The best books on the history of the welfare state

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

The Books I Picked & Why

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

By Donna J. Guy

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

Why 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.


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

By Lynne Haney

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

Why 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.


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Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits

By Linda Gordon

Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits

Why 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.


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Rethinking the Welfare Rights Movement

By Premilla Nadasen

Rethinking the Welfare Rights Movement

Why 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.


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Patients of the State: The Politics of Waiting in Argentina

By Javier Auyero

Patients of the State: The Politics of Waiting in Argentina

Why 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.


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