Direitos Sociais em Portugal

Research project description

Our project is concerned with the way social and economic rights have become a part of the Portuguese democratic-constitutional regime, how (and the extent to which) they have become the object of political and social struggle, and how (and the extent to which) that struggle has transformed those rights as they are interpreted and applied in policy and in the case-law of the Constitutional Court.

Our objective is to provide an analytical and historical map of the political, social and ideological conflicts around those rights, their interpretation and application in the Portuguese case, focusing on two particular social and economic rights guaranteed in the Portuguese Constitution: health and education. More specifically, the project’s goals are to derive from the relevant political science literature certain hypotheses regarding the causes of constitutional pre-commitment to social rights and to assess the plausibility of these hypotheses using case studies of the constitutional rights to health and education in Portugal. 

Our research on the origins, development, interpretation and contestation of social and economic rights in Portugal is framed under two general strands of theoretical and empirical research. On the one hand, our analysis will draw upon a vast "constitutional pre-commitment" literature (Elster, 2000; Elster and Slagstad, 1988; Alexander 1998; Whytock, 2004), as well as upon previous work on social and economic rights as citizenship rights (Hunt, 1996, Eide, 2001). This literature provides us with a number of hypotheses trying to account for why, in what circumstances, and under what conditions constitutions are likely to be drafted in order to contain provisions obligating future majorities to adopt (or preventing them from adopting) particular policies. On the other hand, we will draw upon studies on institutional origins and change, particularly those affiliated with the so-called "historical institutionalism" (Steinmo et al., 1992; Pierson, 2000; Lindner & Rittberger, 2003).

Our analysis will be made from two different but profoundly interrelated angles. The first is the angle of "constitutional choice", i.e. "games over rules" (Knight 1992). Through an in-depth analysis of the 1975-76 constitution-making period, we will test several hypotheses regarding the mechanisms and outcomes of constitutional choice.

The second angle employed will be that of "constitutional operation", i.e. "games within rules". As soon as constitutional rules were put into place, a social and political struggle — sometimes public and open, sometimes more muted — unfolded over the interpretation of those rules, involving not only political actors located at the institutional level (government, parliament, presidency, the party system), but also interest groups, collective actors and the courts, and ultimately on how those struggles conditioned public policy and fed back into processes of constitutional revision.

Key words: economic and social rights; institutional choice; historic institutionalism; citizenship.
Project: Social Rights in Portugal: Their Constitutionalization and Sociopolitical Implications (PTDC/CPO/71295/200)
Host institution: Instituto de Ciências Sociais, Universidade de Lisboa
Funding Institution: Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT)
Duration: 09/2007-09/2010

This project has been completed in 2010 with the publication of "O Momento Constituinte" (Coimbra: Almedina), an analysis of the debates on the rights to social security, health and education in the Constituent Assembly of 1975-76. A second project on the consequences of the constitutionalization of social rights in Portugal, "Broken Promises: The Political Origins of Socio-economic Inequality in Portugal, 1960-2010", follows.