1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Governance, Social Policy and Development

Social Policy and Democratization

  • Project from: 2002 to 2005


This project falls within the UNRISD research on Social Policy in a Development Context, which elaborates the core principles underpinning social policy as the edification of a state-society nexus that is developmental (facilitates and promotes economic growth and structural transformation), democratic (derives its legitimacy through popular participation and electoral process) and socially inclusive (pursues social policies that provide equitable entitlements for all citizens to ensure that their capacities and functionings are adequate for a decent inclusion in societal affairs). The project includes several thematic and region-centred comparative projects (click Social Policy in a Development Context link, under Related Information on the right).

This project examines the complex ways democratization and social policy can be mutually reinforcing. Apart from the fact that democratization may open up possibilities for citizen participation in the policy process, decision makers periodically have to renew their mandates to citizens, who may place social policy high on their preferences. However, elections may not be sufficient to hold office holders accountable for the countless policies they pursue.

The project therefore studies the institutional arrangements and dynamics that push welfare provisioning onto the policy agenda; the nature of the public pressure, including existence of advocacy groups, for the democratic regime to deliver adequate social protection to citizens; the conversion of such pressure into social pacts or agreements that affect the way governments think about welfare and democracy; and the extent to which democracy provides a guarantee that the rights or expectations associated with social policies continue to enjoy priority attention in the policy process.

Social policy can, in turn, be used to embed or consolidate democracy. Democratic consolidation involves behavioural and attitudinal changes in which the overwhelming majority of citizens uphold the intrinsic values and procedures of democracy in settling differences. The democratization literature highlights several factors that help consolidation. These include the quality of civil society, degree of consensus among elites on the rules of contestation and alternations of power, and development of an effective bureaucracy and rule of law. The project examines the complex ways social policies and improvements in welfare affect institutions that are associated with democratic consolidation.

One can hypothesize that a social policy that improves the security of the overwhelming majority of citizens improves social solidarity, locks in disadvantaged groups to the democratic regime by undermining violent or authoritarian alternatives, weakens clientelist social relations, and enhances the capacity of citizens to participate in public life as autonomous actors. In other words, social policy may impact the political system and democracy through social cohesion. Researchers study how social policy demands were conceptualized during transitions to democracy; how citizens and decision makers perceived the links between civil rights, political participation and social rights; and what role social policies subsequently played in the democratic regime.

Nine papers are being commissioned to help shed light on these linkages. These papers will focus on established or relatively stable democracies: John Stephens contribution will be on the old Western democracies, Maurizio Ferrera’s on Southern Europe, Fernando Filgueira’s on Latin America, Terence Cox’s on East Central Europe, Neera Chandhoke’s on India, Jennifer Jones’s on Jamaica, Keitseope Nthomang's on Botswana, Toshimitsu Shinkawa's on Japan and Sheila Bunwaree’s on Mauritius.

These papers will be published in an edited volume. They will also provide a basis for supporting research work on new democracies.