The political act of public talk: How legislators justified welfare reform

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Prior to the creation of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, federal legislation primarily positioned mothers in the private sphere of parenting and men in the public sphere of work. Welfare reform changed this citizenship construction dramatically, requiring mothers to work but failing to acknowledge their caretaking responsibilities. This article presents a discourse and content analysis of the welfare reform debate that directly referenced citizenship. Findings suggest that legislators emphasized paid work as a citizenship activity while rarely portraying parenting as such. Furthermore, legislators' endorsement of paid work as a duty of citizenship, and the manner in which they paired this endorsement with the minimizing of parenting as such a duty, may have further diminished the perception of parenting as a valuable citizenship activity. Welfare reform may have been possible because the heretofore recognized citizenship work of mothering was largely ignored in the congressional debate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)563-596
Number of pages34
JournalSocial Service Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2010
Externally publishedYes


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