Social Welfare within and beyond the State in Latin America

AHA Session 87
Conference on Latin American History 15
Saturday, January 4, 2020: 10:30 AM-12:00 PM
Riverside Suite (Sheraton New York, Third Floor)
Benjamin Bryce, University of Northern British Columbia
Daniel A. Rodríguez, Brown University

Session Abstract

In the large and growing body of literature on the creation of the welfare state in Latin America, North America, and Europe, scholars have often built a narrative beginning with the earliest forms of state intervention in areas such as child welfare, health insurance, soldiers’ benefits, and family allowances, beginning in the 1860s in Germany, the 1880s in the United States, or after the turn of the twentieth century in places such as Argentina, Uruguay, and Canada. Yet that focus on state policies narrows our understanding of more complex systems. Indeed, the welfare states that emerged in the western world after the Second World War did not only grow out of a select group of government policies but rather stood on the shoulders of a pre-existing system where other entities beyond the state played important roles.

In the case of Latin America, several scholars have noted that in the mid-twentieth century, help for the needy, retirement funds, workers’ compensation, medical services, family allowances, and public education all came to be conceived as parts of the rights of citizenship. Nevertheless, the firm link between social welfare benefits and citizenship was not always so. In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in Latin America, social welfare was provided by a range of social actors (families, elite philanthropists, and the Catholic Church), and social welfare was more a question of compassion, community, or religious values than one of citizenship. The papers on this panel stress the importance of a broad range of state policies and non-state actors. Benjamin Bryce focuses on health care in Buenos Aires in order to demonstrate evolving ideas of citizenship and social welfare, in particular by focusing on organizations and funding models (religious institutions, private philanthropy, and immigrant associations) where nationality and legal status were not necessary for access. Sara Hidalgo examines the programs and policies directed at the disabled in post-revolutionary Mexico. Tracking the evolution away from a mosaic of charity institutions and to the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in the mid-twentieth century, she charts the persisting vision of the disabled as needy both before and during the welfare state. Angela Vergara takes a broader pan-Latin American focus to look at the ongoing lack of state support for the unemployed. While Latin American countries adopted international standards and the conventions of the International Labor Organization, local economic, political, and social factors, informed by ideas of race and gender, discouraged states from taking up this central feature of welfare states in North America and Europe.

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