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Agents of Reform

Child Labor and the Origins of the Welfare State

Elisabeth Anderson



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Princeton University Press
12 October 2021
A groundbreaking account of how the welfare state began with early nineteenth-century child labor laws, and how middle-class and elite reformers made it happen.

The beginnings of the modern welfare state are often traced to the late nineteenth-century labor movement and to policymakers' efforts to appeal to working-class voters. But in Agents of Reform, Elisabeth Anderson shows that the regulatory welfare state began a half century earlier, in the 1830s, with the passage of the first child labor laws.

Agents of Reform tells the story of how middle-class and elite reformers in Europe and the United States defined child labor as a threat to social order, and took the lead in bringing regulatory welfare into being. They built alliances to manoeuvre around powerful political blocks and instituted pathbreaking new employment protections. Later in the century, now with the help of organised labor, they created factory inspectorates to strengthen and routinise the state's capacity to intervene in industrial working conditions.

Agents of Reform compares seven in-depth case studies of key policy episodes in Germany, France, Belgium, Massachusetts, and Illinois. Foregrounding the agency of individual reformers, it challenges existing explanations of welfare state development and advances a new pragmatist field theory of institutional change. In doing so, it moves beyond standard narratives of interests and institutions toward an integrated understanding of how these interact with political actors' ideas and coalition-building strategies.

'With exemplary scholarship, Elisabeth Anderson persuasively demonstrates that individual reformist entrepreneurs have been decisive players in the makings of modern society. She has gifted us with a beautifully crafted social history of how early child labor regulations were the mainsprings of social reform, and eventually the modern welfare state.' - Gosta Esping-Andersen, author of The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism

'Original, deeply researched, and persuasive, Agents of Reform makes numerous contributions to the study of the welfare state. It's refreshing to have a new take on this period of reform, and the scholarship is top-notch.' - Kimberly J. Morgan, George Washington University
Imprint:   Princeton University Press
Country of Publication:   United States
Dimensions:   Height: 235mm,  Width: 156mm, 
ISBN:   9780691220895
ISBN 10:   0691220891
Series:   Princeton Studies in Global and Comparative Sociology
Pages:   384
Publication Date:  
Audience:   General/trade ,  ELT Advanced
Format:   Paperback
Publisher's Status:   Active

Elisabeth Anderson is assistant professor of sociology at New York University Abu Dhabi.

Reviews for Agents of Reform: Child Labor and the Origins of the Welfare State

Winner of the Best Book Award, Political Sociology section of the American Sociological Association

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