In 2008 it became apparent that what had started as a financial crisis affecting international capital markets had translated into an economic crisis of global proportions with serious social consequences. Discussions at the international level focused primarily on the channels through which the crisis in financial markets was transmitted to the real economy, the largely unforeseen economic consequences of financialization, the economic impacts of the crisis, and the regulatory gaps that needed to be filled. The social and political dimensions of the crisis were absent from the discussion, or were addressed very superficially at best.
From a social development perspective, the following questions are particularly pertinent:
- Which social groups in developing countries have been most affected by the crisis, and how are they coping?
- What role can, and should, social policy play in addressing the social impacts of the crisis at the national level?
- What are the opportunities for change in social policy at the global level?
- What sort of politics is conducive to “transformative” change, given structural constraints and power relations?
To address these questions, UNRISD organized a conference in Geneva on 12–13 November 2009. Papers were presented by 24 researchers, identified primarily through a call for papers. The discussions aimed to examine ways in which social considerations could be integrated more comprehensively in reform proposals, and whether the crisis provided an opportunity to adopt more “transformative” policies or whether we were seeing a return to “business as usual”.