1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Social Policy and Development (2000 - 2009)

Social Policy in Late Industrializers: A Comparative Study of Latin America

  • Project from: 2002 to 2004


Social Policy in a Development Context is a project exploring social policy that is developmental, democratic and socially inclusive. This project has evolved into nine separate but interrelated projects (see Social Policy in a Development Context link, under "Related Information"). A policy framework that is both developmental and socially inclusive is not merely a theoretical possibility—it has been accomplished, with varying degrees of success, historically. This is the focus of the five region-centred comparative projects, which delve into historical trajectories of social policy and "late development" in diverse regional settings.

This project, within Social Policy in a Development Context, externally co-ordinated by Manuel Riesco, focuses on the politics of social policy in Latin America. Latin America presents a wide range of stages of development, both between and within countries, with correspondingly diverse social policies and institutions. The social protection system appears to be a product of a historical constellation of political and economic forces in these societies. The welfare state institutions in Latin America were built mainly during the middle part of the twentieth century, but were also influenced by the neoliberal reforms promoting privatization, liberalization and deregulation during its last two decades. The former took place in a context of traditional agrarian social relations. The latter were first implemented by authoritarian or dictatorial regimes, but were continued by transitional and democratic regimes. In all cases, the neoliberal model for development and social policies was promoted by the Bretton Woods institutions.

Current trends have raised two questions central to this project: Have the resulting welfare systems been socially inclusive? Have the welfare systems in Latin America been democratic? Furthermore, the recent regional crisis, a part of the economic turbulences inherent in today’s globalization, raises another fundamental question: Does the current economic and social protection model provide an answer to the current crisis?

Case studies will shed light on such questions. This project includes the two biggest economies of the region, Brazil and Mexico, as well as Argentina, which was worst hit by the recent economic crisis. Other countries included are Chile, Uruguay, Cuba and Costa Rica, each of which has a very particular model and experience in social policies as well as socioeconomic and historical developments. A team of scholars and researchers with proven expertise on the region are carrying out the research. Their draft reports will be discussed at a workshop to be held in Santiago in October 2003 and papers will be finalized, based on comments received from members of the research team and during the workshop. Some of the research findings will be published as UNRISD Programme Papers and form the basis of an edited volume. UNRISD will also publish a brief that highlights the main policy-relevant research findings of the project.