Sociology Index


Social democracy is a general term for political doctrines that claim an important role for the state and the community in the shaping and directing a society's economic and social life.

Social democracy differs from socialism because it is committed to preservation of a largely capitalist and free market economy, but shares with it an emphasis on the importance of redistribution of wealth and income so that citizens may have social and economic conditions that effectively provide for reasonable equality of opportunity. Modern welfare-state liberalism is closely allied to social democracy and social democratic ideas.

Theoretical Approaches to Social Democracy - Hans Keman 
Social democracy has been widely studied in political science. More often than not these studies are flawed or even biased. I contend that this results from the fact that the `object' of analysis has been conceptualized in terms of a `subjective' understanding of social democracy and its presupposed relationship with the development of the welfare state.

Hence the theoretical standing of these studies must be questioned. In this article I shall investigate a number of contemporary approaches to assess their theoretical quality. To this end I divide these studies into 'project' orientated (focusing on strategic questions concerning the transformation of capitalism) and 'model' driven (investigating the relation between political action and societal change). It appears that much of the literature has little to offer in terms of new insights into social democracy as a political actor and has hardly contributed to the development of a `theory' of social democracy.

What Do We Know about Social Democracy? - Geoff Dow, University of Queensland 
Social democracy is an assertion of citizens' rights: the entitlement of all citizens, by reason of citizenship, to share equally in the standards of living which a particular society is technically capable of generating. Existing literature from political economy, political science and class theory can be marshalled in defence of this conception. Reconstruction of a coherent theory of social democracy is necessary in order to specify a contemporary political problem that is only incompletely understood: the propensity of social democratic regimes, parties and politicians to retreat, sometimes spectacularly, from past commitments. In each case there is evidence and interpretation available which not only affirms the viability of social democratic political and economic ambitions but also elaborates the role of labour in contemporary policy-making.

Democracy and Social Democracy - Stefan Berger, University of Glamorgan 
This article explores the relationship between democracy and social democracy from the late nineteenth century through to the present. It discusses the emergence of different concepts of democracy within European social democracy at different times during this period and attempts to locate key junctures in the relationship between those two concepts. After investigating the strong links between radical democracy and social democracy in the second half of the nineteenth century, it goes on to argue that Marxism, through an anti-pluralist legacy which social democratic reformists and revisionists tried hard to overcome after 1900, considerably influenced social democracy's perception of democracy. Yet a fundamental ambiguity of social democracy towards democracy was only overcome under the conditions of the Cold War and the long economic boom after 1945. In the 'golden age' of social democracy between the 1940s and the 1960s, Social Democrats fully endorsed the politics of pluralist democracy. From the 1970s onwards, when the 'social democratic consensus' came under intense criticism from the political Right, the commitment of social democracy to democracy remained one of the few uncontentious areas, and the renaissance of social democratic fortunes in the 1990s has tended to focus on democracy as a key element of 'new' social democracy in Europe.

Social Democracy in Transition - John Callaghan 
Social democratic parties entered hard times after 1973 when the long postwar boom was succeeded by decades of lower rates of economic growth and higher rates of inflation and unemployment. A new convergence of government policy characterised the 1980s as neo-liberalism gained the ascendancy at the expense of the political economy of the postwar social democratic settlement. The largely Anglo-American literature on social democracy critically surveyed in this article has theorised the discomfiture of these parties in a number of interrelated ways. Changes to the social structure, the salience of class, the decline of partisan identification and the cultures of solidarity which supported the social demoratic parties have been linked to epochal transformations in the global political economy.

The Politics of the `Third Way' - The Transformation of Social Democracy in Denmark and the Netherlands - Christoffer Green-Pedersen, Kees van Kersbergen
The development of European Social Democracy has once more attracted significant scholarly attention. This time, the debate is centred around the `third way' as the catchphrase for the transformation of European Social Democracy. Based on the experience of the Danish and Dutch Social Democrats, two questions are raised in this article, namely what has caused the renewal of Social Democracy and what explains different sequences of change in different countries? The answer to the first question is that the transformation is driven by the search for a new formula for combining social justice and effective economic governance after the failure of the Keynesian formula in the 1970s and 1980s. This, and not so much changes in the preferences of the electorate in a liberal and libertarian direction, is driving the transformation. The answer to the second question is that differences in the strategic situation of the Social Democratic parties in terms of office-seeking and holding on to power explain different sequences.

Understanding Swedish social democracy: victims of success? 
J Vartiainen, Labout Institute for Economic Research, Helsinki, Finland 
Abstract: The economic policies of Swedish Social Democrats were not the product of one centralized authority but, rather, a series of initiatives influenced by many political actors and inspired by egaliatarian preferences. We focus on three policy areas. First, the welfare state is a central achievement of Social Democracy. Although its expansion is over, it has cemented Social Democracy's position in power and is still popular among the electorate. Second, the labour-market model is in crisis. The centralized Rehn-Meidner model is not working, coordination of wage bargaining has turned out to be difficult, and the trade unions' radical politics of the 1970s alienated Swedish employers from social concertation. Finally, macroeconomic management has had to struggle with inflationary pressures, and the overheating of the late 1980s and the subsequent deflationary shock led to a sharp increase in unemployment in the 1990s. Many of these problems are related to Social Democracy's internal strains.

The choices for Scandinavian social democracy in comparative perspective 
T Iversen, Department of Government, Harvard University, US 
Abstract: Scandinavian social democracy represents one of the most systematic attempts to shape economic institutions and policies in pursuit of equality and full employment. Increasingly, however, these goals have eluded governments, and their institutional supports have eroded. This paper seeks to understand this shift through a comparative analysis that places particular emphasis on the interaction between macroeconomic policies and wage-bargaining institutions. It is argued that the nature of this interaction, and the associated economic effects, have been changed by new technology, capital market integration, and service-sector expansion. As a result, centralized wage-bargaining institutions and accommodating macroeconomic policy regimes have been undermined, and social democracy increasingly faces a choice between the promotion of equality and employment for all.

State Building, Capitalist Development, and Social Justice 
Social Democracy in China’s Modern Transformation, 1921-1949 
Edmund S. K. Fung, University of Western Sydney, Penrith Campus 
This article explores social democracy in China as an intellectual current and political movement, seeking to demonstrate, on one hand, its similaritiesto European classical social democracy and, on the other, its Chinese peculiarities. It revises the earlier historiography that viewed liberalism in China as irrelevant to the crisis of Chinese society at the time. Instead, it argues that social democracy, linked to state building, capitalist development, and social justice, was a dominant feature of Chinese liberalism and politics, which provided an impetus to China's modern transformation. Many intellectuals, such as Hu Shi, Zhang Junmai, and Zhang Dongsun, were simultaneously liberal, democratic, and socialist.