Social Change in Western Europe

Social Change in Western Europe

Social Change in Western Europe

Social Change in Western Europe

Synopsis

What do European societies look like, at the end of a turbulent millennium which saw western Europe slowly rise to global domination, and then rapidly decline to its present position, prosperous but clearly behind the USA in world influence? This is the only book by a single sociologist to make a systematic and up to date comparison of virtually all west European countries across a wide range of social institutions. These include: work and occupations, the structure of the economy, the family, education, religion, nationality and ethnicity, and the mechanism of citizenship in the welfare state. Particular emphasis is placed on the place of gender and social class. By including basic details on Japan and the United States throughout, the author is able to draw attention to any shared west European specificities. The book also develops a theory of change in contemporary societies. Starting from a model of a mid-century social compromise based on certain balances between industrialism, capitalism, traditional community institutions, and community it traces its subsequent destabilization and places particular importance on the resurgence of capitalism in shaping a new social order. This important new study of the social structure of western Europe will be essential reading for all students of comparative sociology and European sociology.

Excerpt

The arrival of the single European currency, other developments in increasing European integration, and the frequent reference in much political and economic discussion to a 'Eu ropean model' of society are enough to justify writing a general sociology of contemporary Western Europe. Is there such a thing as a Western European social form? And where would such a form fit into more general patterns of social change in advanced societies? These are the questions I have tried to answer in these pages.

The initial decision to undertake such a task is straightforward; but the choices that then have to be made if this is to be a single-volume, single-person study completed in a reasonable number of years are troublesome. First, is one to write generally about the European population, in the way that a US American sociologist would write a sociology of the USA without constantly working round state by state? Or ought one deliberately keep the nation states as the essential units? Or should one refuse to accept the boundaries of states as necessarily being social boundaries and try to accumulate data at lower geographical levels, determining in the light of those what geographical social entities actually exist? These decisions are in fact made for one by some very practical considerations. Very little statistical data and even less sociological research exist at the level of a generalized Europe; it is also clear after the most elementary study that Western Europe is far too heterogeneous a place to make a generalized study legitimate even if it were possible. The ideal choice would be the third one, building up from local data, to see if nation states really are social units. Unfortunately, two further practical considerations rule this out. First, too much statistical material is available at national but not lower levels; and the sub-national geographical coverage of research findings is very patchy indeed. Second, the criterion of the single-volume, single-person study completed in a reasonable number of years could not possibly be met. Faute de mieux, the study becomes one of nation states. Just occasionally one can move to a lower level; frequently one can aggregate nation states into groups of countries; but most of the time one pretends that nation states are societies. This is not a principled decision that I defend, though as will emerge from several chapters, there are reasons for believing that nation states have a particularly important formative influence. The state does shape many social institutions; how many and how much are questions which I should like to submit to sustained empirical test, but that will have to be a different project.

This issue raises further interesting methodological questions for the comparative study of societies. We tend to see individual societies as a series of examples of more or less the same thing, being made up of similar components, albeit of different shapes and sizes-just as we might see a group of dogs as all being individual examples of the same basic item. But to the extent that societies are related to each other through trade, each having different comparative advantages and therefore trading asymmetrically, they are not a series of examples of similar systems, but components of a wider system, the world order. In this respect societies are more like bees in a hive than a group of dogs; what we learn about a drone will tell us little about a worker bee, let alone a queen. To some extent this issue is discussed in the following chapters, but I

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.