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social reformpolitical and social policies implemented with the aim of eliminating SOCIAL PROBLEMS. Social reform movements, and the bureaucratic administrative structures set up to implement such reforms, can be seen as a major feature differentiating modern industrial societies from earlier societies. A contrast is often made between 'social reform’ which is incremental and gradualist, and social REVOLUTION. Fabians, such as Sidney and Beatrice WEBB (see also FABIAN SOCIETY AND FABIANISM), for example, viewed social reform as a method of'social engineering’ entailing the gradual improvement of provision of services and material goods, rejecting revolutionary change. Some critics have argued that many social reforms are essentially palliatives disguising fundamental social inequalities and problems rather than eliminating them. The reform of the National Health Service in 1974 was intended to improve the delivery of health services, but did little to address the causes of ill- health to be found in the social structure of society. Analysis of social reform also raises questions about the relationship between social science and value judgements.
Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000