'Social Contract Revisited' closes with Programme Appraisal at Gray's Inn

9 July 2010

To mark the conclusion of the Foundation's three-year programme entitled 'The Social Contract Revisited', an event was held on 7th July at the Honourable Society of Gray's Inn, at which members of the Advisory Board formed an expert panel to provide a critical appraisal of the work and achievements of the programme.

Over the past three years, the Foundation has engaged in a programme of study to evaluate rights and responsibilities between citizens and the state through the notion of the social contract. The aim has been to bring to bear the acuity of scholarly research to a range of contemporary policy issues, including taxation, pension reform, employment and industrial relations, equality and personal responsibility, and the effect of the economic crisis on the social contract.

The event was chaired by Professor Denis Galligan of Oxford University before an audience of over fifty academics, members of policy institutes and public bodies, lawyers, business people and legal correspondents.

An introduction to the programme was provided by Professor Fred D'Agostino from Queensland University, Australia, who outlined the theoretical basis for the Social Contract model in his presentation entitled: 'The Promise of Social Welfare: New Foundations for the Social Contract'. Professor Carole Pateman from UCLA and Cardiff University provided a response grounded in political theory, in which she highlighted some of the problematic assumptions and power imbalances inherent in a contractual model between citizen and the state.

Professor Neil Gilbert provided an overview of the methods adopted by the programme, which brought together over 100 academics and policymakers from around the world, and the thirty or so reports and policy briefs that were produced (available to download from the link on the right).

Drawing on his experience as Professor of Social Welfare at the University of California and Director of the Center for Comparative Family Welfare and Poverty Research, Professor Gilbert gave a wide-ranging depiction of the growth in welfare spending in the post-War years, the recent emphasis on personal responsibility, and the future 'game changing' impact of  the current economic downturn for future decades. 

Questions were taken from the audience, before the event was brought to a close by Matthew Diller, Professor of Law at Cardozo Law School, New York. Professor Diller identified the aim of the programme as an attempt to frame and begin a conversation about what a new social contract would look like.

Citing past examples such as Roosevelt's New Deal and the Beveridge Report in the UK, he questioned whether it would be possible to frame a new New Deal for the twenty-first century, given the breakdown of the contractual unit caused by the free exchange of information, people and trade. Nevertheless, the 'lens' that the social contract framework brought to the discussions, contrasted with that offered by a rights-based approach of human rights theory, for example, was invaluable.

The papers by Professors Gilbert and D'Agostino are available from the 'Downloads' box on the right. The event was covered by the Legal Affairs Correspondent for The Guardian in an article on the renegotiation of the social contract.

Following the success of the event, the findings of the programme will be disseminated to an international audience through a series of roadshow events in the US over the coming year.