Online library entry

Grindle M. (2002) Despite the Odds: The Political Economy of Social Sector Reform in Latin America, in C. Abel and C.M. Lewis (eds.) Exclusion and Engagement: Social Policy in Latin America. London: Institute of Latin American Studies: 83-110.

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Grindle examines why, despite conventional wisdom that social sector reforms would be unlikely to happen in Latin America, certain reforms have succeeded seemingly “against the odds.” She examines the reasons for this success and, in the process, makes a case for an approach that asks why reform does sometimes occur. She argues that by adopting this approach, researchers are more likely to investigate how winners and losers are positioned to support or resist change and how reform entrepreneurs take actions intended to circumvent institutional and interest group obstacles. In other words, by studying reform successes, researchers learn more about how to manoeuvre around political barriers to achieve change, rather than assume this change is not possible.

Through her own study of social sector reforms, Grindle can point to a number of common characteristics of reform successes. In particular, she helps identify likely reformers, observing that the most active participants tend to be well-established, privileged interests. These include political leaders, bureaucrats, unions, organized interest groups and legislators. This is an important point to take seriously as it can help guide the choice of effective partners when pursuing a reform agenda. At the same time, however, this observation presents normative difficulties in that the reform process does not provide many areas for the participation of poor and marginalized groups. Grindle offers little insight as to how greater participation might be achieved, although she suggests marginalized groups may have an opportunity to influence the implementation of reforms even if they remain excluded from the formulation and adoption of social policies.