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Elisabeth Anderson wins the 2023 Stein Rokkan Prize

Agents of Reform: Child Labor and the Origins of the Welfare State (Princeton University Press, 2022)

Paris, France

Elisabeth Anderson’s Agents of Reform: Child Labor and the Origins of the Welfare State was lauded by the 2023 Jury of the Stein Rokkan Prize for Comparative Social Science Research for enriching our understanding of the origins of the welfare state and the role of middle-class and elite reformers.

About the book

This elegantly written book advances an innovative historical explanation for the origin and development of the welfare state. Anderson builds her argument in a step-by-step pedagogical style, with a carefully crafted comparative design featuring seven in-depth case-studies. She explains the success or failure of early child labour reform efforts (Part I) and shows why states later adopted different child labour and factory inspection laws (Part II).

Without denying the relevance of traditional approaches stressing the role of institutions, class-based and organization action, the study shows that the interaction between institutions and actors’ goals and strategies did play a decisive role in the origins and implementation of child labour regulation.

One of the books’ important contributions thus relies upon theorizing the conditions under which middle-class policy and administrative entrepreneurs can indeed function as agents of reform.

In her own words

I am honored and gratified to receive this award. Stein Rokkan’s historically-grounded approach to the study of politics and institutions remains a cornerstone of comparative social science. This book was written in the same spirit.

The book aims to provide a holistic account that foregrounds individual agency while showing how it interacted with cultural, institutional, and political factors to bring modern social policy into being.

My heartfelt thanks to the committee for recognizing my work and, in doing so, bringing it to a wider audience.”

Elisabeth Anderson

From the jury

Agents of reform: Child labor and the Origins of the Welfare State, by Elisabeth Anderson, is a fascinating and highly impressive contribution to the comparative study of the welfare state from a political and sociological point of view. The book challenges the current understanding of the origins and development of the welfare state, which is commonly traced back to the late 19th century labor movement and the passage of the Bismarckian insurance programs in the 1880s. Anderson argues that the origins of the modern welfare state should rather be dated back to the 1830s with the passage of the first laws restricting child labor.

Based upon a comprehensive collection of historical evidence from the late 19th century continental Europe (Prussia, Germany, France, Belgium) and the US (Massachusetts, Illinois), the book contributes significantly to our empirical and theoretical understanding of the development of the welfare state by calling attention to the relevance of a theme the discipline had disregarded thus far, namely the role of middle-class entrepreneurs in the regulation of the job market. In the book Anderson demonstrates how individual middle-class reformers played a decisive role in the development of a regulatory welfare policy at a time when the working class was politically marginalized or excluded.

About the author

Elisabeth Anderson is Associate Professor of Sociology at NYU Abu Dhabi. She is a comparative-historical and political sociologist of the welfare state and social policy, with a particular interest in theorizing how individual agents drive institutional change. Much of her work aims to advance the scholarly understanding of the political origins of regulatory welfare: consumer credit protections, child labour laws, and factory inspection systems. New collaborative projects include an analysis of how politically salient events impact individuals’ media consumption habits, as well an investigation into how voter disfranchisement affected education spending in the post-Reconstruction U.S. South.

2023 Stein Rokkan Prize Jury members

  • Professor Christian W Haerpfer, University of Vienna (Austria), Chair
  • Professor Amy Gale Mazur, Washington State University (USA)
  • Professor Marta Teresa da Silva Arretche, University of Sao Paulo (Brazil)
  • Professor Kristin Stromsnes, University of Bergen (Norway)
  • Professor Dimiter Toshkov, University of Leiden (Netherlands)

About the prize

The Stein Rokkan Prize for Comparative Social Science Research is awarded every year to recognize a substantial and original contribution to the field, in memory of Stein Rokkan, who was a pioneer of comparative political and social science research, renowned for his ground-breaking work on the nation state and democracy. A brilliant researcher and a professor at the University of Bergen where he spent most of his career, Rokkan was also President of the International Social Science Council (ISSC), and one of the founders of the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR). It is a joint prize by the International Science Council (ISC), the University of Bergen and the ECPR.

Learn more about the Prize and discover past winners

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