The research project seeks to explore the relationship between structures of inequality and perceptions of social justice in the modern welfare state across two periods: the three decades of its “Golden Age” after World War II, and the still ongoing period of welfare state retrenchment since the 1970s. It focuses on the social and living conditions of old people. Despite their steadily growing number and importance the elderly still constitute a neglected group in social history. Since their fate lies at the heart of social policy, a considerable part of the debates about inequality and social justice in the last sixty years has centered around old people. At the same time these discussions formed the central place where general questions of distributive justice have been closely connected with problems of generational and gender justice. As an exercise in cross-national comparative history, the project compares the historical developments in Great Britain and the Federal Republic of Germany. Both countries are highly industrialized western democracies, and both faced similar challenges; but they diverged notably in their acceptance of inequality, in their modes of societal self-description, and in the model of the welfare state to which they subscribed. The research project has two major analytical dimensions. On the one hand, it sets out to explore the social history of older people in Britain and Germany since 1945. On the other, it asks how the analysed structures of inequality have been perceived and articulated in terms of justice. Scrutinizing the relationship between both spheres simultaneously makes the institutional setting of the welfare state a focal point of attention not only because questions of distributive justice are at the very core of its normative foundation but also because the welfare state is the central institution through which politically influential concepts of redistributive social justice directly affect societal structures.
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