(Politics): Session at the European Association for Urban History Conference: Cities in Motion 2020

The 19th century saw the rise of the ‘welfare city´, as cities took greater responsibility for the management of public services. Prioritizing politics, arguments and motives, this session aims to consider this development from a long-term perspective. The session will launch a discussion on the urban expansion of public services, influenced by ideologies and conceptions of the common good.

The 19th century saw the rise of the ‘welfare city’. Cities took control over services that were considered vital for economic development and the citizens’ wellbeing. Today, the concept of welfare cities is widely discussed; how urban communities may lead the way to reform. Historical studies on how politicians and other agents promoted new public services to meet rising demands, may contribute to this discussion.

The welfare city expanded with the introduction of new urban and social services. In the 19th century, Europe experienced a renaissance for the idea of the city as a politically autonomous community, and urban administration incorporated various types of public services that had previously been organized by the private sector. Research has emphasised the municipalities’ crucial role in creating a stronger public sector. Modernization promoted public responsibility for the wellbeing of the individual. In the late 20th century, this trajectory was redirected in favour of deregulation and privatization of welfare services.

The development differed between cities. Urban communities first faced the demand for expanded public services, which make the decision-making of the city boards vital for understanding the development. Politics matter and political practices should be analysed as transnational phenomena. We therefore welcome a comparative approach, e.g. how local politicians followed or rejected the example of other cities or urban centres.

This session aims to consider the long-term development of the welfare city, launching a discussion on public services, influenced by ideologies and conceptions of the common good. We invite papers from scholars working from a range of different perspectives, focusing on four themes:

1. Politics; Papers discussing political conflicts. This could comprise e.g. debates in political arenas on how to organize public services.
2. Ideologies; Papers addressing ideological shifts, e.g. how liberal and socialist notions of community affected municipal politics.
3. Public services; Papers addressing the organization of urban services, including public infrastructure as well as social welfare services.
4. The common good; Papers discussing perceptions of the common good. This trans-historical concept formed the context for the political decisions, and influenced the character and scope of urban services.

  • Spokesperson: Magnus Linnarsson, Stockholm University
  • Co-organizer(s): Mats Hallenberg, Stockholm University
  • Keywords: Welfare cities | Public services | The common good
  • Time period: Modern period
  • Topic(s): Political | Social
  • Study area: More than one continent