(En)gendering Change and Continuity in Chilean Social Policy: Actors, Ideas and Institutions

  • Silke Staab

Student thesis: Phd


How does change in economic, social and political institutions occur? How aregender and other social inequalities reproduced through and challenged byprocesses of institutional creation, evolution and innovation? And can institutionsbe transformed for greater equity and inclusion? These are big questions forfeminist political scientists to whom a better understanding of real world puzzles isnot only of theoretical but also of practical relevance. By looking at recent socialpolicy reforms and innovations in Chile this thesis contributes to moving thisresearch agenda forward. Drawing on conceptual and methodological tools fromhistorical institutionalism and feminist political science, it provides a theoreticallyinformed and empirically grounded account of how institutional change happensand why thoroughgoing transformations are so difficult to achieve. As an essentialpart of this endeavor, it highlights the multiple ways in which gender shapes and isshaped by broader processes of policy reform and innovation. Bolstered byabundant empirical evidence from four reform episodes-the 2002-2004 healthreform, the 2008 pension reform, the 2006-2010 expansion of childcare services,and the reform of maternity leave in 2011-the thesis interrogates the scope andthe quality of recent changes, analyzes their implications for women's rights andgender equality, and unveils the complex interplay of institutional, agential andideational factors that have shaped specific policy choices. It holds that none of thepolicy areas has experienced sweeping change or path departure. Instead, policyinnovations have taken place in historically and contextually bounded ways: whilethe scope and purpose of existing welfare institutions has been redefined and newrules have been layered on to previously existing institutional arrangements, coreelements of these arrangements-and of the broader context-have remainedfirmly in place. Against this backdrop, positive gender change did indeed occur:greater access to non-contributory pensions, more accessible childcare services andmore generous maternity leave regulations all benefit women. Yet, selective andpiecemeal reform strategies also entailed important trade-offs that hamper theequity-enhancing effect of otherwise important policy innovations. This generalverdict, however, conceals important variations across policy areas both in terms ofthe (re)articulation of state-market relationships and in terms of the integration ofgender concerns. The thesis locates these variations at the intersection of sectorspecificpolicy legacies and more contingent moments of political opportunity.
Date of Award1 Aug 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorBrenda Annesley (Supervisor) & Georgina Waylen (Supervisor)


  • institutionalism
  • institutions
  • Latin America
  • health
  • Chile
  • pensions
  • social policy
  • politics
  • gender
  • childcare

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