Have globalization pressures and neo-liberal ideas led to convergence in how countries respond to welfare claimants? Through ethnographic case studies of social assistance offices in the United States, Germany and Sweden, Agents of the Welfare State demonstrates persistent diversity in how states structure needs assessment and activation efforts, contrasting a bureaucratic, flat-grant system in the U.S., with German and Swedish programs in which individualized assessment is a core organizational task. It shows how responsiveness in these European programs is institutionalized through nationally distinct legal foundations, professional traditions, and resource networks, while revealing how resource scarcities threaten to erode these capabilities.

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