Social Policy in Aotearoa New Zealand: A Critical Introduction (3Rd Edition) by Christine Cheyne, Mike O'Brien and Michael Belgrave

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Social Policy in Aotearoa New Zealand: A Critical Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2005) is rich in detail, fully contextualised to New Zealand and, in its third edition, up to date in important respects.

The eleven chapters in the book fall into two categories, though not crisply. The "case study" chapters (8, 9 and 10) cover income support, social services and health policy. The authors selected these topics because each has been subject to significant recent developments. In addition, the authors wish to present concrete material so they can illustrate their critical approach. Thus, each chapter is a blend of description and critical interpretation.

In one way or another, the remaining chapters present foundational descriptions of social policy in Aotearoa New Zealand, or conceptual material designed to comprise an interpretive "toolkit". These chapters offer a parade of "theoretical traditions" or "perspectives" (liberalism, neo-liberalism, neo-Marxism, traditional and contemporary social democracy, feminism, anti-racism, and green political theory), "key themes" (justice, equality, freedom, need, risk, and citizenship), and "key constitutional, political, and cultural factors". Full chapters are devoted to wellbeing as the goal of social policy (chapter 3), "policy analysis" (chapter 6), and social policy from a Maori perspective (chapter 7). The final chapter offers both a restatement of the authors' priorities for effective social policy, as well as a summary of current themes and developments in social policy, such as the emphasis on growth and innovation and sustainable development.

Chapter 7, headed "Individualism, collectivism, and the recognition of te tino rangatiratanga" can also be read as a fourth case study chapter, if one accepts that "Maori policy" is a subset of social policy just as income support, social services and health policy are. The authors are unclear themselves, sometimes including it as a case study chapter (p.42) and sometimes as a thematic chapter (p.14).

As a text primarily for students, the book also includes chapter-by-chapter guides to further readings, boxed short introductions and summaries, and a reasonably comprehensive glossary. The referencing is extensive across a range of source types, and the index is modest but serviceable. The introductions provide useful orientations to each chapter. However, the summaries strike me as oddly selective, and occasionally serve to introduce a point not clearly made in the preceding material. The book's introduction and the introduction to chapter 2 note four key periods in the history of social policy in New Zealand. But the summary lists "key points" regarding just two of these. This same summary also introduces a distinction between "Maori social policy" and "Pakeha social policy", but only the former is treated specifically in the text.

I would prefer greater distinction between descriptive and interpretive material. In some sections, the two lines of material are interwoven in ways that are not immediately obvious. For example, in chapter 2 we are strongly led to expect coverage of a history with four key periods--the 1840s, the 1890s, the 1930s and the 1980s (or sometimes, the 1980s and early 1990s). The introductory box promises an examination of "constitutional, political and intellectual history" (or perhaps "constitutional, political and cultural", as expressed in the textual introduction to the chapter on the page facing the box) in order to identify major patterns in policy development. Several additional features are noted in the box, namely European colonisation, an acceptance of the role of the state in social policy, a preference for providing for wellbeing through employment, and an active, though not necessarily generous, state.

Several possible ways of organising a potted history are evident in these lists. The chapter, however, has sections following the introduction on: the progressive model and its critics; periods of social development (2 paragraphs); Maori and the state: a welfare state for all? …