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 MPIfG Podcasts



Francesco Boldizzoni
The Early Modern Origins of Modern Welfare Systems
Scholar in Residence Lectures 2014

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In his MPIfG lectures, Francesco Boldizzoni addresses a central issue of our time from a historical perspective. The evolution of welfare systems in the Western world has been the product of cultural variables and material forces. The former include deep-seated attitudes toward poverty and concepts of the state that can be traced back to the early modern period. The latter are intrinsic to capitalist development inasmuch as it rests on Marx’s and Weber’s mechanical foundations. The interaction between the cultural and the material is itself problematic. It is largely responsible for the sense of instability that dominates our societies and, at the same time, warns the social scientist against the temptations of crystal-ball prediction. While history provides no guidance to the future, it can help make sense of this dynamic complexity.
The Reformation and the process of state-building that emerged from the disgregation of feudal power structures has cast a long shadow over the life of modern secularized societies. Decisions as to who should deliver welfare services and who should benefit from them in today’s market economies are embedded (often unconsciously) in centuries-old mental frameworks. The genesis of these great cultural divides forms the subject of the first lecture.
Francesco Boldizzoni holds a research professorship in economic history at the University of Turin. He is also a Life Member of Clare Hall, University of Cambridge. He has mainly written on the history of economic life and its intellectual representations, advocating an interdisciplinary understanding of culture and the economy. His chief publications include Means and Ends: The Idea of Capital in the West 1500–1970 (2008) and The Poverty of Clio: Resurrecting Economic History (2011). He is currently working on a book to be titled Earthly Justice: A History of the Welfare State (under contract with Polity) and on a transnational collection of essays on global economic history co-edited with Pat Hudson.
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