The Culture of Policy: Social Welfare Policy and the Generation of Culture
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
Graduate Student, Political Science, University of Michigan