The “Vaguest Notion of Poverty” and the Blindness of Welfare State Histories


Poverty and welfare policies have typically been crafted by people with little or no knowledge of the “practical strain of poverty,” and it is rare when those affected by such policies have a part in their creation; they have, moreover, had little or no voice in the telling of the history of their own lives and experiences. Given this, this essay suggests that instead of asking, how has welfare policy changed over time and why? as we have typically done, we might be better served as scholars and as activists by asking, how has the experience of being poor and in need of assistance changed over time? By doing that—by allowing the objects of policy to evaluate it, by making room for them to describe their own experience and then taking that “life knowledge” seriously, and by understanding this as expertise—a different story emerges, and a new kind of American welfare state history may be revealed.

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Journal of Poverty


Taylor & Francis

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