On welfare pluralism, social policy and the contribution of sociology: Revisiting Robert Pinker

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On occasion it makes sound sense to undertake a retrospective review of a late colleague's contribution to his or her subject area. This applies to Robert Pinker, Professor of Social Administration at the London School of Economics, who died at the age of 89 in February 2021. Over a long life he made a major impact on working for press freedom and to social work studies, but this article concerns his work on social policy, and particularly on the idea of welfare pluralism, a many-faceted idea the exploration of which powered two pathbreaking books Social Theory and Social Policy (1971) and The Idea of Welfare (1979). In the twentieth century many states including the United Kingdom had greatly expanded their welfare provisions for their citizens, and, in some, an academic subject area, often called social administration or social policy had grown in response. Pinker started writing in the 1960s, dissatisfied with the conventional approach of Richard Titmuss and others, almost exclusively concerned with the state and welfare. He made the case for a radical rebalance toward including everyday experiences of obligations and how familial informal welfare practices are strengthened, weakened or modified by formal social services. However, ahead of his time, Pinker was arguing for an enhanced sociological imagination in the study of social policy and on the very idea of “welfare”. This article has sections reflecting the facets of Pinker's thinking about welfare pluralism, including “social policy's past”, “exchange and stigma”, “taking informal welfare seriously”, “divergent views of altruism”, “comparative studies”, “on a mixture of means to welfare” and “aspects of Pinker's legacy”. The idea of welfare pluralism is now familiar. But Pinker's crucial pioneering role, depth of understanding of the issues and grasp of their intertwining is seldom recalled. This article should help to meet the need for his contribution to be reinserted into the mainstream of sociological thought on welfare, so enriching new research.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1076750
Pages (from-to)1 - 11
Number of pages11
JournalFrontiers in Sociology
Early online date17 Apr 2023
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 17 Apr 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The research reported here was greatly assisted earlier by a Grant from the British Academy Policy in 2011, SG111340, with the title ‘Understanding Social Policy and Social Work 1970–2000: The Contribution of Professor Robert Pinker, CBE'.

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2023 Offer.


  • Sociology
  • welfare pluralism
  • social policy
  • informal care
  • Titmuss
  • Robert Pinker
  • agency
  • care of older people


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