"A Discourse on Poverty. The scientification of the Social Question and the transnational transfer of reformers’ ideas around 1900."


Poverty has been a social risk for centuries, its definition, however, has always been subject to historical circumstance. The assignation of “poor” as a label for individuals or groups of individuals, the distinction between deserving and undeserving poor as well as the drawing of poverty lines have always happened on the basis of societal perspectives and cultural values. The project in hand researches the discourses on poverty and the Social Question in reformers’ societies in Germany and the Netherlands around 1900. The Social Question attacked traditional beliefs about society and its organization. With the help of social sciences, new knowledge was acquired and new structures of societal amelioration were negotiated and institutionalized.

The approach of the project in hand is to identify central actors within the national reformers’ societies, their central views on societal problems and their strategies to gain influence on the processes of policy initiation and formulation. This contains their definitions of poverty and the position that is assigned to it in the wider horizon of the Social Question. New scientific methods and the reference to the social sciences are used as means to achieve a stronger position and to legitimize the perspectives on poverty and the proposals for solving societal problems. This development will be set against the particular national background of intellectual thought on social inclusion and the institutionalization of the social sciences in the different countries. It will not suffice, however, to research national debates, as the transfers of ideas on social policies, especially among the reformers’ societies have been vital in the period under scrutiny. Reformers’ debates have entailed the discussion of foreign remedies of the Social Question and there has been a thriving transfer of ideas between social policy experts in Germany and the Netherlands.


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