Stories of Progress and Decline: Narratives and Reforms in ‘New’ and ‘Old’ Social Policies
At least since the 'argumentative turn' (Fischer & Forester 1993), ideational concepts have been an integral part of many established theories of the policy process (Weible & Sabatier 2017). One of these concepts is that of narrative stories (Stone 2012) – the, often highly-simplified, stories about how (good or bad) things happen. Narrative stories are crucial to policy change, as they are “the principal means for defining and contesting policy problems” (Stone 2012, p. 158), while “the depiction of […] a problem strongly suggests a [certain] solution to” it (Birkland 2007, p. 73).
In this paper, we connect the focus on narrative stories with the literature on social policy reform. Narrative stories may be expected to be of particular importance in social policy, given that it is one of the main fields where political parties compete. And yet they have remained under-researched for this policy sector. We may expect that there are systematic differences between narratives in policies of old versus new social risks. Old social risks policies are at the core of the traditional welfare state and focus primarily on the (monetary) compensation of risks over the life course, while new social risks policies are rooted in the transformation of the traditional male breadwinner principle and the tertiarisation of employment (Bonoli 2005). Häusermann (2012) argues that social policy fields cannot be generally distinguished into “old“ and “new”, but that policy instruments directed at corresponding risks can be found in all social policy fields. Thus, policies addressing old or new social risks assign different roles to the welfare state, and political actors take this into account when conducting reforms in these areas.
Against this backdrop, the paper reviews how narratives have been analysed in social policy reforms, conceptualises systematic similarities and differences in narrative stories in fields of "old" and "new" social policies, and traces how narratives connected to "old" and "new" social policies in one particular policy field might interact.
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