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Governing ageing in Chile: from neoliberal hegemony to more hopeful demographic futures?

WYNDHAM, KATHERINE,ESTER (2024) Governing ageing in Chile: from neoliberal hegemony to more hopeful demographic futures? Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

PDF (Katherine Wyndham PhD Thesis) - Accepted Version


In this thesis, I explore how demographic ageing is regulated in Chile through the governing of older populations, with particularly close attention to how the ‘actually existing’ neoliberal context in Chile permeates and conditions diverse political projects and strategies implemented by central and local governments. I approach this shaping as a historical and conjunctural process realised through multiple central and local governing projects, as well as a legacy thrown into particularly sharp relief and retrospective political questioning by the unfolding of the COVID-19 pandemic and the anti-neoliberal social uprising of 2019. These intertwined conjunctural moments have unearthed the limitations of neoliberal strategies in addressing the needs of older people. To explore the governing of older populations in Chile, I undertook a hybrid on-site and online ethnography exploring a wide range of national and local policies and governing projects. In investigating local governing projects, I analysed –with different depths– the case of seven contrasting municipalities in the capital city of Santiago, Chile.

With demographic ageing positioned as a risk to economic development, I suggest that the main rationale guiding Chilean policies and programs has been to avert the central state’s welfare and caregiving responsibilities toward a growing number of potentially dependent populations; economically, physically and cognitively. I argue that governing strategies directed to older populations are deeply neoliberal –sometimes deliberately and sometimes inadvertently– in that they pervasively have been designed to shift and devolve welfare and caregiving responsibilities to different (non-central state) scales such as families and charitable institutions, local governments, communities and older people themselves. In these explorations, I also consider more closely alternative governing projects that have contested, to differing extents, the central state's neoliberal neglect. Unpacking how progressive governing projects at central and local levels have sought to imprint a different common sense on state responsibility, I also consider how these alternative projects have themselves been reshaped by neoliberal ideas and strategies. In this case, I argue that neoliberal ideas and strategies, together with the material effects of Chile’s neoliberal context, are holding back the advances of progressive governing projects. Nonetheless, as hegemony is never final, I also consider how the intertwined moments of the COVID-19 pandemic and the anti-neoliberal social uprising of October 2019 also shed light on how the history of neoliberal policies directed at older populations in Chile continues to be contested.

Scholarly understandings of neoliberalism as a political hegemonic project are central to this thesis’ argument. I draw on Gramsci’s notion of hegemony as a position of ‘leadership’ continuously constructed through the intertwined articulation of coercion and consent (Hall 1986, p.15), to unpack how neoliberal ideas and strategies have reached a position of leadership in the governing of demographic ageing amid opposition from alternative governing ideas and projects. Three crosscutting findings emerge from this research: 1) through a marked politics of devolution within Chilean governance, access to welfare and caregiving has been rendered deeply unequal with old age; 2) the hegemonising capacity of neoliberal ideas and strategies is revealed in the persistence of the central state’s politics of scalar devolution and ways in which would-be progressive local governing projects end up complying with neoliberal aims; 3) though neoliberal hegemony has been secured thus far in this case through multiple strategies, it continues to be subject to contestation. Such findings offer insights for building more hopeful demographic ageing futures.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Older people, Demographic Ageing, Chile, Hegemony, Contestation, Neoliberalism
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Social Sciences and Health > Geography, Department of
Thesis Date:2024
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:01 Feb 2024 12:37

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