Political Knowledge Regimes and policy change in Chile and Uruguay

[This working paper was published as part of the Working Paper Series.]


This paper studies the Political Knowledge Regimes (PKR) as an explanation of change in three political areas in Chile and Uruguay between 1989 and 2015. We consider two structural variables: the type of policy making regime and the general evaluation of science in a given political system.

Hypothesis: The combination of the type of policy making regime (open or closed) and the general evaluation of the status of science by the political system (rationalist enlightenment or pragmatist anti-intellectualism) are different in Chile and Uruguay. This gives way to two different knowledge regimes and different policy results.

To test our hypothesis, we used two case studies (Chile and Uruguay) from three different policy fields, in each of these we analysed two events of change1 (thus having six pieces of analysis per country). These policy fields were: international trade, fiscal policy and educational policy. Through the analysis of the cases of Chile and Uruguay we found that PKR have very different characteristics and outcomes in both countries

Regarding the general evaluation of science within a political system, reforms in Chile are based on academic standards. Likewise, in an effort to build their legitimacy, political figures have strong academic credentials, mainly in economics. On the other hand, Uruguay’s political figures have lower academic credentials, political reasoning and arguments are more important than academic credentials.

Regarding the type of policy making regime, it is argued that experts and their knowledge have played differing roles in each country. In Chile, experts have influenced events of change significantly more than in Uruguay. The political system in Chile has given power to specialized knowledge, where experts are trusted on their ability to negotiate agreements and political contracts. Contrary to this, in Uruguay, public policy debates have focused on political issues, rather than technical ones.

These findings support our main hypothesis: the social value of science, which is higher in Chile, directly impacts on the implementation of specialized knowledge in public policies. Chile has a closed policy making regime, and in contrast with the Uruguayan case, specialized knowledge is considered an essential value for policy makers.

Regarding our second variable on study, type of policy making regime, five of the six change events studied for the Chilean case have been identified as closed, and all of them have shown public policies with considerable consensus and legitimacy. In contrast, the six events studied in Uruguay have shown an open type of policy making regime. In pluralist contexts, as is the case of Uruguay, political figures have strong incentives to use available knowledge to maximize their influence. In other words, each group uses specialized knowledge to change the course of politics according to their preferences.

These findings show the analytical performance of the PKR concept as an explanation of the differences in public policies in Latin America and contribute, at the same time, to enrich the debates on technocracy and democracy, adding new information for future research agendas.

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