Values and Discourse in the Politics of Adjustment

Vivien A. Schmidt

in Welfare and Work in the Open Economy Volume I: From Vulnerability to Competitiveness in Comparative Perspective

Published in print November 2000 | ISBN: 9780199240883
Published online November 2003 | e-ISBN: 9780191600173 | DOI:
 Values and Discourse in the Politics of Adjustment

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The chapter explores the role of values and discourse in the politics of welfare‐state adjustment. By focusing on moments of crisis or transition when values were generally made explicit in public debates, the chapter offers comparative insights not only into the values that remain central to polities’ notions of social justice but also into the discourses that appealed to values in their efforts to legitimize policy change. Moreover, it considers not only the substantive content of those normative discourses but also how the national institutional context affects the locus of discourse and the course of reform. More specifically, it demonstrates that in multi‐actor polities, the “coordinative discourse” that is necessary to achieve compromises among multiple policy elites may impede the effectiveness of the “communicative discourse” through which policy makers seek to legitimize change to the wider public. However, as comparative analyses of single‐actor polities demonstrate, single‐actor institutions do not guarantee, and multi‐actor constellations do not rule out, successful communicative discourses that gain public acceptance of painful but effective welfare‐state reforms.

Keywords: acceptance; discourse; elite; legitimacy; policy change; reform; social justice; values; welfare state

Chapter.  35705 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Comparative Politics

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