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Social Policy and Development Programme Paper 18: "Globalization" and Social Policy in a Development Context: Regional Responses

18 May 2005

  • Author(s): Nicola Yeates

This paper addresses how “globalization” shapes the possibility of realizing an inclusive, democratic and developmental social policy. This review is not undertaken through a belief that there are fixed constraints on the nature of policy reforms, or that answers lie in simple policy transplantation, or that social convergence is desirable. Rather, the paper is guided by the view that globalization entails multiple, contradictory processes and that there is a need for informed debate about the continued possibilities for progressive social reform and critical analysis of the nature of those reforms that are taking place.

Apart from the European Union, regional formations have not received the attention they deserve within the global social policy debate, a debate that has mainly concentrated on the role of multilateral institutions and their explicit and implicit social policies. Nevertheless, regional formations are an important manifestation of state globalization strategies and integral to any analysis of the ways in which collective action is being recast at transnational level. The discussion accordingly highlights the growth of regional formations over recent decades. The major problem identified, from a development perspective, is the difficulty of devising comprehensive social policies within regional formations that are mainly economic, and more particularly trade-oriented, in aim. Indeed, very few such formations have yet to develop any kind of collaboration in the social domain.

The almost exclusive preoccupation of these formations with economic issues has led to a reaction from international civil society organizations—which increasingly demand that social issues be addressed as well. There are major difficulties in extending the range of collaboration to include a social agenda or dimension, except in terms of safety net provision in line with social liberalist orthodoxy. Yet civil society demands are being articulated through the shadow summits and social forums that now regularly accompany intergovernmental meetings. This is laying the groundwork for the development of an inclusive, democratic and developmental social policy at regional level, which may, over time, prove decisive in reshaping the global social development orthodoxy.

Nicola Yeates is a Lecturer in Social Policy at the School of Sociology and Social Policy at Queen’s University Belfast, United Kingdom.

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