Dividing Citizens: Gender and Federalism in New Deal Public Policy

By Suzanne Mettler | Go to book overview
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Preface

In the United States today, many lament the apparent decline of civic participation since the middle of the twentieth century and call for a revitalization of social trust and public spiritedness. Citizenship is typically construed in this discourse as if it were a set of attitudes and activities generated solely by society, through the transmission of particular values and ideas. Strikingly absent is any consideration of how governing institutions, public policies, and politics might themselves shape civic and social life.

My questions about this relationship prompted me to wonder how a major transformation in American governance, the New Deal, affected the organization and character of American citizenship. In this book, I investigate how the particular design and institutional arrangements for social and labor policies shaped the manner in and extent to which groups of citizens were incorporated within the polity. Other scholars have examined how naturalization and immigration policies have defined the boundaries of membership in the political community; my focus here is on "social citizenship," how public provisions for economic security and welfare have shaped the experience of citizenship for those who are already, by law, considered to be citizens.

I argue that policy and institutional developments in the New Deal divided Americans, as social citizens, under two distinct forms of governance. Men, particularly white men, were endowed with national citizenship, incorporated into policies to be administered in a centralized, unitary manner through standardized, routinized procedures. Women and minority men were more likely to remain state citizens, subject to policies whose development was hindered by the dynamics of federalism and which were administered with discretion and variability. In effect, the new welfare state treated men and women like members of separate sovereignties. Those within the ranks of national citizenship were governed as rights-bearing individuals, members of a liberal regime. The states ruled, conversely, in

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