Foucault, Rogerian argument, and feminist standpoint theory: intersecting discourses concerning welfare reform during the 1990s
Johnson, Carol Wilson
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Despite the numerous and exhaustive studies concerning families, poverty, and the history of American social welfare laws; in depth social science studies of welfare organizations and methods; and the more recent feminist analysis of women and social welfare, there is limited rhetorical analysis of the language of welfare legislation, the surrounding policy debate, or associated media commentary. Further, there is a paucity of research placing the voices of women who receive welfare in the welfare debate. This study seeks to fill this gap in scholarship by examining the rhetoric of social welfare and poverty, focusing on women's lived experiences as revealed through their discourse and by analyzing the discourses of politicians and newspaper media from the 1990s. Artifacts associated with welfare rhetoric cross numerous disciplines and originate in historical, cultural, social, economic, political, and philosophical discourses. These discourses find the overlapping rhetorics of care, responsibility, community, work, and morality vying for primacy. Artifacts examined in this study include presidential speeches, particularly those of former President William J. Clinton, newspaper stories from The New York Times and The Washington Post as well as interviews with women receiving welfare conducted by the Alliance for Children and Families from March through June, 2000. This study begins by historically situating the issue of social welfare in the 1990s, and then applies Rogerian argument to analyze Clinton's speeches to identify the political terms of the welfare debate. Next, it uses critical discourse analysis to examine newspaper stories about welfare receivers to discover their characterization in print. Finally, it combines Foucault's parrhesia with feminist standpoint theory and applies them to the interviews of women living in poverty. This approach not only rethinks and revisions how these theories could work together to examine language, but it also explores how they could be used to grant dignity to everyday discourse reflecting the lived experiences of a special group in society. This study found a common ground from which the voices of welfare receivers collectively stand and resist the system that determines the material existence of their lives.