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Collectivism, Regionalism and Feminism: Health Visiting and British Social Policy 1850–1975*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 January 2009


This paper takes up three particular themes in the historical development of the present pattern of social service provision in the United Kingdom and argues that existing accounts are somewhat misleading in their treatment of these issues. The three themes are the relationship between collectivism and individualism in social policy legislation and practice, the influence of centre and periphery in British political life and, to a lesser extent, the occupational roles available to women in the social services. These questions are examined through a study of the history of health visiting. It is argued that the fluctuating fortunes of the health visiting service allow us to see more clearly the changing influence of collectivist and individualist philosophies on government policy and the degrees to which definitions of problems and possible solutions have either been imported from the national periphery to the national centre or vice versa. Insufficient attention has been given to the defeat of metropolitan individualist philosophies by the peripherally-based public health movement at the beginning of the twentieth century and to the conditions which have led to their subsequent re-emergence and the waning influence of collectivist approaches.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1977

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