Changing welfare mixes and path dependencies: personal social services and the third sector in the Portuguese welfare system
Sociologia Faculdade de Economia da Universidade de Coimbra Coimbra, Portugal
Discussion on public service provision is currently on the agenda and point to the opening up for the responsibility for welfare from the privileged role of the state to a wide range of providers and from the collective to the individual.
Different political projects express the logics of different governance modes where responsibility and provision can be articulated through combination of state, market, community and the third sector. These projects take place in concrete contexts structured by institutional frameworks of particular welfare mixes shaped throughout time.
Articulating the institutionalist concept of path dependency and the strategic relational approach, I analyse changes currently taking place in the Portuguese welfare mix, focusing personal social services where third sector organisations occupy a prominent place as provider in the core of social services.
In Portugal, the division of labour in this area has been traditionally a place for contestation and articulation of different political projects. This can be seen in the development of the Portuguese welfare state and still contributes to current discussions. Broader changes in the framework for social services, including the discussions about social services of general interest, bring new elements to this debate, with particular relevance for the type of welfare mix of Portugal.
Through observing historical trends and recent changes and debates I describe some elements of institutional stickiness at the same time as noticing the relative flexibilities allowed by the existence of more than one path in the social protection systems. However even if the potential trajectories remain present, structural selectivities render some changes easier than others and some actors' interests more successful than others. I conclude with considering the possibilities of resonance of current European debates on the nature of social services.