Political discourses

The project will explore what we refer to as ‘political discourses’ or ‘state narratives’ in the 1940s and 2010s. State narratives emerge from the analysis of official government policy documents, such as green and white papers, commissions of inquiry, Acts of Parliament, guidance notes, press releases, parliamentary debates (via Hansard) and ministerial speeches. Most of the original documents are held at The National Archives (TNA) but most recent government papers are available online.

To show what we mean, a good example of a state narrative in the contemporary period might be David Cameron’s idea of the ‘Big Society’, first articulated in any detail in the Hugo Young memorial lecture in November 2009.

Arguably this narrative became a leitmotif for public policy in the first years of the 2010-2015 Conservative-led Coalition government, and in retrospect it now seems as if there was little talk of anything else, other than ‘austerity’, before it seemingly vanished from the agenda towards 2012. The ‘Big Society’ was a symbol of a much larger project to restructure the (welfare) state, and so can be seen as part of a contemporary transformational moment in the organisation of social welfare in England.

Amongst other things the ‘Big Society’ idea envisaged a recalibration of the relationship between the state and the voluntary sector. On the one hand, the sector, recast as ‘civil society’ or ‘social action’, would take on more responsibilities for social welfare as public services were ‘opened’ up and/or cut back. On the other hand, the voluntary sector itself was held to have become too close and financially dependent on the state, and needed to develop new ‘business’ models and revenue streams. In this example we will be seeking to examine policy papers, speeches and parliamentary committee reports on the Big Society, particularly in relation to the role envisaged for voluntary (or ‘social’) action.