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Thesis Spotlights – The Political Economy of State Transformation in Italy from the Crisis of the Keynesian Welfare State to the Crisis of the Neoliberal Paradigm

Issue 42: 1968 - 50 Years On Wed 28 Nov 2018 0

Adriano Cozzolino, PhD, Italy

Email: adriano_cozzolino [at]; acozzolino [at]
Institution: Department of Human and Social Sciences, University of Napoli L'Orientale, Italy
Time: Enrolled in September 2014; Thesis defended: May 2018
Supervisor: Dr. Ruth Hanau-Santini
Funding: Triennial research grant funded by Campania Region 

The thesis analyses the transformation of the Italian state from the crisis of the Keynesian welfare-state to the crisis of neoliberalism (mid-1970s-2015). The study has two interlinked aims. The first is to provide a non-reductionist and dynamic theoretical framework of the state, through combining-cum-expanding studies in political sociology with the knowledge developed by Critical International Political Economy. The state is conceptualised as dualistic: the ‘state as idea-ideology’, i.e. a dimension rooted in human cognitive structures which plays a key – ideological-symbolic – role in the reproduction and change of the social order and the ‘state as institutional system’, namely the government, the parliament, the judiciary, etc. The other aim of the dissertation is to analyse how both these two dimensions of the state – the cognitive-ideological and the institutional – changed in the neoliberal era.

The research is based on a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods, respectively Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) and Descriptive Statistics.

The qualitative dimension explores (a) how the idea of state has changed during the consolidation of neoliberalism ‘Italian-style’, (b) and how Italian policy-makers have legitimated neoliberalisation and fiscal consolidation. The source of the analysis is the main economic document of the country (Documento di Programmazione Economico-Finanziaria) published from 1988 to 2009. The analysis showed the recurrence of several topoi like the necessity of state reform to improve market-stability; fiscal consolidation and structural reforms; the ideological role of ‘Europe’ (so that Italy, if reformed accordingly, may finally ‘become European’). The construction of the ‘neoliberal economic imperatives’ is characterised by two main features: 1. the depoliticisation of economic policies, presented as technical-objective necessity; 2. the recognition of the negative trends of Italian economy from the early 1990s onwards and, at once, the removal of austerity/neoliberalisation as real causes, so that they can be legitimated over and over again as the pathway to attain future prosperity.

The quantitative dimension analyses the correlation between macro-institutional change and neoliberalisation. This section is based on the codification and analysis of the legislation of political economy enacted in Italy form 1976 to 2015, now part of an original dataset of 3100 bills. The codification has followed two criteria: the type of law (e.g. parliamentary law; law decree, i.e. executive legislation; decree enacting EU legislation); the political economy macro-sector and sub-sector. Through crossing them, it has been possible to assess the evolution of the institutional sources of political economy legislation.
Briefly, key findings of the work are: (a) the vertical fall of the parliamentary legislation, from an output of 70 percent between 1976 and 2015 to 10 percent between 2011 and 2015; (b) the rise of executive's legal activism, especially in those sectors concerned by structural reforms and fiscal adjustment; (c) the increases of the EU legislation in sectors like service liberalisation and financial sector re-regulation. 

Summing-up, the thesis offers a theoretical account of the state and an empirically based assessment of state transformation. At the same time, the dissertation develops a framework for state analysis with the aim of combining theoretical complexity and empirical rigour.