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Battered Black Women and Welfare Reform

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Dana-Ain Davis

Publication Year: 2006

This timely and compelling ethnography examines the impact of welfare reform on women seeking to escape domestic violence. Dána-Ain Davis profiles twenty-two women, thirteen of whom are Black, living in a battered women’s shelter in a small city in upstate New York. She explores the contradictions between welfare reform’s supposed success in moving women off of public assistance and toward economic self-sufficiency and the consequences welfare reform policy has presented for Black women fleeing domestic violence. Focusing on the intersection of poverty, violence, and race, she demonstrates the differential treatment that Black and White women face in their entanglements with the welfare bureaucracy by linking those entanglements to the larger political economy of a small city, neoliberal social policies, and racialized ideas about Black women as workers and mothers.

Published by: State University of New York Press

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pp. ix-xi

August 2005 marks the ninth anniversary of Congressional passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA), popularly known as “welfare reform.” Despite repeated claims by key policymakers that welfare restructuring (the term “reform” is a misnomer) is a...

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pp. xiii-xiv

Professors Shirley Lindenbaum, Leith Mullings, and Ida Susser were instrumental in guiding me through graduate school and the first draft of this book, which was my dissertation. Thank you for seeing me through it...

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pp. 1-11

When I arrived in a city I am calling Laneville, New York, in February 1998, the volume was rising about the implementation and restrictive nature of welfare reform. And, although battered women’s advocates were challenging the implications of the policy, I was not focused on the issue. Without fully...

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1. Three Women

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pp. 13-34

Contemporary research suggests that Black women experience violence to a greater degree than other women, that they are more vulnerable to control by the state, and that they make up the largest percentage of women on welfare, although not the highest number. This percentage is in relation to the total...

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2. Regulating Women’s Lives

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pp. 35-51

At its inception in 1935, the welfare state provided an infrastructure intended to “maintain families, the labor force and the general welfare of society” through the systematic redistribution of working people’s income to those who were not employed (Abramovitz 1996: 215). The programs filled in as a...

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3. Oh Sister, Shelter Me

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pp. 53-65

In many ways this is a multisited ethnography, taking place in Angel House Shelter, the city of Laneville, and the River Valley Department of Social Services. Sometimes each of these entities felt like separate spheres with their own logic of control. For example, Angel House has rules and regulations that organize...

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4. Ceremonies of Degradation

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pp. 67-88

Battered women’s experiences with control do not end when they leave their batterer but continue after they have left those violent situations to set up households apart from their batterers. While some recognize the role of welfare as a way for battered women to secure economic and social independence...

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5. No Magic in the Market

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pp. 89-111

The cornerstones of the Personal Responsibility and Work Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) are by now well known. Its most stringent directive is the requirement that people on welfare work or be engaged in work-related activities, a mandate that was proposed as a panacea to force the...

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6. The Theater of Maternal and Child-care Politics

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pp. 113-131

It took two months for Iliana and I to finally meet because, when one of the advocates suggested that I talk with her about her experiences with social services, she was in the last trimester of a difficult pregnancy. I wanted to speak with her because I had been told that her interactions with social...

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7. There’s No Place (Like Home)

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pp. 133-152

Due to women’s experience with violence, they were forced to leave their homes, having effectively been evicted in order to save their own lives and those of their children. The women who left their abusers and are on welfare need housing assistance in order to set up households. Until they are...

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8. Strategic Missions

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pp. 153-178

Limited access to resources stimulates the development of survival strategies to make up for scarcity. When the solution to poverty is market based, and the market deepens one’s poverty, survival becomes germane. In the absence of realizing security through the state, women attempt to stabilize fluctuations...

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9. Meticulous Rituals of Power and Structural Violence

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pp. 179-186

Historically welfare programs were implemented with the intent of protecting citizens against the fluctuations of life in an industrial society. Yet history has shown that welfare has not fully lived up to this intent. Policies and programs within welfare have regulated various aspects of social...


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pp. 187-192


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pp. 193-207


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pp. 209-215

E-ISBN-13: 9780791481301
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791468432
Print-ISBN-10: 0791468437

Page Count: 229
Illustrations: 1 table
Publication Year: 2006

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Welfare recipients -- United States.
  • Abused women -- United States.
  • African American women.
  • Public welfare -- United States.
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