Ontological Social Policy Analysis: An investigation into the ontological assumptions underpinning the social security reforms of the UK Coalition Government 2010-2015

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Abstract

This thesis builds from a central premise: all social policy, like all social research, relies on a number of assumptions about the fundamental nature of social reality and human existence. These assumptions are ‘ontological’ in the sense that ‘ontology’ is the philosophy of being and existence. Ontological assumptions are effectively the positions we take in response to the fundamental, unavoidable, and controversial questions from which human understanding proceeds. These questions include: ‘is there an objective social reality?’; ‘do we have free-will?’; ‘are we the product of our social context?’; and ‘are institutions and cultures causally significant?’. It is increasingly accepted in the academic literature that these questions are a crucial aspect of social research, because they are the base level upon which knowledge is built. And yet, despite this acceptance, the academic literature largely ignores the role of ontological assumptions in policy making. It is the central argument of this thesis that ontological assumptions are a crucial aspect of social policy making. As well as asserting the importance of ontological assumptions in social policy, the thesis develops a critical realist framework for their analysis. This framework is named ‘ontological social policy analysis’, and it is applied here to UK social security policy. The empirical research takes the form of a textual analysis and considers a number of key social policy documents. The analysis begins with the post-2005 ‘modernisation’ projects in the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats, and then goes on to consider their time in office as coalition partners (2010-2015), with a particular focus on the DWP and its flagship reform, Universal Credit. In the course of the analysis, a number of ontological contradictions are unearthed, each of which has the potential to significantly undermine the effectiveness of the policy reforms. Such findings demonstrate both the possibility and fecundity of ‘ontological social policy analysis’.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • University of Leeds
Supervisors/Advisors
  • Hayton, Richard, Supervisor, External person
  • McAnulla, Stuart, Supervisor, External person
Award date10 May 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2019

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