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Herbert Spencer's sociology of welfare

Offer, John


John Offer


This contribution to the sociology of welfare is a critical examination of Spencer's sociology of welfare. Such a study helps us to understand the heritage of the sociology of welfare, the work of one of its very few major theorists, and some theoretical ideas currently popular in suggestions for redirecting the specialism. The first chapter provides an introduction to Spencer's unfamiliar general style of thought and explanation, the influences upon that style, and its difference from the theory of evolution as presented by Darwin. The following chapter elucidates Spencer's sociology of welfare by reference to all his main sociological and sociologically relevant writings and concludes by identifying a core theoretical argument, namely that the nature of human nature determines the nature of social welfare. Chapters Three and Four offer a framework on the concepts of human nature and general and social welfare in order to show how Spencer's conceptions can be criticised and what they exclude. In particular it is suggested that the concept of human nature in the kind of interpretation Spencer gives to it cannot be part of viable sociological theory and that the concept of social welfare needs to be viewed as an essentially contestable concept. In constructing this framework the present study may be viewed as having the subsidiary but necessary theme of making a contribution to the philosophy of welfare. The final chapter provides a partial and exploratory discussion of how the sociology of welfare might usefully develop which is derived from the previous arguments and draws particular attention to the study of everyday theories, ideas, and forms of non­statutory social welfare and their relationships with statutory versions.


Offer, J. (1978). Herbert Spencer's sociology of welfare

Additional Information For access to the hard copy thesis, check the University Library catalogue.

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