Skip to main content
Social Protest, Hegemonic Competition and Social Reform: The Political Origins of the American Welfare State
American Sociological Review
  • J. Craig Jenkins, Ohio State University - Main Campus
  • Barbara G. Brents, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
Document Type
Publication Date

Recent neo-Marxian and state-centric analyses of the origins of the American welfare state have misspecified the autonomy of the state, thereby conflating policy formulation with policy-making and missing the complex political struggles that shaped the formulation of the Social Security Act of 1935. Synthesizing Poulantzas's "class struggle" theory of state with social protest theory and Domhoff's analysis of capitalist dominance, we advance a political struggle theory that identifies two major processes leading to social reforms: (1) sustained protest waves by excluded groups and threatened polity members that create a sense of political crisis among elites; and (2) hegemonic competition between capitalist blocs that use policy-planning and electoral investments to promote alternative political programs. This model is then applied to the formulation of the Social Security Act. Unemployed protests, industrial strikes, and middle-class reform movements, interacting with electoral instability, created an elite sense of political crisis. Simultaneously, rival capitalist blocs centered in bank groups and industrial segments competed for political dominance, creating opportunities for protest and placing major reforms on the national political agenda.

Use Find in Your Library, contact the author, or interlibrary loan to garner a copy of the item. Publisher policy does not allow archiving the final published version. If a post-print (author's peer-reviewed manuscript) is allowed and available, or publisher policy changes, the item will be deposited.
Citation Information
J. Craig Jenkins and Barbara G. Brents. "Social Protest, Hegemonic Competition and Social Reform: The Political Origins of the American Welfare State" American Sociological Review Vol. 54 Iss. 6 (1989) p. 891 - 909
Available at: