After Welfare: The Culture of Postindustrial Social Policy

By Sanford F. Schram | Go to book overview

Introduction

The chapters that follow offer a cultural critique of social welfare policy in the United States at the end of the twentieth century. While historically social welfare policy has reflected cultural norms, fin de siècle social welfare policy has proved to be a flash point for struggle over the fundamental cultural categories that undergird the social order. The end of the century has seen intensified concerns about the end of the industrial social order and the emergence of a new postindustrial set of social relations.1 In the process, social welfare policy has become unusually freighted with cultural significance and has been enlisted in the effort to deny the changes that are occurring in work and family relations. Along with persistent poverty, growing inequality, and the collapse of the manual labor market, the traditional two-parent family has continued to dissolve and gender relations have undergone wholesale revision. Social welfare policy has been enlisted in what seems to be an eleventh-hour attempt to enforce the traditional values of work and family that have propped up what Nancy Fraser, Linda Gordon, and others have called the industrial “family-wage system” that is based on the traditional two-parent family in which the male “breadwinner” earns enough to support his wife the “homemaker,” and their children.2 The ideal of the traditional family was never realizable for most families in the industrial era; with postindustrialism, it is no longer sustainable as an ideal. However, social policy has been enlisted to deny this reality and insist on the maintenance of the ideal. It is very much part of what Lawrence M. Mead has touted as the “New Paternalism.”3 In the face of social change, this desperate new paternalism seeks to reassert the traditional values of work and family as if insisting on the old values would suffice to maintain the old arrangements. At the same time, this new paternalism denies that social changes in work and family have helped highlight the profound inequities of the old system, especially for women and minorities.4

While recent debates in social theory have often divided those who want to emphasize material issues of redistribution from those who put the stress

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