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Professor McBride's research on varieties of austerity funded by SSHRC Insight Grant

The objective of this project is to move beyond 'one size fits all' accounts of austerity and to provide a more nuanced account of the variety which this broad policy label encompasses, together with interpretation of how varieties of austerity are constituted, and why that matters.

Oct 05, 2016

One theme in narratives of the 2008 economic crisis has been that we live in an age of austerity, one that is possibly permanent or, at least, long-lasting. Typically, austerity, defined here as a combination of fiscal restraint and structural reforms, is presented as a relatively undifferentiated phenomenon that has been widely if not universally adopted. 

The objective of this project is to move beyond 'one size fits all' accounts of austerity and to provide a more nuanced account of the variety which this broad policy label encompasses, together with interpretation of how varieties of austerity are constituted, and why that matters.

Social scientists have generally found it helpful to move beyond broad brush concepts like austerity in order to achieve more finely grained description, and make powerful comparisons and explanations of phenomena based on more precise and discriminating analytical tools.

Our first goal, inspired by literature in comparative political economy and public policy, will be to delineate the varieties of austerity to be found. We intend to do this by a close examination of the policy mix within and between three broad policy areas associated with austerity: fiscal and monetary, public sector reform, and labour market restructuring. Secondly, our goal is explanation of the varieties of austerity identified. Potential explanations will be found three broad bodies of literature emphasizing respectively international factors, domestic politics, and pre-existing institutional configurations leading to path dependency. These literatures were important in our selection of four cases (Canada, Denmark, Ireland, Spain) in which to investigate these trends. The cases chosen enable a variety of theoretical propositions derived from the literature to be subjected to close investigation, and our results will make an important contribution to theorizations and explanations of policy change/continuity in public policy and political economy.

The third goal will be to track the economic, social and political implications of having adopted one or other variety of austerity. By means identified in our knowledge mobilization plan, we intend to bring the policy implications of our findings to relevant audiences.

This research is innovative in that it will break new ground academically and can make major theoretical contributions in comparative public policy and political economy. Second, the topic and its findings are highly relevant to contemporary political debates, because many states, politicians, experts, and publics remain committed to austerity without strong comparative research on (a) whether austerity is a single phenomena or a variegated one, and (b) whether variations in way austerity is designed and implemented have different economic, social, or political implications. Identifying what these are opens possibilities for policy learning for practitioners, policy-makers, politicians, and protestors alike. 

Congratulations Professor McBride!