maltseva, elena

Kazakhstan’s Social Welfare Reform: Understanding the Role of Informal Institutions and Discourse in Public Policy Process

The Kazakhstani government is often praised by international observers for its successful economic and welfare reforms, and, as a result, steadily growing standards of living. This paper seeks to answer the question of what factors explain the success of Kazakhstan’s social welfare reform, even though both the post-Soviet and international experience suggest that such reforms are a difficult endeavour in any political system, not least a post-communist one.

I argue that although various institutional and political factors did, to a certain degree, influence the course of the social welfare reform in Kazakhstan, its success was ultimately determined by the ability of the Kazakhstani government to seize the political momentum, mobilise public debates and frame the issue in ways that resonated with the public and generated widespread support for reform initiatives, a process Robert Henry Cox defined as the “social construction of the need to reform” (2001). By accentuating certain aspects of the reality and specific cultural frames, the Kazakhstani government was able to advance their policy goals without jeopardising the relative social stability in the country. The government emphasised Kazakhstan’s difficult economic situation and called on the Kazakh nomad identities, suggesting that people should fall back on family networks for support, rather than rely on the state. This call resonated well with the Kazakh society with its strong Asian and nomadic traditions and family networks.

Based on my dissertation research, this paper illustrates the crucial role of informal institutions and discourse in public policy process and contributes important insights to the central question in the literature on public policy, that is, when, why and how policies change. It also adds important details to the literature on the transformation of post-communist welfare regimes and enhances our understanding of social welfare in post-Soviet and, especially, Central Asian countries.

Thursday 25 October 10:15-12:15 Panels IV, Panel 10 Social Welfare and Civil Society in Transformation (Hall 7)