This article demonstrates how T. Marshall's conceptualization of sociology—its subject, key questions and methodology—was embedded within broader moments in twentieth-century political history, including two world wars, the economic crisis of the interwar era, the onset of the Cold War and the rise of decolonization.
In doing so, it brings intellectual history and the history of academic disciplines particularly sociology together with more recent trends in the historiography of twentieth-century Europe, including research on postwar democratization, reconstruction and the global spread of human rights discourses.
In this respect, Marshall was part of a transnational and global movement to recast key concepts such as democracy, human rights and citizenship after the Second World War. This broader perspective illuminates how his work straddles traditions of pluralism and idealism, liberalism and social democracy, rather than being simply representative of any one of these schools of thought. This article stems from a conversation with my former supervisor Professor Jose Harris, and it is to Jose that this piece is dedicated.
I am especially grateful to Holger Nehring and the editors and anonymous peer reviewers at Modern Intellectual History for their careful reading of the essay.
Following publication in , Thomas Humphrey Marshall's revised Cambridge lectures Citizenship and Social Class were met with relative silence for the next three decades. Sociology appeared to have moved on, as Marshall's historical, qualitative style seemed outdated. In the midst of the Cold War, large-scale quantitative studies and, later, broad historical—comparative studies became the norm, and Marshall's work on citizenship did not sit comfortably within the evolving discipline.
Even the growing undercurrent in sociology that prioritized the psychology of individual experience in increasingly affluent societies seemed to travel in a different direction. Amidst economic retrenchment in Britain, the USA and much of Western Europe, Marshall's claims that the twentieth century was the era of social rights found favor with a wide variety of scholars.
The cycles of popularity of Marshall's work follow broadly the lines of key developments of political history. This article seeks to demonstrate how Marshall's specific conceptualization of sociology—its subject, key questions and methodology—was embedded in these developments, and reflected them, but also made significant contributions to their understanding. In doing so, it brings intellectual history and the history of academic disciplines together with more recent trends in the history of twentieth-century Europe.
Yet it also shaped reconstruction within Europe, as well as international development efforts following decolonization.
The experience of war proved formative for his social thought, shaping Marshall's understanding of social relations, inequality and national development. This broader context illuminates how his work straddles traditions of pluralism and idealism, liberalism and social democracy, rather than being simply representative of any one of these schools of thought. By examining T. Marshall's intellectual biography, I aim to unpack some of the continuities that cut across this turbulent era, and across national borders, tying postwar European ideas about the welfare state to their nineteenth-century heritage.
For Marshall, social citizenship stemmed from a specific historical and cultural context, stated in national terms, which was informed by a communitarian sensibility. Citizenship was not universal, and it needed to be cultivated in specific ways according to particular circumstances. Marshall's theory of social citizenship, then, needs to be cast against this larger backdrop, situating his work within broader interwar and early postwar British and transatlantic intellectual history and connecting that history to its nineteenth-century antecedents. Throughout his life, Marshall was occupied personally with developments in Germany.
This aspect of his intellectual background may provide us with some clues about his conception of social citizenship and its complex legacy. Intellectual historians have so far interpreted Marshall's thought primarily in the context of certain strands of British history. It was during this period that social theorists such as Marshall, along with his colleagues at the London School of Economics LSE William Beveridge and Richard Titmuss, moved away from embracing systematic social philosophies—even if they retained glimpses of earlier idealist political thought.
Against this backdrop, this article develops its key argument of T. The first section shows how Marshall began to sympathize with a pluralist strand of idealism after his stint as a POW based outside Berlin during the First World War. The second part traces the development of his social philosophy while analyzing National Socialist Germany for the Foreign Office Research Department. The third section situates his lectures on Citizenship and Social Class against the backdrop of postwar reconstruction. It shows how his earlier emphasis on the importance of pluralism, history and community evolved.
For Marshall, the welfare state—with social citizenship as its hallmark—synthesized community and the state rather than following an ethos of centralized state planning. In both roles, he argued for nationally specific paths to development, which could be fostered by the social sciences.
This emphasis may have led him to dismiss the idea of universal human rights, which could have provided a further stage in the typology of rights outlined in his theory of social citizenship. As the final section shows, Marshall's emphasis on the social sciences as a tool for international development proved ironic because his own social-scientific methods were on the wane.
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Nonetheless, the pluralist and historicist principles behind his concept of social citizenship lived on. Marshall discovered a pluralist strand of idealist thought by chance while an undergraduate. As a civilian internee in Germany during the First World War, and as a history student at Cambridge, he began contemplating how societies function and how social relations relate to questions of equity and rights. Maitland and Neville Figgis, pluralism seemed to offer an ethical alternative to Benthamite and Fabian utilitarianism, liberal radicalism and individualism as a way to solve social problems.
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In the form of medieval guilds and other kinds of association, they identified a means to ensure a sense of interpersonal obligation that benefited all members of a community. However, pluralism was a broad church and could work in conjunction with another strand of social thought that had also grown in appeal in Britain in the same period: idealism, which had gained prominence through the writings of G. This idealist-inspired version of pluralism appealed to Marshall in light of his social background and experience as an internee in Germany during the First World War.
The son of an architect, his childhood had been spent split between a London residence and a country home in the Lake District. Marshall's family had some connections with the Bloomsbury set, even if he himself never became involved with the group.
Green and R. Collingwood and the pluralist R. Tawney, before attending Cambridge, where he read history. He had selected an inauspicious moment in the summer of , resulting in his arrest and transfer to the Ruhleben prisoner-of-war camp in Berlin following the outbreak of war. Masterman, the Oxford don and, later, a member of MI5. It is natural in its development, and amazing in its entire disregard of environment. While he formed part of the camp's elite, living in a separate barrack with internees who were university-educated, a number of other divisions coexisted at Ruhleben, including separate barracks for Jewish and black prisoners.
The German administrators of the camp let the prisoners take charge of many aspects of the camp's day-to-day affairs, so that some of the internees, including Marshall, forged various organizations that shaped camp society. Marshall's experience at Ruhleben shaped his scholarship when he returned to Britain after the war. I have been led to speculate upon a deep and fundamental change in the industrial life of the nation. The shift he described was not merely economic; it was also social. From Ruhleben, Marshall had brought not only a strengthened interest in history but also a preference for communal economies, which he saw as more egalitarian than those based on free markets.
This sense of equality did not imply that all members of guild economies found the same financial status; instead, by sharing in local, communal life, they found a degree of equality of social status. His experience within the artificial society of the camp, reflecting on the various forms of society that developed within it, seemed to find expression in Marshall's historical sentiments about social relations and the impact of economic change. However, Continental social theory—and the early key works in the social sciences—did not appear to inform this thinking.
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Nonetheless, like the pluralist George Unwin, who had also written about the transformation of industrial organization in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, 26 Marshall seemed to owe an indirect and unacknowledged debt to the German legal theorist Otto von Gierke. Gierke reconstructed the development of social groups in early modern Germany as a means to explain the specific trajectory of German legal and political history. While Marshall did not refer to Gierke, he was influenced by the German economist Lujo Brentano, who espoused guild socialism as an ethical economic framework for the new German nation-state.
He even briefly and unsuccessfully dabbled in Labour politics in , when he ran for Surrey's safe conservative seat in Parliament. Cole, R. Tawney, Harold Laski and other scholars on the left writing at the same time.
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Over time, however, and especially with the onslaught of the Great Depression, even the most committed pluralists began to concede that some form of state action would be necessary to solve social problems. For Marshall, it was possible to blend pluralism and idealism out of a commitment to ethical socialism, as can be seen in his early studies on economic history as well as in his later sociological research, work on German reconstruction after the Second World War and at UNESCO in the s and early s.
Marshall's synthesis of pluralism and idealism continued to inform his work after he left Cambridge in for a position as assistant lecturer in social science at the LSE. At the LSE, he continued to research and lecture on economic history while gradually deepening his commitment to sociology and more systematically theorizing the relationship between society and the state.
However, he was able to apply his sociological thinking to his new occupation. For Marshall, the problem with Germany under National Socialism was that the state had become too powerful and too centralized—as well as too radical.
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Germany had lost sight of its legal, bureaucratic and communal traditions. We have ours; they are different, and we cannot claim that we know the solutions. However, his views on German reconstruction also resonated with claims that Germany had historically been a model of organic community Gemeinschaft which contrasted with the impersonal society Gesellschaft that had emerged with urbanization and capitalism in the nineteenth century. These ideas about Germany following the war shed light on Marshall's views about the role of social policy in society. The aspect of democratic civilization which we have to stress is.
As Marshall suggested a few years later, he thought that intellectuals could play an important role in charting this course. In this regard, Marshall's thoughts on Germany during the war echoed the pluralist leanings of his early academic career. Marshall's reflections on the relationship between individuals, communities and the state in postwar Germany proved significant for his next major scholarly project: theorizing social citizenship for postwar Britain.
Although he toured West German universities in the winter of —48 in a programme sponsored by the Association of University Teachers, he only returned to focusing on German reconstruction in the latter half of , when he was made the educational adviser at the British Control Commission. Marshall had begun his search for that bridge when he first joined the teaching staff at the LSE and concentrated his writing and teaching on problems of social class.
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