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Accepted paper:

How do political shifts affect policy implementation? Translating politics into welfare policies in Latin America


Flávio Eiró (Radboud University)

Paper short abstract:

Taking the cases of large-scale anti-poverty initiatives in Brazil and Mexico, this project seeks to understand what happens to welfare policies after an abrupt change in politics, and how bureaucrats working to deliver such policies interpret and accommodate political change in their everyday work.

Paper long abstract:

Latin America is witnessing an increase both in poverty levels and political polarisation. In this context, the region's model of poverty reduction has—once again—become a contested space. Over the past decade, Latin America's two largest economies, Brazil and Mexico, have followed inverse political trajectories: Brazil from progressive to conservative, and Mexico the reverse. A drastic change in the respective governments' rhetoric regarding welfare and poverty is also evident. These shifts have resulted in policy changes that affect the conditional cash transfer programmes (CCTs), which are the most important anti-poverty interventions in the region. These are "Bolsa Família" in Brazil, and "Benito Juárez Scholarships for the Well-being" (former Prospera) in Mexico.

Regardless of the direction within the political spectrum, or the stage of policy transformation, frontline workers implementing social policies experience political change firsthand and are thus deeply affected by the rearrangement of political forces and institutional shuffling, especially when there is little political consensus over policies.

This paper will propose an approach to the study of street-level bureaucracies relevant to an ever more polarised world: ethnographically focus on how frontline workers interpret abrupt and profound political shifts and translate them into practice. To make the case for this research agenda, I will look back at my ethnographic research in Brazil's Northeast region, among social workers implementing the Bolsa Família programme, and discuss recent political developments in Brazil and Mexico.

panel P079
Politicized bureaucrats in and beyond Europe: conflicting loyalties, professionalism and the law in the making of public services [LAWNET]