theoretical exploration in its own right. The early sociological contributions to the study of social policy in Australia came from political science, public administration, social history and social work. Since the 1980s, increasing interest in social policy has come from the field of economics and has revolved mainly around social expenditure and fiscal welfare. To a certain extent this trend has continued to this day. For this reason, much of the research and writing on social policy has been concerned with the study of particular government policies and specific programs, but not with the theoretical explorations of social policy as a field in sociology comparable to, say, social class, religion, the family, or social deviance. In more recent years, significant sociological research and writing on social policy has come from sociologists working in the schools of social work and welfare studies, and some of these have been mentioned in this chapter. This has been a valuable trend and we can only hope that it will continue.
The other reason that sociological research and writing on social policy has not contributed volumes of theoretical explorations has been two periods of significant change in social policy at the federal level, which the sociologists took some time to 'digest' and explore the social significance of. The first of these was the period of the Whitlam Labor government, 1972 to 1975, which introduced philosophical concepts of social democracy that were rather 'foreign' to Australian social-policy lexicon. Concepts such as participation, social planning, regionalisation and community development were new, and in the Opposition as well as in the printed media they were criticised as 'fanciful ideas encouraging fiscal profligacy'. Sociologists were rather tardy in engaging to study the social and political significance of these ideas. By the time some theoretical writing on these issues appeared in print (some of these have been noted in this chapter), the concept had disappeared from government policy, and the writing that examined these issues became a writing of social history.
The other period that has faced a similar problem in social-policy research and writing is that which started in 1996, with the election of the conservative Coalition in Canberra. With some exceptions, most writers on social policy and social welfare who contribute articles (there have not been many books on these topics since 1996) keep providing critique of social policy based on the notion that these policies do not meet the criteria of 'the welfare state'. What seems to be difficult for these researchers and writers to accept is the reality of a radical philosophical and ideological change that has taken place in the policies of the conservative Coalition in Canberra. The flawed assumption in such critique is that the government is failing, or not doing well enough, to be doing what it should be doing in social-welfare policy. What such critique fails to see is the reality of radical philosophical and ideological change in the social policy of the current government, which enables the government to achieve the objectives it wants to achieve. In both these periods, Ossowski's observation quoted at the start of the chapter appears to be very apposite.
Australia and New Zealand Journal of Sociology. 1980. (Special issue Symposium on the Sociology of the Welfare state) 16(3).