Journal of Community & Applied Social Psychology

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Volume 19 Issue 4 (July/August 2009), Pages 241-329

A life of ease and immorality: Health professionals' constructions of mothering on welfare (pages 257-270)


Mothering on welfare is often discussed as perpetuating disadvantage and discouraging individuals from meaningful social activity defined as paid employment. This is understood in the context of increasing commitment to a neo‐liberalist agenda, where people are viewed as autonomous individuals in a market economy, and unequal rewards within this economy are due to individual failings. The discourse analysis presented here examines how health professionals in New Zealand construct what it means to be a mother on welfare within the context of interviews on the health care needs of adolescent mothers. Mothering on welfare is predominantly described as transgressing social norms, where a life of ease is an indicator of immoral conduct and personal value is determined through education and employment. The welfare mother is also viewed as transgressing the norms of appropriate family structures and the sexual practices sanctioned within these structures. The legitimate work of mothering is absent in these accounts while the life of ease and plenty on welfare is made visible. These discourses draw attention to the ways in which welfare mothers are disqualified from neo‐liberal definitions of citizenship, and demonstrate how motherhood on welfare is regarded as undermining rather than contributing to society. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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