This paper offers ways to theorize complex historical assemblages of social movements, political institutions and state power over time. Taking a comparative historical approach, this paper highlights temporal processes and institutional dynamics, when comparing rich historical case-studies. The first empirical paper examines how diverse social movements resisting military dictatorship in Brazil were channelled into an electorally successful political party, PT. From 2003-15, PT introduced innovative social policies – these later stalled in the wake of Rousseff’s 2016 impeachment and authoritarian turn. The next contribution examines state institutionalization of one specific social policy: conditional cash transfer (CCT) programmes, comparing Brazil’s Bolsa Familia with Philippines’ Pantawid. CCTs can be understood as attempts to politically institutionalize leftist social demands via progressive policies in a post-dictatorship context. Alternatively, CCTs might be seen as relatively low-cost measures stabilizing broader neoliberal dynamics by taming radical political demands without ameliorating inequalities. The comparison of two major programmes enables the identification of distinct phases and strategies: redistributive programmes initially integrating and expanding social-democratic demands, followed by recapture or retrenchment of the state redistributive institutions and programmes by countervailing political forces. The final paper examines the historical institutionalization of progressive social movements in Ireland, leading ultimately to stalled social partnership arrangements. A theoretical framework for considering the institutionalization of left social forces should address the dynamics of crisis and recession, trends of diminishing unionization, the structural role of unemployment and precarious work, and the changing socio-political imaginary of the ‘millennial generation’.
Methodologically, comparative historical analysis (CHA) extends critiques of assemblage theory, connecting social movement, institutional and state-oriented theories, enabling new research perspectives and questions to emerge. This framework opens out discussion about how far social movements can go in seeking to articulate and institutionalize social-democratic and redistributive demands within broad trends of rising inequality, insecurity, precaritization, authoritarianism and violence.