Beyond ‘retrenchment’: toward a spatialised understanding of the contemporary welfare state

Samuel Jones


There is no shortage of literature concerned with the transformations being experienced by the contemporary welfare state and the study of ‘retrenchment’ is well established. As it exists however this literature almost entirely works within narrow, reductive paradigms that uncritically present the welfare state as able to be entirely understood in terms of expenditure and explicit class struggle. This paper seeks to highlight only one of many regards in which this is problematic by exploring the relationship between the welfare state and the spatialities of labour under capitalism. This concerns the geographies and spaces that the welfare state creates for labour along with how these differ between historical accumulation regimes, but also concerns those that the welfare state functions to eliminate. The work of the likes of Lefebvre and an increasingly accepted need to ‘spatialize Marx’ are shown to have direct implications for the task of understanding welfare provision. Furthermore, in conducting this exploration this paper demonstrates how the development of the welfare state is inextricably tied to the development of accumulation regimes by its need to adapt to the changing specificities of capital’s demand for the regulation and discipline of labour. It is hoped that this demonstration will encourage scholars to question their commitment to the concept of ‘retrenchment’ in favour of pursuing a more critical understanding of the emerging post-fordist welfare state.

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