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Dissertation

My research is concerned with ideational change, and how power, material resources, institutional arrangements, and historical legacies factor into this change. I am particularly interested in the process of diffusion, whereby ideas are "exchanged" or "transmitted" from one social site to another. The diffusion of norms and ideas is widely talked about by students of globalization and regionalization, social movements, human rights, and organizations. I look at Poland's implementation of the EU's gender equality directives in order to understand both how the EU diffuses institutional schema and norms, and how national receiving contexts react to these diffusionary pressures. Diffusion does not always "work," not even in the most ideal of circumstances, such as when a country seeks membership in a norm-heavy institution like the European Union. The existing literature on EU integration does not really address, let alone explain, why some norms or institutional forms diffuse easily whereas others do not, so I look to the Polish case as one of successful resistance. I identify how implementation of the gender acquis in Poland differed in significant ways from other parts of the accession mandate in terms of domestic cooperation and compliance. The Polish case is a critical one along several dimensions. First, there is an implicit comparison that structures the dissertation, which is that of the economic versus social accession mandate. Second, the Polish case is notable for its cultural and institutional distinction from the rest of the postsocialist accession cohort in terms of its reaction to the gender equality agenda, and in its subsequent policy formulations. Third, this case also highlights important differences in the EU's institutional force when it comes to gender as opposed to other types of policy. I have primarily employed qualitative and archival methods, although I have a growing interest in quantitative methods, and have begun data collection for a quantitative content analysis of Polish political discourse in social policy debates during the pre-accession period (1997-2004).

Future Work

My work on the role of ideas in Poland's relationship to the EU, and in its domestic efforts to implement the gender equality agenda, has led me to think more concretely about the way in which we conceptualize gender equality in the first place. There is a particular normative foundation to the EU's gender equality agenda that is enmeshed in the history of the Western/Northern European welfare state and politics of redistribution. However, this is problematic for several reasons. The first relates to welfare state retrenchment, and whether such states can or will be able to continue to support policies of redistribution. The second problem concerns the changing nature of the nation-state. The nation-state is no longer the sole, or even primary, distributor of public resources and goods. In an increasingly regionalized, even globalized, world, supranational formations such as the EU have significant authority over resource distribution. The third problem is that the continued privileging of an activist welfare state as a necessary condition for the achievement of gender equality has a tendency to foreclose alternative lines of inquiry and types of policy solutions. Some, such as Sylvia Walby, have begun to do this by thinking about the EU as a new kind of state, a "regulatory state," with a different kind of power and method than a traditional sovereign nation-state. As a regulatory state, Walby argues, the EU has the capacity to expand the scope of social policy activity beyond narrow class-based (i.e. redistributive) correctives. This begs the question of whether redistribution, and the reconciliation of care work and waged labor, are the only path to gender equality; or, are there other possibilities? And what role can the EU play in achieving gender equality, both within and beyond its own borders? Given that establishing generous welfare states in the CEE states is infeasible, and that social democratic welfare policies have not enjoyed great popularity or legitimacy within the US context, or in developing nations, finding ways to empower women through enterprise, education, and political participation are approaches that can and do resonate with diverse publics. Uncoupling gender equality from welfare policy, both theoretically and empirically, creates an opening in the opportunity structure to reinvigorate the feminist political project on a global scale.

Nowy Świat, Warsaw

 
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