Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Domesticating the 'Troubled Family': Racialised Sexuality and the Postcolonial Governance of Family Life in the UK

Academic journal article Environment and Planning D: Society and Space

Domesticating the 'Troubled Family': Racialised Sexuality and the Postcolonial Governance of Family Life in the UK

Article excerpt


This article examines how the UK's Troubled Families Programme works as a strategy of domestication which produces and delimits certain forms of 'family life'. Drawing upon critical geographies of home and empire, the article explores how the Troubled Families Programme works to manage the troubled family as part of a longer history of regulating unruly households in the name of national health and civilisation. Viewing the Troubled Families Programme as part of the production of heteronormative order highlights how the policy remobilises and reconfigures older forms of colonial rule which work to demarcate between civility/savagery, the developable/ undevelopable. In examining the postcolonial dimension of neoliberal social policy, the article stresses how the Troubled Families Programme relies on racialising and sexualised logics of sociobiological control borrowed from imperial eugenics. Reading the Troubled Families Programme in this way contributes to our understanding of neoliberal rule. That the troubled family can be either domesticated or destroyed (through benefit sanctions and eviction) equally reveals the extent to which domesticity works as a key site for the production of both 'worthy' and 'surplus' life.


The Troubled Families Programme, domesticity, postcolonial, biopolitics, British citizenship, heteronormativity


In 2012 the British government began introducing the Troubled Families Programme (TFP), a policy that explicitly sought to 'transform' the lives of Britain's most disadvantaged families through the collaboration of multiple social agencies. Rationalised through a fear that certain households presented a fiscal burden on the welfare state and acted as a catalyst for wider social disorder (Cameron, 2011b), the programme offered both punitive and supportive interventions into the domestic space of the 'troubled family' (Crossely, 2016). Through the work of local government, housing officials, social work professionals--among them new 'family intervention workers'--the programme aimed to restore appropriate forms of familial intimacy. This promised to create pathways towards 'responsible' citizenship (Levitas, 2012) but specifically through producing appropriate domesticity--childcare, household governance, affective behaviour. Reflecting wider patterns in contemporary (Anglo) liberal welfare, it also held the latent promise that those refusing the 'help' of social authorities would be subject to disciplinary measures and benefit sanctions (Nixon, 2008). To the then Prime Minister David Cameron (2011b), this necessary restoration of domesticity also signalled a new form of intimate welfarism:

   When the front door opens and the (family) worker goes in, they
   will see the family as a whole and get a plan of action together,
   agreed with the family. This will often be basic, practical things
   --like getting the kids to school on time, properly fed--that are
   the building blocks of an orderly home and a responsible life.

It is the slippage between family, home and liberal order that Cameron's imaginary relies upon that inspires this article. The TFP has previously been analysed as an example of British parliamentary parties' (both right and centre-left) recent nostalgia for a moral economy of 'family values' (Levitas, 2012). Or linked to an increasingly coercive approach to welfare where poverty is highly moralised and reduced to 'lifestyle choices' (Montgomerie and Tepe-Belfrage, 2016). Such a matrix of morality and responsibilisation is most pronounced in the figure of the 'failed' or 'bad' mother (Jensen, 2012) who is both rhetorical foil and pedagogical subject of the neoliberal welfare state (Crossley, 2016; Waquant, 2009). Instead, in this article I argue that the TFP reflects a wider governmental anxiety which has emerged in the UK and relates to a (post)colonial configuration of domesticity, intimacy and family life. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.