Reclaiming Individualism

Perspectives on Public Policy

By Paul Spicker


Apr 17, 2013

Page count

208 pages




234 x 156 mm


Policy Press
Reclaiming Individualism

This book is about individualist ideas, and how they shape contemporary approaches to public policy. If we were to believe the existing literature, we might think that only markets can satisfy people's needs, and that any collective concept of welfare compromises individual welfare. The price mechanism is taken to be the best way to allocate resources, and it is assumed that individualised responses to need must be better than general ones.Reclaiming individualism reviews the scope of individualist approaches, and considers how they apply to issues of policy. It argues for a concept of individualism based on rights, human dignity, shared interests and social protection. A valuable resource for those working or studying in social or public policy, this book is a powerful restatement of some of the key values that led to individualism being such a force in the first place. 

"A book with much relevance for students and scholars of social and public policy and, indeed, anyone who wishes to understand more about the dominant paradigms of public policy." Journal of Social Policy

"A most thorough exploration of a wide variety of issues related to 'the individual' as an idea in social policy discussion." Citizen's Income Newsletter 2015

“A useful exploration of the differing approaches within the individualist tradition, bringing together discussion of the whole field of individualistic thought and public policy.”

Dr David Hirst, University of Bangor

"Reclaiming individualism is fantastically interesting. It raids an enormous range from across disciplines, and is the product of some very hard thinking and some

provocative analysis." Professor Michael Moran, University of Manchester

Paul Spicker is Grampian Chair of Public Policy at the Robert Gordon University, Aberdeen. His research has included studies of poverty, need, disadvantage and service delivery. His books on the theory of social policy include Stigma and social welfare, The welfare state: a general theory and Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.

Introduction: Six impossible things before breakfast;

Part 1: Individualism;


Individualism and collectivism;

Part 2: The moral dimensions of individualism;

Individual value and individual rights;

Autonomy and self-determination;

Personal responsibility;

Possessive individualism;

Individual welfare;

Part 3: Methodological individualism and rational self-interest;

Utility and choice;

Self interest;


The Pareto principle;

Part 4: Substantive policy;

Choice and the market;

More of the market: one solution for everything;

Personalised services;

The individualisation of social policy;

Part 5: Individuals and collective action;

Individual and social choices;

Collective action;

Solidarity and voluntary collective action;

Public services;

Part 6: Government and public policy;

The individual versus the state;

The role of government;

The moral agenda;

Social policy and the individual.