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Class and Gender Relations in the Welfare State: The Contradictory Dictates of the Norm of Female Autonomy

Delphine Serre ()
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Delphine Serre: Sorbonne Paris Cité, Paris Descartes University, CERLIS, 45 rue des Saints Pères, 75006 Paris, France

Social Sciences, 2017, vol. 6, issue 2, 1-10

Abstract: One debate among feminist scholars of the welfare state is whether it supports women’s subordination or emancipation. Since the 1980s, the French state apparatus has been experiencing a conflict of values, between feminism and familialism. The research presented here probed how these distinct institutional-level conceptions of gender might be manifest at the interactional level. Analysis is based on ethnographic research in four social service offices in France. The article explores the childrearing and behavioral norms that female social workers promote for mothers in regular contact with social services. It first shows how central the norm of female autonomy is in these social workers’ thinking, which in turn reveals their gendered expectations of the women they see, beyond their role of mother. It then demonstrates that this conception of female autonomy is closely tied to a class position, as it is a model from the middle classes. The article lastly examines how this unequal situation in terms of social class, but not of gender domination, influences professional practices relative to the working classes. Combining gender and class dimensions in analyzing interactions with the welfare state bureaucracy helps to identify the contradictions in the job of social worker, caught between the goal of emancipation and the mandate of social control.

Keywords: welfare state; social workers; France; female autonomy; familialism; gender relations; class relations; parental norms; child protection (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: A B N P Y80 Z00 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2017
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