Stream 22

Reinventing the welfare state: comparing and explaining reform pathways


Stream convenors:
Many European countries are in the middle of the process of reinventing their welfare states. At a macro-level, there seems to be a clear amount of convergence in the social policies of European countries: extending working life, introducing minimum wages, allowing for more flexibility, creating a youth guarantee, introducing social investment, etc. However, convergent outcomes of reform processes not necessarily imply that the processes itself have been similar. On the contrary: given the fact that the initial conditions and institutional characteristics differ, it is most likely that the reform processes have been different as well.

This stream aims to deconstruct processes of social policy reform and labour market reform in a comparative perspective. The aim is to identify different processes of reform and identify typical pathways of reform between different policy innovations and welfare regimes. Countries’ policy makers may follow similar or different routes to achieve more jobs in general and for specific groups (youth, older workers, migrant workers, disabled workers etc.), despite different starting points. The initiative and ideas for change may come from different actors, the network involved may differ, the political decision-making process may differ and the role of social partners may differ.

Much of the recent work of social policy reform focuses on the institutional conditions that enable or constrain reform processes (c. Streeck and Thelen, 2005; Thelen, 2014). By focusing on reform pathways, we more explicitly focus on the element of agency in reform processes. We assume a degree of voluntarism, vision, and willingness to make political choices. Following Pollitt and Bouckaert (2004), we define a reform pathway as an intentional pattern for which the conditions are created. Reform pathways may vary in aspects and in their level of specificity. Starting with the latter, reform pathways may be developed in a strategic way, or they may be less specified concerning the direction to move in or the steps to be taken. Furthermore, reform pathways may be distinguished along their components, answering both the ‘what’ question and the ‘how’ question. Whereas the ‘what’ question focuses on the scope, content and (financial and other) resources of the reform, the ‘how’ question envisages how reforms are being put in practice. Pathways may be part of a comprehensive reform or they may be limited to a fragmented reform. They may reflect a long-term process or a short-term/ad hoc change process. They may follow a well-planned change process or rather they may come by surprise. Reform pathways may touch upon institutional filters (labour market institutions, policy organization institutions), whether or not bringing about new legislation and overcoming opposition, or they may simply involve the introduction of a (set of) new programme(s). The ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions are also interlinked.

This stream aims to build upon the theoretical knowledge of reform trajectories by synthesizing actor-based and institutional explanations of reform processes. We specifically welcome two types of papers:
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