The best books on the history of the welfare state

Ángela Vergara Author Of Fighting Unemployment in Twentieth-Century Chile
By Ángela Vergara

Who am I?

I’m a historian of Latin America and a professor at California State University, Los Angeles. I write about Chile’s labor and social history in the twentieth century. As a historian, I am especially interested in understanding how working people relate with public institutions and authorities, what they expect from the state, and how they have organized and expanded social and economic rights. While my research centers in Chile and Latin America, I also look to place regional debates in a transnational framework and see how ideas and people have moved across borders. I like books that bring working people’s diverse voices and experiences. 

I wrote...

Fighting Unemployment in Twentieth-Century Chile

By Ángela Vergara,

Book cover of Fighting Unemployment in Twentieth-Century Chile

What is my book about?

In Fighting Unemployment in Twentieth-Century Chile, Ángela Vergara narrates the story of how industrial and mine workers, peasants and day laborers, as well as blue-collar and white-collar employees earned a living through periods of economic, political, and social instability in twentieth-century Chile. The Great Depression transformed how Chileans viewed work and welfare rights and how they related to public institutions. Influenced by global and regional debates, the state put modern agencies in place to count and assist the poor and expand their social and economic rights.

Fighting Unemployment in Twentieth-Century Chile contributes to understanding the profound inequality that permeates Chilean history through a detailed analysis of the relationship between welfare professionals and the unemployed, the interpretation of labor laws, and employers’ everyday attitudes.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Women Build the Welfare State: Performing Charity and Creating Rights in Argentina, 1880-1955

Why did I love this book?

My first choice is a book about the origins of the welfare state. If many see the Great Depression as the catalyst of the welfare state, Donna Guy traces it back to the social policies and institutions of the nineteenth century. Looking at the case of Argentina, she tells the story of how philanthropic, immigrant, and women groups assisted the needy, especially children and mothers.

By Donna J. Guy,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Women Build the Welfare State as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this pathbreaking history, Donna J. Guy shows how feminists, social workers, and female philanthropists contributed to the emergence of the Argentine welfare state through their advocacy of child welfare and family-law reform. From the creation of the government-subsidized Society of Beneficence in 1823, women were at the forefront of the child-focused philanthropic and municipal groups that proliferated first to address the impact of urbanization, European immigration, and high infant mortality rates, and later to meet the needs of wayward, abandoned, and delinquent children. Women staffed child-centered organizations that received subsidies from all levels of government. Their interest in children…

Book cover of Inventing the Needy: Gender and the Politics of Welfare in Hungary

Why did I love this book?

This is a fantastic book to understand how welfare institutions work. Lynne Haney, a sociologist, looks at the state from the bottom up and analyzes the relationship between welfare recipients and caseworkers in Hungary. It is a book rich in stories that place people, especially women, at the center of debates about welfare and social rights.

By Lynne Haney,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Inventing the Needy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Inventing the Needy offers a powerful, innovative analysis of welfare policies and practices in Hungary from 1948 to the last decade of the twentieth century. Using a compelling mix of archival, interview, and ethnographic data, Lynne Haney shows that three distinct welfare regimes succeeded one another during that period and that they were based on divergent conceptions of need. The welfare society of 1948-1968 targeted social institutions, the maternalist welfare state of 1968-1985 targeted social groups, and the liberal welfare state of 1985-1996 targeted impoverished individuals. Because they reflected contrasting conceptions of gender and of state-recognized identities, these three regimes…

Book cover of Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits

Why did I love this book?

In the 1930s, Dorothea Lang photographed poor and migrant families across the United States. She documented the devastating impact of the Great Depression, contributing to raising national awareness about the consequences of poverty. In this outstanding and engaging biography, Linda Gordon tells the story of her life and work and how her photographs were part of a larger political movement to transform and expand social protection to US citizens.

By Linda Gordon,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dorothea Lange as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

We all know Dorothea Lange's iconic photos-the Migrant Mother holding her child, the shoeless children of the Dust Bowl-but now renowned American historian Linda Gordon brings them to three-dimensional life in this groundbreaking exploration of Lange's transformation into a documentarist. Using Lange's life to anchor a moving social history of twentieth-century America, Gordon masterfully re-creates bohemian San Francisco, the Depression, and the Japanese-American internment camps. Accompanied by more than one hundred images-many of them previously unseen and some formerly suppressed-Gordon has written a sparkling, fast-moving story that testifies to her status as one of the most gifted historians of our…

Book cover of Rethinking the Welfare Rights Movement

Why did I love this book?

It is difficult to find an accessible and comprehensible history of the welfare state in the United States. But this book does exactly that. Premilla Nadasen writes an engaging overview of the welfare rights movement and the role played by radical Black feminist organizations. By analyzing the primary campaigns of the movement for welfare reform throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the reader gets a complete picture of the main actors involved and their political demands.

By Premilla Nadasen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rethinking the Welfare Rights Movement as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The welfare rights movement was an interracial protest movement of poor women on AFDC who demanded reform of welfare policy, greater respect and dignity, and financial support to properly raise and care for their children. In short, they pushed for a right to welfare. Lasting from the early 1960s to the mid 1970s, the welfare rights movement crossed political boundaries, fighting simultaneously for women's rights, economic justice, and black women's empowerment through welfare assistance. Its members challenged stereotypes, engaged in Congressional debates, and developed a sophisticated political analysis that combined race, class, gender, and culture, and crafted a distinctive, feminist,…

Book cover of Patients of the State: The Politics of Waiting in Argentina

Why did I love this book?

What does remain of the old welfare institutions of the mid-twentieth century? How has neoliberalism cut social infrastructure? Javier Auyero looks at welfare and public services in present-day Argentina, a system that, despite the crisis, continues to offer some form of protection to impoverished working families. The book is fascinating and demonstrates how “waiting” has come to define how poor people relate to the state and access rights and benefits.

By Javier Auyero,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Patients of the State as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Patients of the State is a sociological account of the extended waiting that poor people seeking state social and administrative services must endure. It is based on ethnographic research in the waiting area of the main welfare office in Buenos Aires, in the line leading into the Argentine registration office where legal aliens apply for identification cards, and among people who live in a polluted shantytown on the capital's outskirts, while waiting to be allocated better housing. Scrutinizing the mundane interactions between the poor and the state, as well as underprivileged people's confusion and uncertainty about the administrative processes that…

5 book lists we think you will like!

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