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The Politics of Disgust

The Public Identity of the Welfare Queen

Ange-Marie Hancock

Publication Year: 2004

Winner of the 2006 Race, Ethnicity, and Politics Organized Section Best First Book Award from the American Political Science Association

Winner of the 2006 W.E.B. DuBois Book Award from the National Conference of Black Political Scientists

Ange-Marie Hancock argues that longstanding beliefs about poor African American mothers were the foundation for the contentious 1996 welfare reform debate that effectively "ended welfare as we know it." By examining the public identity of the so-called welfare queen and its role in hindering democratic deliberation, The Politics of Disgust shows how stereotypes and politically motivated misperceptions about race, class and gender were effectively used to instigate a politics of disgust.

The ongoing role of the politics of disgust in welfare policy is revealed here by using content analyses of the news media, the 1996 congressional floor debates, historical evidence and interviews with welfare recipients themselves. Hancock's incisive analysis is both compelling and disturbing, suggesting the great limits of today's democracy in guaranteeing not just fair and equitable policy outcomes, but even a fair chance for marginalized citizens to participate in the process.

Published by: NYU Press


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pp. vii


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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xii

I recognize that I am at this point by grace. Far too many begin the journey of writing a book only to have it remain unfinished for far too long. I am truly grateful to family, friends, and colleagues who have provided unflagging spiritual, emotional, editorial, and even financial support. Mentors near and far have shaped my work and commitment to an intellectual life with practical political applications. ...


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pp. xiii

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1 Introduction: The Face of Welfare Reform

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pp. 1-22

... If you close your eyes and picture Bertha Bridges, you envision a person “with issues.” Despite no overt reference to her economic class or race, “coded” categories abound, including welfare, a disruptive male child, unemployment, and nearly fifteen years of sporadic welfare dependency. We may blame the member of Congress for creating such an image, but

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2 Political Culture and the Public Identity of the “Welfare Queen”

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pp. 23-64

Evelyn White’s words reveal the widespread impact of the public identity of the “welfare queen,” beyond the lives of welfare recipients themselves. The consensus apparent among elites and dominant groups about welfare recipients is further echoed among American citizens (Gilens 2001; Cose 1999; Kinder and Sanders 1996). Yet the reality ...

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3 The News Media: Constructing the Politics of Disgust?

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pp. 65-87

The above epigraph, from one newspaper article in a survey sample of 149 such articles published in 1995–1996, puts the emotion of disgust at the forefront of the welfare reform debate. Although the 431- word article concerns the welfare system’s responsibility, it links the emotion of disgust and its purported origin in a failure of welfare recipients to conform with the American political value of hard work to a series of ...

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4 Public Discourse in Congress: Haunted by Ghosts of “Welfare Queens” Past

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pp. 88-116

The words of J. C. Watts, an African American congressman from Oklahoma, filled the halls of the Republican National Convention less than two weeks after passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996 (PRWA). This chapter looks at how political elites defined and debated welfare reform in 1996. ...

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5 Contending with the Politics of Disgust: Public Identity through Welfare Recipients’ Eyes

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pp. 117-137

I began this book with a portrait of Bertha Bridges, a Detroit welfare recipient whose life was “a nightmare”—her words. Congressman Scott McInnis (R-CO) used her story as an ideological justification for his ideas regarding welfare reform, not Bertha’s ideas about improving her life. I characterized this behavior as a perversion of democratic attention: employing the story of a less-empowered citizen to advance one’s ...

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6 The Dual Threat: The Impact of Public Identity and the Politics of Disgust on Democratic Deliberation

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pp. 138-151

The above comic strip1 presents one of the central political moments susceptible to the influence of public identity and the politics of disgust: the clash of citizens’ claims in the public sphere. Luther, the African American protagonist of Brumsic Brandon Jr.’s strip, voices a claim—that he was unable to get money from his mother—which is challenged by his White friend. ...

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7 Epilogue: Public Identity and the Politics of Disgust in the New Millennium

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pp. 152-157

In the context of this book, public identity limits and controls welfare recipients’ ability to develop the capacities cherished by “small-d” democrats who embrace the idea that political participation is both necessary for democracy and good for citizens. The results of stereotyping and judging people in a particular political context include control and limitation of a person’s self-determination as well as antidemocratic ...

Appendix A: Citations for News Media Data Set Analyzed in Chapter 3

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pp. 158-165

Appendix B: Congressional Record Documents Analyzed in Chapter 4

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pp. 166-167

Appendix C: Data Analysis Procedures

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pp. 168-183


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pp. 185-189


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pp. 191-202


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pp. 203-209

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About the Author

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pp. 210

Ange-Marie Hancock is Assistant Professor of Political Science and African American Studies at Yale University. Her research interests cross American politics and political theory, with an emphasis on intersecting identities. She conducted the original research and wrote the original proposal for the Women’s National Basketball Association. ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814744611
E-ISBN-10: 0814744613
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814736586
Print-ISBN-10: 0814736580

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2004