This essay focuses on a nationally touring installation entitled “The Missing Story of Ourselves: Poverty and the Promise of Higher Education.” This photographic and narrative exhibit—developed by low-income, student parents—presents complex, first-person views of what poverty and resistance through education look like from the inside out. In order to create a lens through which to view the exhibit, I analyze “stories” about poor women and welfare produced in contemporary political/public rhetoric and imagery, identifying a circuit through which bodies are represented and understood to mesh with dominant ideology; ideology in turn shapes and underwrites public policy; and public policy leaves its marks on the bodies of poor single mothers who are then interpreted as pathological “others” in need of further public and material control. Ultimately, I argue that only by trying our hand at more accountable forms of self-representation—as is the case in the exhibit—can we hope to disrupt this ubiquitous, self-replicating, and nearly impenetrable cyclical force of power, and in doing so redirect the policy that has such a profound and devastating impact on poor women and children in the contemporary United States.


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