Shifting Narratives Conference: The Political Economy of Public Services, Spending and Production


The economic and political role of public services, public expenditure and public production of goods and services has for many decades been a central issue of economic and social policy at the national and international levels. There are persistent disputes over the scope of public service systems and the scale of public expenditure on these services. The theories and analyzes used by economists and political scientists form a significant body of narratives in this competition. Some criticize the tax burden of taxation on business activity and the disruption of labor markets through public employment, while promoting the use of public spending and services as opportunities for private financing through PPPs or long-term outsourced contracts. Others frame analyzes around the key role of the PSSP in driving innovation and achieving new public missions, its economic role in providing physical infrastructure and services, the role of public sector capacity in the direct provision of goods and services and enabling the development of public policies free from corruption, and its historic role in achieving socio-economic, racial and gender equality, and enabling democratic control, transparency and accountability.

Call for papers and proposals

In order to encourage maximum participation of academics, young academics, trade unions and social movements, there are four separate calls for papers and proposals:

This conference stems from a report on “Narrative change and public services, expenditures and benefits” carried out by a team led by the PSIRU. Social movements and trade unions have recently summarized the social and economic case for PSSP in a ‘global manifesto’: ‘The future is public’, and further reports on issues related to public services are published by partners world at this conference – Public Services International (PSI) and Transnational Institute (TNI). This conference is funded in part by a grant from the Open Society Foundations (OSF).

Conference objectives:

  • bring together academics, trade unions and social movements in a two-way sharing of research and information on issues, trends and campaigns around public services, globally
  • encourage critical scholarly research on issues and narratives of the PSR that concern DMs/unions
  • encourage collaboration between academics/young academics and social movements and trade unions

Structure of the conference:

  • Day 1 will be a plenary session with a number of invited presentations on the political economy and narratives of the PSSP, by leading academics and speakers from trade unions and social movements.
  • Day 2 will organize thematic workshops, including one on public expenditure narratives and workshops on a range of issues such as public finance, economic planning, trade and public services, participatory budgeting. Each workshop will last 1h30, including 1h for papers and contributions from academics, young academics, trade unions and social movements, with 30 minutes of discussion.
  • Day 3 will consist of parallel workshops on trends, stories and issues in public service in the regions of the world: Africa, Americas, Asia, Europe. These workshops will follow a similar 1.5 hour format, including papers and contributions from academics, young scholars, trade unions and social movements, followed by discussions.
  • Day 4 will be a final, forward-looking plenary session with a panel of guest speakers including academics, labor and SM speakers, discussing future academic agendas and perspectives and strategies in relation to the PSSP, and the potential for collaboration.

We also hope to organize an in-person meeting for young academics and young trade unionists/activists close to the conference dates in London.

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