Accepted Paper:

The secret lives of policy networks: narratives of political authority and the New Law of Social Security in Mexico  
Tara Schwegler (University of Chicago)

Paper short abstract:

This paper draws on ethnographic research on the 1995 New Law of Social Security in Mexico to show how struggles among rival groups in the policymaking process give rise to competing narratives of the life of the policy.

Paper long abstract:

Network analysis has proven a valuable tool in mounting an anthropology of policy responsive to the diverse connections that policies establish between distinct sets of actors and institutions. Tracing the networks through which policies move, however, is but one component of tracing the life of policy. This paper draws on ethnographic research on the genesis and development of the 1995 New Law of Social Security in Mexico to show that struggles among rival groups in the policymaking process give rise to competing narratives of the life of the policy. These narratives, in turn, extend the lives of networks and policies past the point of implementation. For anthropologists of policy, who must often rely on these "after the fact" narratives as a source of data, they pose twin dilemmas. First, methodologically speaking, what do we make of these multiple, often fundamentally irreconcilable, narratives of how a specific policy came into being? Second, theoretically speaking, what insights do such narratives provide about the nature of power relations in the political field? What happens to our understanding of policy as an object of ethnographic analysis when we regard the political field not simply as the backdrop against which policy takes shape, but rather, as emerging through the policymaking process?

This paper surveys four narrative accounts of the origin of the 1995 New Law of Social Security in Mexico, each offered by a distinct faction in the policymaking process. These narratives do not differ on the minutiae of the policy; rather, they present fundamentally incompatible interpretations of how the process began, upon what set of ideas the reform was based, and which group prevailed in the struggle to impose a hegemonic understanding of the policy. The purpose of the survey is not to try to ascertain the "real account" by evaluating the veracity of competing truth claims. Rather, the paper attempts to theorize the conditions of possibility of these multiple competing narratives and their implications for the anthropology of policy. Why so much contention over what on the surface may seem to be relatively innocuous issue? What might it tell us about the nature of the political field and how best to ethnographically capture its dynamics?

Panel W009
Policy worlds