ECPR – The Politcal Economy of Social Concertation Pacts

I presented a paper at the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR) last week. You can find the abstract here.  A useful synopsis on social pacts by the International Labour Organisation can be found here. ECPR was a great experience, and a kindly reminder of how much work is ahead of me. I attended a variety of panels, from core executives in public administration, public policy and political economy to the political economy of strikes. It was at this latter panel that I made very useful links in relation to my own research. Overall, I think I heard 30 presentations. Some of which were excellent, and some quite poor. One thing I took away from each panel though, was the importance of research design.

I am currently puzzling my way into a concrete research question, and gradually beginning to see a clearer research design opening up. It is an iterative (and somewhat pain-staking) process. There is new literature being published all the time. I received some articles not yet published from certain academics I met at ECPR, which answer what I thought were my unique questions! So, back to the drawing board, and a re-engagement with the literature (Sometimes I think I am too concerned with ‘originality’ and should settle for conceptual innovation).  I am coming toward the end of my first 12 months, and eager to spend the next 12 months on the empirics of my research. Thus, trying to identify the variation, empirical difference and impact of trade union density, legal framework, welfare systems, labour market boards, strategic bodies (NESC), and structures of wage bargaining upon how social pacts are institutionalised (these are provisional indicators, and nothing close to definitive).

I am familiar with the broad literature on social pacts, and gradually identifying where I can contribute something innovative (at least conceptually). That is, linking the policy process to changes in public governance via political economy. At the core of social pacting is ‘income policy’, and it is the variety of approaches to this arena that my empirical focus will concentrate upon.  But, the more I get into the area, and try to focus my empirical research, the more I ask myself whether the use of ‘social partnership‘ as a concept is of any empirical significance. It assumes more than it tells us.  In practice, what we witnessed is a tri-partite consultation process, with income policy at the core.

To assess what role social dialogue has upon the resulting social pact (partnership agreement) is straight forward, there was a process, and actors were involved. However, did it lead to any substantive regulation or legislation? If not, why not? Thus, I am moving more and more toward trying to explain why governments choose social dialogue to formulate social pacts, and why trade unions, given a monetarist macroeconomic climate choose to participate? Furthermore, under what conditions do they emerge, and what is the nature of the bargain? What is the trade off? Thus, I  increasingly see the need to have a two or three country case study, rather than a single Irish based case study, to enable me to generalise, compare and explain variation.

It has been a relatively productive 12 months, and a substantial learning curve, but the next 12 months are crucial in terms of generating the data, evidence, and empirical, analytic and logical analysis to what is a broad theoretical project.

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