This paper questions the intuitive assumption that twentieth-century public welfare states have reflected the wider culture in which they operate. It is argued that the postwar welfare state was a "modernist" project designed to change mass culture. As a result, social policy analysis has tended to ignore the wider culture as both a source and context for welfare. At the beginning of the twenty-first century new patterns of risk and postmodern cultural formations are supporting eclectic policymaking which is more in tune with cultural majorities. This signals the end of the systematic welfare state.
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