One of the more interesting developments in recent historical writing has been a reconsideration of the debates over poor law reform. In the sharply-demarcated world of post-war scholarship, the poor law fell clearly, if somewhat problematically, into the domain of social history. For obvious contemporary reasons, post-war social history devoted a good deal of scholarly energy to constructing a history of social policy. Much of this work was problematized in terms of the then orthodox agenda of the welfare state. The dominant questions concerned modes of assessing entitlements, mechanisms for delivering welfare, and the bureaucratic characteristics of the old and new poor laws. Despite its considerable empirical merits, this kind of social history was inhibited by its methodological and problematic certainties. To a large extent this was a social history which defined itself against traditional political history, offering a narrative of social policy formation which, whilst not eliminating political processes from its account, tended to marginalize their normative significance. One extreme formulation was Sydney Checkland's ‘socially innocent state’. Here the loss of ‘social innocence’ on the part of the British state is evaluated directly in terms of its willingness to develop the kind of social agenda and administrative machinery characteristic of modern wellfarism. For Checkland in particular, social policy was conceived almost exclusively in terms of state-driven programmes of ‘social improvement’. The old poor law, with its pattern of local management, discretionary administration, and paternalist social vision flatly contracted the statutorily-articulated welfarism which Checkland took to be axiomatic to a coherently-conceived social policy. In terms of statutory authority and administrative machinery, Checkland saw the new poor law as a critical move towards a more coherently-constructed state social policy.