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: Transforming the Developmental Welfare State in East Asia

  • 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 the Social Policy in a Development Context, co-ordinated by Huck-ju Kwon, focuses specifically on institutions of social policy in East Asia. In this region, as in many other parts of the world, social policy has been developmental in the sense that it has been used as an instrument for economic development.

This project examines the development of social policy, focusing on its developmental nature. It also looks into the politics of social policy, in which authoritarian political forces have been dominant, while voices for social protection have had to struggle in order to be heard. Thus, lessons are being sought by exploring historical experiences of social policy contributing to the developmental, democratic and socially inclusive imperatives of the project. What could be done to move further toward these goals?

Since the Asian economic crisis of 1997–1998, there have been significant changes in social and economic thinking in East Asia, and a number of governments in the region have implemented economic and social reforms. What have been the main driving forces for such changes? Will these changes make the welfare states in East Asia more socially inclusive? Can the East Asian welfare states maintain their developmental credentials despite such changes?

Case studies, with special reference to social policies in both political and economic contexts, seek to answer such questions. The project covers eight East Asian countries/territories, divided into three sub-groups: Northeast Asian economies (Japan, South Korea, and China (Taiwan Province)), Southeast Asian economies (Singapore, Malaysia and Hong Kong) and economies with less developed social welfare systems (China and Thailand).

A team of scholars and researchers with proven expertise on the region are carrying out the research. Their draft reports were discussed at a workshop in Bangkok, Thailand, on 30 June - 1 July 2003 (see "Workshop Report" link on the right). This workshop was attended by members of the research team as well as representatives from UNRISD, the Ford Foundation and ESCAP.

Papers will be finalized based on comments received from members of the research team and at 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 policy brief highlighting the policy-relevant research findings of the project.