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Journal Article

The Agency of Welfare Workers: Negotiating Devolution, Privatization, and the Meaning of Self-Sufficiency

Sandra Morgen
American Anthropologist
Vol. 103, No. 3 (Sep., 2001), pp. 747-761
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the American Anthropological Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/683611
Page Count: 15
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The Agency of Welfare Workers: Negotiating Devolution, Privatization, and the Meaning of Self-Sufficiency
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Abstract

In this article I examine how the neoliberal agenda of downsizing the state and minimizing its role in regulating the market has shaped welfare policy and the work of welfare provision. Using a study of welfare reform in Oregon, I explore how the enactment of welfare-to-work policies positions workers to negotiate the ideological terrain of welfare reform and the conflicts that privatization and devolution generate in a social welfare context. Self-sufficiency, the professed goal of welfare-to-work programs, is a complex concept, saturated with ideological meaning. Examination of the work of welfare provision provides an opportunity to analyze how workers give meaning to self-sufficiency and construct their work as positive for the families they serve. However, high caseloads, unrealistic agency expectations, and conflicting mandates bear down hard on workers, creating disenchantment with agency policy and undermining workers' ability to meet clients' needs.

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