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SOC 222: Social Welfare as a Social Institution

Suzanne Strickland

(Submission #116)

Course Description

This course explains the tributaries that define the “pursuit of happiness” as embedded in the constitution. American social welfare policy—as implemented through various institutions—creates the enabling conditions that permit American citizens the “pursuit of happiness.” The constitutional framers adopted Aristotle’s definition of happiness and the path to achieving it. Consequently, this course exposes students to Aristotelian principles and the ways in which these principles under grid American social welfare policy.

American social welfare policy is at first influenced by English jurisprudence, e.g., commonly referred to as “The English Poor Laws.” By the mid 1800’s, successive waves of immigrants from Europe begin to come to America, and this influx challenges the European legal framework. America begins to understand the immigrant experience—and its implication for democracy—through the eclectic contributions made by social reformers, journalists, scientists, and the influx into America of prominent European thinkers, who begin to modify their European perspectives by the American experience. These forces shape American social welfare institutions created in the 19th Century that begin to mediate between the harshness of capitalism and the rights of man.

In the 20th Century, as America emerges as the leader of the free world, social welfare institutions are again reshaped by economic and political changes in the world and in the country.


Crafting social welfare policy in a democracy is a complex task that requires policy-makers to ask hard questions. How does social welfare policy shape the character of a citizen? Can social welfare policy effectively promote equality? What constitutes good social policy; does empirical evidence prove the efficacy of policy approaches, or are there broader theoretical questions that define effectiveness? To answer these questions, this course traces the philosophical, economic, political and historic tributaries that shaped the United States’ social welfare system. Students will gain an understanding of the interplay of these factors, and how the contours of contemporary social policy continue to illustrate this complex weave of philosophical, economic, political and historic events.

The first large-scale challenge to social welfare policy in America occurred with the immigration of 1845. Beyond the significance of integrating large waves of immigrants, the Chicago experience begins to shape an indigenous American Sociology. We will examine the settlement house movement in Chicago and its significance to American social science by reading Jane Adams’s book, The Spirit of Youth and The City Streets. Class reading will also focus on Jacob Riis’s parallel account of New York City’s immigrant experience.

The class will define the evolution of government’s role in social welfare by focusing first on Al Smith’s important influence as a ward boss from the Lower East Side of New York City, to the governorship of New York, and finally to the national stage as a candidate for the presidency. Then we will discuss the critical impact of Franklin Roosevelt’s policies as governor of New York and later as president. These policies had a far reaching impact in building a federal role for social welfare.

Examining Post-WW II America, the class will analyze how government policies of the late 1940’s and 1950’s contributed to prosperity for many Americans, but at the same time, as Michael Harrington posited, these strategies created serious “social deficits” for southern blacks, displaced industrial workers and the elderly. The Other America, by Michael Harrington explains why America needed to fight The War on Poverty to help those at risk. The Great Society sought to redress these “social deficits,” but several theorists argued that the strategies developed to ameliorate the problems did not achieve that goal. We will examine the empirical evidence used to evaluate these programs to discern what some of the failures were. Losing Ground by Charles Murray provides a provocative explanation for this failure. This examination formed the basis for the welfare reform overall of 1994.

The last part of the course will define the current social welfare challenges posed in the 21st Century.


Area of Knowledge and Inquiry: Culture and Values (CV)
Context of Experience: United States (US)
Extended Requirement: Not Applicable

Additional Course information

Credits: 3
Prerequisites: Pre-requisites include Soc 101 or Anth 101 or Econ 101 or Fnes 106 or Hss1 or Psci 100 or Psci 101 or Urbst 101.
Existing Course: Existing
Existing Course Number: Soc 222
Course Anticipated to be offered: Every Semester
Other (if specified): 
Number of Sections: 1
Number of Seats: 45


[Justification, Materials, Assessment, Administration (DOC)]   [Syllabus/Syllabi (DOC)]  

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