‘Losing legitimacy? Social partnership, Irish millennials and a turning political tide'

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Ireland incurred widespread social, economic and political costs in the recent global crisis (Ó Riain, 2014). Irish millennials face unemployment, precarious work and migration, with younger people and new hires most affected (Healy, 2015). Considering the historical alliance of labour, employers and the Irish state since the 1960s (Allen, 1997), social partnership (corporatism) should have ameliorated privations, but it didn’t. To explain why, this paper explores the dynamics of social partnership as a mechanism for institutionalising progressive social movements.

Social partnership included trade unions, business, community and voluntary sector representatives in national policy formation (Allen, 1997; Collins and Cradden, 2001). It may be interpreted as a ‘positive sum game’ (Hardiman, 2008) and ‘joint problem solving’ (O’Donnell and O’Riordan, 2000), however, critical appraisals regard social partnership as a strategy of co-option (Murphy, 2009), legitimising institutional approaches that discourage dissent and oppositional politics (Moran, 2010). The critiques of corporatism intersect with analyses of the ‘flexible developmental state’ (Ó Riain, 2000), ‘competition state’ (Kirby and Murphy, 2008), and ‘neoliberal state’ (Allen, 2007).

Generation What (GW) survey findings and secondary research illuminate impacts of youth unemployment and precarious work, juxtaposed against a decline in trade union membership. The GW online survey of 32,000 18-34 year olds in post-recession Ireland reveals distrust of institutions, particularly the state, political system and trade unions, and low levels of engagement in social and political organisations. This paper assesses GW data and whether it indicates a loss of legitimacy for key institutions and, contradictorily, the labour movement. GW attitudes to individualism and solidarity also raise questions about collective action and future forms of politics. Does the GW data suggest the emergence of ‘subpolitics’ a form of ‘direct politics’ entailing the ‘global self-organisation of non-state politics…with the potential to mobilise all areas of society’ (Beck, 2009, p. 95)?
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 16 Jul 2018
EventXIX ISA World Congress of Sociology : ISA Research Committee 48 (Social Movements, Collective Action and Social Change) Roundtable I - Metro Toronto Convent Centre, Toronto, Canada
Duration: 15 Jul 201821 Jul 2018


ConferenceXIX ISA World Congress of Sociology


  • social movements
  • young people
  • millennial generation
  • Generation What
  • trade unions
  • legitimacy
  • Irish state
  • Politics


Dive into the research topics of '‘Losing legitimacy? Social partnership, Irish millennials and a turning political tide''. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this