working Paper Series entitled "Policy pollination. A brief history of social protection’s brief history in Africa".

In his paper, Devereux focuses in particular on international donor organisations and their influence on the introduction and design of social protection systems on the African continent. These donor agencies deployed a range of tactics to induce African governments to implement cash transfer programmes and establish social protection systems, Devereux writes. The strategies included (1) building the empirical evidence base for the positive impact of cash transfers; (2) funding social protection programmes until governments can take over themselves; (3) strengthening government capacity to provide social protection systems through technical assistance and workshops; (4) commissioning and co-developing national social protection policies; and (5) encouraging the domestication of international social protection law into national legislation.

Despite these pressures and inducements, some governments have resisted or implemented social protection only partially and reluctantly; either, Devereux says, because they are unconvinced by the measures or because devoting scarce resources to these programmes does not suit their political interests. This raises the question of the extent to which donor agencies' policy agendas conflict with national priorities, and whether social protection programmes and systems would flourish or wither if international support was withdrawn.

Download the paper as pdf: Policy pollination. A brief history of social protection’s brief history in Africa

Dr. Stephen Devereux
Library Road
BN1 9RE Brighton
Phone: +44 1273 915802

Prof. Dr. Lutz Leisering
Prof. Dr. Lutz Leisering
Im Interview spricht Leisering über den dritten Band der Reihe "Global Dynamics of Social Policy", in dem er ein Modell zur Analyse sozialpolitischer Entwicklung vorstellt, das sich auch und gerade für den Globalen Süden eignet.

The third volume of the series "Global Dynamics of Social Policy", published by our SFB with Pagrave Macmillan, has been published: Lutz Leiseirng's "One Hundred Years of Social Protection - The Changing Social Question in Brazil, India, China, and South Africa". In the book, Leisering develops a conceptual model that can be used to analyse the development of social policy, also and especially in the Global South. Eight authors then apply this model to the socio-political development of the case studies Brazil, India, China and South Africa. In the interview, Leisering talks about the volume's place in social policy research and the lessons he draws from the case studies of his colleagues.

Your book is conceptually based on the "Onion Skin Model" that you have developed in 2019 in "The Global Rise of Social Cash Transfers". Can you describe the core of the model in a few sentences?

Prof. Dr. Lutz LeiseringThe onion skin model is based on the assumption that expanded state social policy is preconditional and evolutionarily improbable. This is because social policy not only has material preconditions, but also, neglected in research, ideational and socio-cultural preconditions. The onion-skin model reconstructs the ideational preconditions in four layers or " skins": social policy can only emerge if certain socio-economic conditions are perceived and addressed as "social problems"; if, more generally, the "social question" is recognised as a central issue of social development; if normative and cognitive models of the institutional handling of social problems are developed; and if the state is ascribed a social responsibility for the welfare of all citizens. These four layers reflect national state traditions and citizens' moral and cognitive orientations towards the social question.

In addition, there is a fifth, outer layer: only when the benefits of social policy for collective concerns - such as economic growth, political stability, national unity or human rights - are demonstrated ("framing"), is social policy sustainably legitimised. If, on the other hand, a collective dysfunctionality of social policy is claimed (negative framing), social policy is delegitimised.

If one examines these five layers for each country, one finds great differences, even between countries with similar levels of economic development. The differentiated layer model goes further than the distinction between major social worldviews - social democracy, conservatism and liberalism - that is common in the political economy of the welfare state and is hardly applicable to the Global South.

It is a model that is not only suitable for analysing the development of social policy in the Global South, but is generally applicable. You have been researching social policy for 30 years. Is the Onion Skin Model something like the culmination of all those years?

Yes, in the Onion Skin Model perspectives converge that have developed over the decades of my involvement with social policy. I researched the welfare states of the Global North for a long time and only turned to social policy in the Global South at a late stage (but as one of the first in Germany). In the attempt to theoretically grasp "social policy in development contexts", I came across basic questions of social policy that arise anew in the Southern context. A mere application of northern theories, as attempted by some, seemed to me to make little sense. In my theoretical search, I was influenced by my academic teacher Franz-Xaver Kaufmann, as well as by my doctoral supervisor at the London School of Economics, Robert Pinker, the most important student of T. H. Marshall. Welfare state theory today is dominated by political economy approaches that are capitalism-theoretical at their core and have their roots in Marx and Polanyi. Kaufmann, on the other hand, has developed a genuinely sociological approach to the welfare state, which is oriented towards modernisation theory and stands in the tradition of Max Weber. In my studies on the Global South, I found that the almost buried modernisation-theoretical tradition is better suited than the political-economic one to grasp social policy in the Global South and even to enable an overarching global theory. The onion-skin model is an operationalisation of essential elements of this genuinely sociological, Weberian approach.

The case studies in your book are largely based on the analysis of historical sources such as documents. An approach we also follow at the CRC 1342, but in your book you write: "[...] systematic recourse to documents is not widespread in the social policy literature." Do you have an explanation why this is?

Traditionally, the extensive analysis of primary sources has been the domain of historians. Today, however, idea-oriented approaches are widespread in policy research, i.e. in studies of specific social policy laws or reforms, and these approaches rely on the analysis of documents, e.g. minutes of parliamentary debates. But as far as the analysis of the overall arrangement of social policy measures in a country or the welfare state as a whole is concerned, there are only a few ideologically oriented and source-based analyses. Instead, analyses of socio-economic interests and power relations are dominant, with ideas being contributed only very coarsely by the major social worldviews of social democracy, conservatism and liberalism. My volume, on the other hand, aims at a fine-grained ideational analysis of the overall arrangement of social security in the four countries, which requires a close document analysis. Such an approach, especially over a period of 100 years and comparing countries, is very rare in the literature.

For the case studies you have chosen China, India, Brazil and South Africa. Why these countries and not, for example, low-income countries? 

In my last major study before this volume, the DFG project FLOOR, my team and I examined basic social security in all countries of the Global South, i.e. what you might call a large n analysis. In doing so, one cannot, by nature, delve deeply into individual countries. When looking for a small group of countries (small n) for an in-depth analysis, the choice fell on some of the largest "emerging markets", because here one can nicely show that besides the much-noticed economic rise of some countries of the South, social policy has developed enormously at the same time, which people are far less aware of. We found a lot of literature on the economic development of the BRICS countries, but very little comparative literature on their social policy. Moreover, we must not forget that the countries in our period of study, i.e. 1920-2020, were poor or even bitterly poor for a long time. The gross national product in India and China, for example, only increased significantly after 1980. An analysis of the four countries is also productive because this group of countries is very heterogeneous in several respects.

The developments of social policy in China, India, Brazil and South Africa have many similarities, but also crucial differences. The case studies are certainly more than just examples of application of the Onion Skin Model - what are the most important findings you draw from the comparison and synthesis of the four case studies?

In general, we can say that our findings confirm the thesis of cultural idiosyncrasies of each individual welfare state, which Franz Xaver Kaufmann established for northern welfare states, in contrast to the popular classification of countries into simple boxes. We also found these idiosyncrasies in the Global South. Nevertheless, certain patterns are apparent, there are commonalities and differences between the four countries.

As far as commonalities are concerned, it is striking that in all four countries at least the elites saw social policy early on as part of a modernisation of their country to be striven for. What surprised us was that this already began in the 1920s and not in the 1940s, as we had initially assumed according to the literature. What the countries also have in common, with the exception of India, is that social policy has become more inclusive over the decades, i.e. has somewhat broken away from the early privileging of small social groups - a certain social progress. This was reflected in the spread of social semantics such as "social policy", "social insurance", "social security" and "social cash transfers" and the establishment of relevant ministries. External social policy ideas from northern countries and international organisations also played a role in all countries, even if these were processed in a country-specific way.

In terms of differences between the four countries, India stands out the most. Social policy in India is less developed than in the other three countries; the social question has always been "stifled" by religious factors and the caste system, as Sony Pellissery argues. The hope in the early post-war period that India would demonstrate the superiority of Western democracy compared to China has thus not materialised, neither economically nor socio-politically. South Africa, on the other hand, was active in social policy at an early stage, including during apartheid and increasingly afterwards, and now has a system of basic social security for a wide range of groups that is considered by some to be the new social model in the Global South. This model is not based on contribution-financed and wage-related social insurance, as is the case in most northern welfare states, but on tax-financed basic social security (social cash transfers). Among the four countries, China has had the most chequered history in the field of social policy, also and especially after the revolution, and has most recently, in the 2010s, built up an astonishingly comprehensive social security system, albeit at a very low level. Brazil is a country with a strong history of social policy and great promises in its constitution, but this has always been overshadowed by the unresolved fundamental problem of a massive inequality in the distribution of land and the associated power relations.

The social question was raised in different ways and at different times in the four countries. The earliest social question was the land question. It remained unresolved in Brazil, while China implemented a radical land reform after the communist revolution in the early 1950s, making land the main form of social security in the countryside for a long time. In Brazil, the social question was for a long time primarily a workers' question, which dictators used to secure their rule through a neo-corporatist intertwining of the state and the industrial workforce. From the 1990s onwards, however, Brazil became one of the pioneers of a social security policy for the poor that went beyond workers' politics; the inclusion of broader sections of the population became the new social question. In South Africa, the social question was consistently primarily the question of the poor, driven during apartheid primarily by concern for impoverished whites, while blacks were seen as uncivilised.

Religion was a factor that shaped how the social question was dealt with. Hindu traditions of thought were a major brake on the idea of universal social policy in India, while in South Africa neo-Calvinism promoted a certain expansion of social security, but combined with harsh discrimination and social control, up to and including the deportation of the black population to their own homelands. Even from today's point of view, the most evil discrimination was justified with elaborate religious ideas, as Marianne Ulriksen notes for South Africa. Social ideas are not always humane, as the current integration of social services into the nationwide monitoring and control system in the People's Republic of China shows.

Based on the comparison of four countries, one can make cautious assumptions about the future of social security in the Global South. On the one hand, there are apocalyptic visions in the literature, mostly from political economists, who postulate a global precarisation of labour and a new intensification of the social question. On the other hand, declarations and programmes of international organisations from within and outside the United Nations often reflect an unbroken belief in progress. Perhaps a third scenario is more likely, namely heterogeneous development. Already in the Global North, genuine welfare statehood (in the sense of a full development of all four or five layers of the onion-skin model) is limited to a few countries in Western and Northern Europe and the Commonwealth. It is therefore plausible to assume that the social question and how it is dealt with varies greatly even within the Global South. China and South Africa represent the variant of a semi-universal social security system at a very low level. What is at stake here is nothing more (but also nothing less) than the fight against extreme poverty. Brazil stands for expanded but endangered social security, and India for the failure of the social question. The four countries also show the limits of social policy, namely the social inequality structures and lines of division that social policy can at best mitigate, in several dimensions: Ethnicity (South Africa, Brazil), religion (India), caste (India), class and gender (all four countries).


Read the book (open access): One Hundred Years of Social Protection - The Changing Social Question in Brazil, India, China, and South Africa