Wednesday, 6 March 2019

Rethinking social policy conflict as politics of priorities: Implications for party competition and welfare state reform

Silja Häusermann, University of Zurich

Discussant: Wolfgang Merkel
Moderated by Swen Hutter

With the establishment of the welfare state and the transformation of political competition in the current multidimensional political space of Western Europe, (class) conflict over the generosity of welfare policies has lost in importance and seems less polarized to many observers. In her talk, Silja Häusermann will develop the idea that today’s distributive conflicts over social policy are no longer conflicts over positions but conflicts over priorities. For example, most voters support generous pensions just as much as they support generous childcare policies. However, the working class tends to care more strongly about the former, while growing numbers of middle-class voters prioritize the latter. Silja Häusermann will address how reconceptualizing political conflict in these terms helps us to better understand the chances of welfare state reforms, party strategies, and electoral behavior. She will illustrate these far-reaching dynamics with research from her ongoing ERC project (

Silja Häusermann has been full Professor of Swiss Politics and Comparative Political Economy at the Department of Political Science at the University of Zurich since 2012. Her research interests include comparative welfare state analysis, comparative political economy, pensions and family policy, party systems, corporatism, policy analysis, and Europeanization/internationalization.

Wolfgang Merkel is director of the research unit Democracy and Democratiziation at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center and Professor of Comparative Political Science and Democracy Research at the Humboldt Universität Berlin.

Swen Hutter is Lichtenberg Professor in Political Sociology at Freie Universität Berlin and Vice Director of the Center for Civil Society Research at the WZB Berlin Social Science Center.

The event is part of the lecture series Conflict, Social Movements, and Civil Society, organized by the Center for Civil Society Research.