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The new social question

Research project P4/32 (Research action P4)

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On the basis of various human science disciplines, the participants in this network have arrived at the following tentative hypothesis: a new social question is developing to which the traditional social care schemes (notably social security) are incapable of formulating an effective answer. This new social question stems from a gradually progressing shift of a risk-related, usually temporary need to a rather permanent, individual need. This shift seems to be related essentially to the socio-economic polarization between unskilled and highly-skilled people.

The IAP aims to unite these notions in an attempt to produce some coherent answers to the following questions:

1.To what extent is there an interrelationship between the above-mentioned socio-economic polarization on the educational dimension; the limitations of the present social protection arrangements; the emergence of the new ideological and political cleavages; the current policies and the developments of policy utopias?

2. Are the current social problems really substantially different from the problems in the past to speak of a new social question?

3. Why are the instruments of the welfare state powerless with regard to the (new) social dividing lines?

4. How should the re-orientation of the care schemes be envisaged?

5. What role can the old and new social and political movements play in the reorienting the welfare state?

The network proposes to exploit the complementary expertise of the various research groups (UA, ULg, UCL and VUB) to provide a coherent set of answers to the new social question and its assumptions. The question includes a socio-economic and a socio-cultural aspect. Hence, a first axis of collaboration will concentrate mainly on the socio-economic component. The UA will analyse empirically the new inequalities and limitations of traditional social policy tools. It will be the main task of the UCL and ULg teams to explore, both theoretically and empirically, policy alternatives that deal with to (potential) new inequalities. The UA will also be active in this area. The second focus of the network will be the socio-cultural component of the new social issue. The VUB team will conduct an empirical analysis of the new social issue in relation to ideological, cultural, and political fault lines. The UA team will also attempt to analyse in greater depth the political capitalisation of the new social issue and with special emphasis the role of new social movements.

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