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Discover the themes, the research and the people in Social Policy at the University of Edinburgh 

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Research Strategy

In our work in Social Policy we attempt to achieve the following aims:

  • carry out independent, critical, high quality research on social and public policy issues in Scotland, the UK, Europe and globally;
  • carry out high quality dissemination of this research that has an impact on the academic community, on practitioners and on policy makers in Scotland and beyond;
  • draw upon intellectual developments in the social sciences, and contribute to them;
  • maintain and contribute to good practice and methodological development, both quantitative and qualitative, in research in social and public policy.

Social Policy in Edinburgh has succeeded in maintaining considerable continuity among its members, while at the same time attracting a growing number of new staff from the UK and the international research community. This combines to produce a depth of experience, system knowledge and innovation that is unrivalled in Scotland and rare within the UK. Because of this diversity of research interests and foci, Social Policy in Edinburgh presents and champions two crucial characteristics of the group: a. on the one hand, a unique ability to combine strengths to explore a number of important, interdependent issues, such as the persistence of social inequalities and, on the other, an exploration and explanation of the policy process itself; and b. it offers methodological excellence both in quantitative/qualitative (and mixed), in comparative, and in European/global-focused research.

This plurality yet strong interconnectedness give Social Policy a unique position and strength in research in social and public policy. By referring to ‘social and public policy’, we stress the fact that a. we have a broad view of social policy that includes the investigation of the policy areas such as education and health and b. we are equally interested and have been research-active in exploring the processes and practices of policy-making per se. This manifests in the following ways:

  • Our research is focused on comparative, multi- and interdisciplinary analysis of social inequality and its determinants and impacts in Scotland, the UK, Europe and the developed and developing world. More particularly, we use historical, empirical (qualitative, quantitative and mixed), multi-level, comparative and interdisciplinary approaches to explore social inequalities in relation to the labour market, income distribution, public health, gender, education, sustainability, crime, international development, disability and other policy areas;
  • We use this research in order to theorise and explain broader problems that relate to an understanding of the practice of public policy and government; again, using a range of methods and theoretical underpinnings, we investigate a broad spectrum of social actors and governing sites, such as the civil society, private and public institutions and actors, public/private partnerships, the commercial sector, the third sector, NGOs and large international organisations, such as the European Commission, the OECD, WHO and others;
  • Social Policy research locates Scotland and the UK in a wider framework of Europe and the world, that mirrors and interrogates current policy developments paying attention to the interplay of features of welfare, health and education systems, their contextual and structural frameworks as well as global governance;
  • From this, Social Policy research exhibits a concern to understand the interplay of local and international policies in social and public policy, within Scotland, the UK, Europe and globally;
  • All of these forms of enquiry may be located within a concern to understand the ways in which social policy is used to ‘govern’ -that is, the analysis of how social and public policy seeks to manage the tensions between economic and social imperatives. This produces research on, for example, emergent issues in labour market, public health, crime, childhood and education policy, on the knowledge used by policy-makers, on national and trans-national relations, and on policy learning and policy change within and beyond the UK.

To stay at the forefront of new research developments Social Policy colleagues engage in a wide range of national and international professional associations and networks, including for example the Social Policy Association (SPA) and the European Network of Social Policy Analysis (ESPAnet).

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