Journal of Social Policy


Postmodernism and Social Policy: A Small Step Forwards?

Sue Penna* and Martin O'Brien


The term ‘postmodernism’ has recently entered the study of social policy, prompting debate over its usefulness for social policy analysis. Peter Taylor-Gooby's (1994) appraisal of literatures often described as ‘postmodern’ leads him to reject them as having little to offer the discipline of social policy. This article argues that such a view derives from a confusion about the field of ‘postmodernism’; in particular, from a conflation of several different theoretical positions and schools of thought. This article provides a clarification of these literatures in order to argue that the issues they raise have important implications for the way in which we might understand the prospects for policy formulation and implementation. The article distinguishes between the political economy strand of the ‘post’ literatures – postindustrialism and postfordism – and the cultural studies strand – poststructuralism and postmodernism – showing that the different issues they highlight, and the ways in which they conceptualise power and control will lead to different theoretical connections between social policy and political action.

(Received September 19 1994)

(Accepted October 28 1994)


* Lecturer in the Department of Applied Social Science, University of Lancaster, Bailrigg, Lancaster LA1 4YL

† Lecturer in the Department of Sociology, University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey GU2 5XH