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Words of Welfare

The Poverty of Social Science and the Social Science of Poverty

1995
Author:

Sanford F. Schram
Foreword by Frances Fox Piven

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Offers an important and enlightening critique of how welfare policy is analyzed and set in the U.S., illustrating that how we study issues affects what ultimately gets done about them. Issues examined include the drawing of the poverty line, the setting of benefit levels, the feminization of poverty, homelessness, the underclass, welfare dependency, recent attempts to reform welfare, and the implications for welfare in the emerging global, postindustrial economy. Schram demonstrates how research on these issues can be done differently and more effectively.

Offers an important and enlightening critique of how welfare policy is analyzed and set in the U.S., illustrating that how we study issues affects what ultimately gets done about them. Issues examined include the drawing of the poverty line, the setting of benefit levels, the feminization of poverty, homelessness, the underclass, welfare dependency, recent attempts to reform welfare, and the implications for welfare in the emerging global, postindustrial economy. Schram demonstrates how research on these issues can be done differently and more effectively.

In the current debate about welfare reform, perhaps the most important contribution a scholar can make is to help us meet superficial slogans with fundamental questions about the sources of poverty and pessimism. Professor Schram has done that, decoding the symbolic language of the welfare debate and offering in its place clear, analytic thinking.

Linda Gordon, Florence Kelley Professor of American History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and author of Woman's Body, Woman's Right and Heroes in Their Own Lives: The History and Politics of Family Violence, winner of the Joan Kelly Prize for best book in women's history.

Offers an important and enlightening critique of how welfare policy is analyzed and set in the U.S., illustrating that how we study issues affects what ultimately gets done about them. Issues examined include the drawing of the poverty line, the setting of benefit levels, the feminization of poverty, homelessness, the underclass, welfare dependency, recent attempts to reform welfare, and the implications for welfare in the emerging global, postindustrial economy. Schram demonstrates how research on these issues can be done differently and more effectively.

Awards

American Political Science Association’s Michael Harrington Book Award winner

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Sanford Schram is associate professor of political science at Macalester College and has worked with various community groups over the past two decades to promote social science research that serves ordinary people rather than just policy makers. He has written numerous articles on poverty and social science research methods.

Book Default Image

In the current debate about welfare reform, perhaps the most important contribution a scholar can make is to help us meet superficial slogans with fundamental questions about the sources of poverty and pessimism. Professor Schram has done that, decoding the symbolic language of the welfare debate and offering in its place clear, analytic thinking.

Linda Gordon, Florence Kelley Professor of American History at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, and author of Woman's Body, Woman's Right and Heroes in Their Own Lives: The History and Politics of Family Violence, winner of the Joan Kelly Prize for best book in women's history.

This is an impressively researched, intellectually sophisticated and very persuasively argued book. Professor Schram presents a compelling ideology critique of the ‘social science of poverty,’ demonstrating that its claims to a scientistic objectivity mask-perhaps even reflect-its fundamental embeddedness in prevailing policy regimes and the ideological premises from which they derive. This critique is itself an important accomplishment, but Words of Welfare does more. In proposing and enacting a coherent alternative, an engaged, reflexive, “postpositivist” social science, Prof. Schram indicates a clear alternative. The limped superiority of this alternative not only is its own powerful justification as an interpretive orientation; it also further demonstrates by comparison the barrenness and ideological purblindness of the prevailing discourse. This book is an important contribution; it can be read with great benefit by scholars, students and interested nonspecialist citizens.

Adolph Reed, Jr. Northwestern University

Schram’s book provides passionate, provocative, and well-developed ideas. The author’s thesis is convincingly defended, alerting us all to the system’s capacity to preserve itself, to maintain the status quo, by appearing to be seriously undermined by the “demands” of its neediest citizens, thus making both victims and villains of welfare recipients.

Readings

This book is an essential resource for any discussion of ‘welfare’ as we know it.

Contemporary Sociology

In these times of horribly regressive and destructive welfare reform, this book provides a much needed political analysis of welfare policy and research.

Political Science Quarterly

Words of Welfare can also be recommended for its willingness to promote a progressive agenda in these conservative times as well as for its insights into the politically embedded nature of most welfare policy research. Words of Welfare deserves to be widely read and vigorously debated within the welfare policy research community.

Social Science Review