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SPICKER, P., 1994. Understanding particularism. Critical Social Policy, 13 (39), pp. 5 – 20.
Particularism refers to the idea that different moral standards apply to different people. This view is inherently discriminatory. The universal application of moral principles has been challenged in 'communitarian' critiques, which argue that moral rules have to be placed in a specific social context. People are tied to families, communities and localities; these kinds of relationships define the scope of their moral responsibilities. There are strong particularist traditions in Europe, including arguments for 'sphere sovereignty' and 'solidarity'. Some ideals in social policy, including the 'welfare society' and the concept of 'welfare pluralism', appeal to similar social constructs, and are likely to be particularist in their effects. Particularism can be qualified by the acceptance of some basic universal principles, but this still implies a presumption in favour of certain discriminatory structures. The arguments for particularism are framed in very similar terms to those which socialists use, referring to social networks, mutual aid and collective action. Ideas like empowerment, or participation in social networks, are generally applied within a particularist framework. For universalists, the main danger in advocating 'community' and 'solidarity' as values in their own right is that they are liable to be discriminatory in practice. Communitarianism is an attractive approach; it is also dangerous.