Discourses of Dependency Women, Work, and Welfare in New Zealand
Abstract (Summary)Restricted Item. Print thesis available in the University of Auckland Library or available through Inter-Library Loan. This thesis is an analytical history of the construction of 'welfare dependency' as the central social problem of the 1990s in New Zealand. Through the creation of a Keynesian Welfare State, the First Labour Government from 1935 promised the nation's citizens useful employment at a living wage, adequate income support in times of need, and access to housing, good health, and a modern education. The provision of welfare, in the broader sense, would relieve the poverty experienced during the Great Depression. Some 50 years on, the National and New Zealand First Coalition Government no longer spoke of entitlements to employment, a living wage, and social security, or, for that matter, of citizens. Instead, welfare was deemed to cause, rather than ameliorate, social ills. 'Welfare dependency' was counterposed to the independence of paid work. The dysfunctional family in general and the sole mother in particular came to epitomise 'welfare dependency'. This problem construction was used to justify a dual regime of work enforcement and parental 'correction'. In explaining this development, I focus upon the linguistic interactions between political actors as they have sought to shape policy outcomes. Much political activity occurs in and over language. Taken-for-granted assumptions about the social world are reflected in the meaning of words. Political actors struggle to achieve definitional dominance by highlighting some meanings and marginalising others. The shifting semantics of the words 'dependence' and 'independence' have been central to official and feminist discourses about women, work, and welfare. The thesis chapters are chronologically ordered and aim to tell three inter-related stories. The first traces the shift from the Keynesian Welfare State to a neo-liberal/neo-conservative policy regime. The second examines feminist critiques of women's subordination within the patriarchal family from the 1970s. The third identifies shifting perspectives on 'dependence' and 'independence' up to the point where 'welfare dependency' becomes publicly defined as the central social problem. The thesis suggests that key political actors struggle for the right to define key words and concepts. The power to define social problems and their solutions is a function of the relative strength of dominant groups in capitalist society. At the same time, such power is potentially constrained by the counter-rhetorics of oppositional groups. Tracing the interweaving trajectories of feminism, neo-liberalism, and neo-conservatism suggests that the universe of 'welfare dependency' discourse has been circumscribed by the assumptions of liberal individualism and (neo-classical) economic rationality.
School Location:New Zealand
Source Type:Master's Thesis
Date of Publication:01/01/2001