The masculine worker versus the hybrid citizen: Welfare reform in the United States and the Netherlands
This dissertation investigates the role social policies play in the construction of gendered subjectivities. Historically, welfare states have provided passive insurance against social risks. With the rise of welfare state restructuring, welfare states increasingly focus on the creation of an “active citizenship,” where being active is defined in terms of labor force participation. In 1996, both the United States and the Netherlands adopted new social assistance policies that reflect the rise of a tacitly masculine worker-citizen. Welfare reform in both countries privileges paid work over non-material forms of care and forces poor, single mothers to adopt paid work practices traditionally associated with men's parenting. However, I show that the attendant meanings of citizenship are not only created in legislatures. Rather front-line workers and welfare-reliant women are active participants in the construction of gendered citizenship.
To investigate what kind of gendered citizenship was created at the street-level, I conducted ethnographic research in these two welfare states. I found that caseworkers in an urban county in California reinforced the masculine worker-citizenship inscribed in law. By contrast, in a large Dutch municipality, caseworkers and welfare-reliant women diverged from the law as they interactively constructed a feminized, hybrid mother-worker citizen, whose income from part-time paid work was supplemented with a small welfare check.
Two factors explain these differences in outcome. First, historically constituted bureaucratic organizations place constraints on the street-level work of welfare. Second, front-line workers as well as welfare-reliant women draw on discursive repertoires that constrain the meanings citizenship can take. In both sites, these repertoires consisted of particular, historically generated discourses surrounding paid work, motherhood, and welfare receipt. These two factors, bureaucratic practices and discursive repertoires, are crucially important in explaining how differences in the meanings of welfare-reliant women's citizenship are generated.