The “Ugly” Face of Social Investment? The Politics of Childcare in Central and Eastern Europe

Dorota Szelewa*, Michał Polakowski

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


In this article, we aim to understand the development dynamics of a specific area of social investment (SI), that is, childcare policies, in the context of postcommunist politics and the recent right-wing turn that took place in the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. This article identifies varieties of channels for promoting SI. First, in taking the perspective of the “mixed economy of welfare,” we argue that attempts made to introduce elements of SI to the childcare policies involved various leading roles available for either the private sector or state/public domain. Second, it is important to distinguish between implicit/unintended and explicit/intended projects both in relation to cases in which SI strategy is applied via marketization/privatization and when it involves a government-led project. Third, we take into account the politics of SI implementation that might involve applying certain principles central to policy concepts (such as “investment”) in justifying policy instruments incompatible with original ideas. Although arguments about SI have been extensively used by Eastern European leaders, their goal has been to justify welfare reforms that were implicitly or explicitly directed towards the middle class while excluding the “nondeserving” often based on ethnic identity. We characterize Poland as a case of “implicit marketization,” the Czech Republic as a case of “explicit privatization,” and the Hungarian version of SI as a case of “explicit public dualization.” In this, we show that in some cases, the implementation of SI approaches by right-wing populist parties might rear its “ugly” head.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSocial Policy and Administration
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)14-27
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Central Europe
  • Childcare
  • Eastern Europe
  • Right-wing populism
  • Social investment

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