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Citizens in Changing Welfare States: Pressures, Frames, and Feedback

Call for papers to a workshop held at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, November 10-12, 2015

 

Organizing committee:

Staffan Kumlin, University of Gothenburg and Institute for Social Research, Oslo

Andrea Louise Campbell, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Henning Finseraas, Institute for Social Research, Oslo

Achim Goerres, University of Duisburg-Essen

 

Practicalities:

- We envision a group of 10-15 people/papers to meet in Gothenburg, November 10-12, 2015.

- Accommodation and travel (economy class) will be reimbursed, courtesy of the University of Gothenburg’s MOD program (Multidisciplinary Research on Public Opinion and Democracy).

- Deadline for paper proposals is May 31. Please send proposals along with a short bio, or link to personal webpage, or similar, to staffan.kumlin@pol.gu.se

- Decisions on accepted papers by mid-June.

 

Short description of the workshop:

Welfare states are changing. Reform pressures are mounting, welfare state issues are frequently salient in the public sphere, and multidimensional policy change is being implemented. How do these factors and trends affect citizens politically? This workshop welcomes a broad spectrum of approaches to citizens in changing welfare states, including not just cross-sectional survey analysis, but also experimental designs, panel data, time-series analysis, as well as qualitative methods. Further, we hope for analyses of a wide range of dependent variables including welfare state attitudes, voting, political trust and participation, as well as social capital and trust.

Three interlinked research areas define the workshop’s territory. First, studies of real-world reform pressures examine how citizens are affected by a host of contextual factors such as population ageing, employment rates, post-industrial labour markets, immigration, economic crises, and so on. Second, studies of political communication and framing examine how citizens react to messages from political elites concerning reform pressures, deservingness of recipients given resource scarcity and new needs, and appropriate policy responses. Third, studies of policy feedback ask how citizens react politically to different types of policies and reforms once these are implemented.

 

Extended description of the workshop:

At least three types of welfare state change are under way in advanced industrial democracies. First, reform pressures have been mounting for some time, for example in the shape of population ageing, postindustrial labour markets, changing family patterns, European integration, immigration, and economic crises. Second, welfare state issues seem to be increasingly politicized, i.e. debated and contested in the public sphere. Political actors appear to mix “blame avoidance” strategies and arguments with more daring “credit claiming” stances taken by reform-minded actors. Debate about who is really a “deserving” recipient blends with conflict over just how financially (un)sustainable the welfare state is, as well as over the nature of new needs and risks. Third, pressured welfare states increasingly experience multidimensional policy change, including non-trivial retrenchment and cost-containment, but also less destructive change such as “recalibration,” “activation,” and “social investment.”

The topic of the workshop is how these intertwined trends affect political attitudes and behavior among citizens. Specifically, contextual studies of real-world reform pressures examine how citizens are affected by population ageing, employment rates, immigration, and so on. Are citizens even aware of these long-term trends? How do they enter into their political reasoning? Second, studies of political communication and framing examine how citizens react to messages from elites concerning pressures, deservingness of benefit recipients given resource scarcity, and corresponding policy responses. Are perceptions of the severity of reform pressures and acceptance of reform shaped by political elites, the media and experts? Do citizens in turn adjust their expectations of the welfare state in the light of such information? Through which types of arguments can reform-minded actors persuade citizens to accept, or even support, welfare state reform? Third, studies of policy feedback ask how citizens react to policies and policy change once these are implemented. Do welfare state reforms—including retrenchment, activation policies, social investment, and so on—reshape orientations and behavior? By example, does public opinion adapt normatively to policy changes, or does it rather react against them? Do policy changes trigger active protests and electoral punishment, or do they rather produce silent dissatisfaction and political distrust?

Research on citizens and the welfare state is still dominated by cross-sectional survey data. While such a focus is understandable—and clearly continues to be valuable—its dominance is no longer satisfactory. The multiple changes facing welfare states raise new questions that are increasingly hard to solve with only cross-sectional data. These questions involve reciprocal causation or short-term change in key variables, or concern concepts that are notoriously hard to operationalize with standard surveys. Methodologically, then, we welcome a broad spectrum of approaches to causality and citizens in changing welfare states, including experimental designs, panel data, time-series analysis, as well as qualitative methods such as interviews, focus groups, and direct observation. That said, we expect cross-sectional analysis to be of great continuing relevance alongside other approaches.

In terms of dependent variables, we welcome analyses of a wide range of perceptions, attitudes, and behavior, including well-known dimensions of welfare state attitudes, voting behavior, political trust and participation, as well as social capital and trust. But we are also curious about work on “new” dependent variables made salient by welfare state change. These might include, among other things, perceptions of economic viability and acceptance for concrete reform policies and packages.

 

 


 

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