The Culture of Policy: Social Welfare Policy and the Generation of Culture

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Social welfare policy mediates individual relations to the world across a broad spectrum. For those defined as "consumers", it conditions living arrangements, family structure, patterns of asset accumulation, health care modalities, food choice, effective coping strategies and relationships to other social institutions.Social welfare policies also establish and codify power relationships, construct vocabulary, and reinforce norms. While they invoke the word "culture," "culture of poverty" arguments miss the point and mistake culturally-mediated adaptation for disfunction. By prescribing the eradication of individual "culture traits" in poor individuals, they perpetuate and reinforce the constructs that they identify as problematic. When frozen into policy, these prescriptions further reduce choice and treat consumers as "dependent variables" rather than as agents. Using this framework, the paper analyzes two approaches to the "poverty problem": the "aculturizing" approach adopted by those who would address poverty by redacting individual culture traits: and the "paradigm shift" approach embodied in the transition from AFDC to TANF. It argues that, while both appear to be centered on "cultural issues," neither, in fact, displays any understanding of the broader theoretical context of culture nor of the pragmatic issues involved in addressing culturally-mediated behaviors.


Keywords: Social Welfare Policy, Constructivism, Culture, Culture Shift, Schema, Paradigm
Stream: Politics, Public Policy and Law
Presentation Type: Virtual Presentation in English
Paper: A paper has not yet been submitted.


Amanda Tillotson

Graduate Student, Political Science, University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA

I am currently enroled in the joint doctoral program in Social Work and Social Science at the University of Michigan. My specialty within the social science area is Political Science. Prior to enrolling in the Program, I was a homeless advocate and domestic violence worker in a rural area in Pennsylvania. During that time I wrote and published a resource manual for homeless advocacy. I have also been a welfare rights organizer and obtained a Masters Degree in Political Science from the Unviersity of California at Los Angeles. I have previously published and given papers on various aspects of social welfare and economic policy. My current interests involve international influences on Social Policy in comparative persepctive, theory and social policy, and policy diffusion.

Ref: I08P0275