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CASE Social Exclusion Seminars

Investing in social inclusion? Paradoxes and dilemmas of social investment

Francesco Laruffa (University of Bremen)

Wednesday 10 May 2023 12:00 - 13:00

This event is both online and in person

SAL 3.05, 3rd Floor Conference Room, Sir Arthur Lewis Building, LSE, 32 Lincoln's Inn Fields, London WC2A 3PH

About this event

This seminar discusses some central paradoxes and dilemmas that emerge from the rise of 'social investment' - one of the today dominant approaches in social policy, both as a policymaking discourse (endorsed e.g. by the European Commission, the OECD and the World Bank) and as an analytical/academic framework among welfare scholars. Social investment highlights the economic benefits of social policies: investing in healthcare and education, preventing the emergence of social problems and ameliorating the work/life balance through childcare services increase not only people's wellbeing but also employment rates and productivity, contributing to economic growth and competitiveness. Critics of social investment argue that its economic rationale replaces 'social' considerations focused on rights and needs and that this reinforces the marginalisation of vulnerable populations, as they are unattractive 'human capital'. However, an in-depth analysis of the social investment approach promoted by the European Commission reveals that while social investment indeed partially replaces values-based arguments with economic calculations, it largely promotes the same 'solutions' as values-oriented approaches: preventing/combating various forms of social exclusion and disadvantage can be justified following the economic logic because social problems are transformed into investment objects that deliver economic returns. Social investment thus provides a more generous approach than austerity and welfare retrenchment. However, within this paradigm social goals are promoted through their 'economisation'. This highlights a central paradox of social policy under neoliberalism, namely that higher degrees of economisation are associated with more generous social policy: more 'social' versions of neoliberalism are those that ironically downplay the social logic, transforming social policies into economic investments. In turn, this paradox generates an ethical-political dilemma for welfare scholars: while many of them have embraced social investment for promoting progressive alternatives to austerity, this discourse reinforces central features of neoliberalism, such as economisation and de-democratisation. Is there a way out of this dilemma?

These seminars are held on Wednesdays in term time at 12:00-13:00

Seminars this year will continue as in person or as hybrid (online and in person) events. Please check our website listings and Twitter feed @CASE_LSE for updates.

This seminar series is organised by:

Laura Lane, Email:

Dr Abigail McKnight, Email:

For further information and papers, when available, please contact:

The CASE team Email: