This article analyzes the paternal politics underlying contemporary welfare reform in the United States. Current research on U.S. welfare reform tends to focus on the redefinition of women's responsibilities and social conceptions of motherhood. We contribute to this scholarship by explicating the ways in which reform politics also advance powerful conceptions of fatherhood. Through a discourse analysis of national-level policy debates surrounding new fatherhood legislation, we deconstruct policymakers' views on what constitutes fatherhood. We then compare their discourses to those articulated in interviews with 51 low-income, African American women. From the comparison, we argue that these groups' conceptions of fatherhood diverged in critical ways. Policy-makers' constructions prioritized the form of men's paternal relations over the content of those relations - Defining fatherhood in terms of men's biological, institutional, or financial connection to their children. By contrast, the low-income women we interviewed prioritized the content of men's paternal relations over their form - Conceptualizing fatherhood in terms of men's identification with and participation in paternal activities. By juxtaposing these discourses of fatherhood, our analysis complements feminist research on how ideologies of motherhood influence welfare policies. And by theorizing the differences between these groups' conceptions of fatherhood, we hypothesize about the policy implications of this conceptual divergence.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Sociology and Political Science