From Safety Net to Tight Rope: New Landscapes of Welfare in the United States
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As the recession plays out, unemployment rises, and public and private sector resources become increasingly in-demand, geographic poverty scholars have a unique opportunity to challenge the poverty logic of late capitalism and rigorously examine the role of race, gender and place in poverty processes. This research extends beyond an analysis of TANF as a policy fixed in time and place. Rather, it examines TANF and public assistance broadly as part of larger political, economic, and cultural processes that shape popular discourses on poverty and the experiences of those living in poverty. This paper analyzes public assistance in three interconnected ways: First, through a structural analysis of the neoliberalization of welfare and poverty, this research explores the ways in which past and current histories of economic restructuring intersect with localized discourses of race, gender and deservingness. Second, the research focuses on popular and political discourses about welfare in order to better understand the ways in which recipients and those in poverty are positioned in American society. I argue that under the terms of neoliberal capitalism the focus on welfare dependency has eclipsed alternative analyses of what drives and shapes poverty. Popular and political rhetoric overwhelming defines poverty as a crisis of dependency on welfare. Though this limited lens, the reasons for poverty are understood largely as behavioral or pathological and therefore mainstream policy solutions have focused on the scales of the home and the body. Third, through in-depth interviews in King County, WA and Jackson County, MO, this research examines the role of the political economy, class, race, gender, and place in shaping the identities and feelings of citizenship of those on public assistance. This dissertation highlights the complicated and sometimes contradictory ways in which those on TANF respond to poverty, popular discourse, and economic restructuring.
- Geography