From Welfare Queens to Docile Women: The Discipline and Control of Poor Women

Kelly Ann Marzano, University of Illinois at Chicago

In this paper I use the work of both Foucault (1995) and Garland (1990; 2001) to explore the ways in which the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 and its supporters construct welfare recipients as deviant and in need of surveillance and control. The welfare reforms passed in 1996, and recently reauthorized in the Personal Responsibility, Work, and Family Promotion Act of 2003, represented drastic changes for welfare law and welfare recipients. The new welfare laws seek to regulate women economically, productively, socially and sexually by imposint work requirements, time limits, family caps on funding and marriage initiatives. These welfare reforms have introduced multiple methods to regulate poor single women's behavior and align it with what conservative groups consider more legitimate or appropriate behavior for women overall. Foucault's work on the role of power and surveillance in society is used in this paper to examine how women receiving welfare are deemed in need of discipline and are placed under multiple methods of surveillance and control. Garland's framework for examining the political, economic, historical, and social context for a particular policy or institution in society is another lens used to explore the larger context and implications of policy reforms such as those embodied in welfare law.

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Updated 05/20/2006