Welfare Reform and Abstinence-Only Sex Education: The Discursive Production of American Ideal Citizenship



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WELFARE REFORM AND ABSTINENCE-ONLY SEX EDUCATION: THE DISCURSIVE PRODUCTION OF IDEAL CITIZENSHIP Meredith Munn What does it mean to be an American? This query speaks to the heart of American identity: who belongs, and how do we know if they do not? I explore citizenship not as a natural category, but rather as the operation of complex power dynamics. This project examines the ways in which knowledge about American citizenship is produced, reinforced, and institutionalized through public discourse and governing institutions. Because the family is one institution through which ideals of citizenship and United States national identity have historically been articulated (Chauncey 2004, 64), this institution offers a unique opportunity to understand how knowledge of citizenship is produced in contemporary U.S. society. Central to my analysis of citizenship through the family are two programs at the forefront of U.S. domestic policy: welfare programs and abstinence-only sex education programs. While these two programs are legislatively constituted, non-governmental involvement in the form of mass media, public opinion, and other popular discourses have been equally instrumental in shaping them. Both programs draw on the institution of the family in their legislative stipulations and implementation. Analyzing axes of identity such as race, class, gender, and sexuality, I enlist three prominent characters, the Welfare Queen, the Deadbeat Dad, and the Promiscuous Teen, in my exploration of the ways in which citizenship is constructed through welfare and abstinence sex education programs. Using a paradigmatic analysis, I treat each character as a myth which generates an implicit opposition, also suggesting what it is not (Berger 1998, 21). These unarticulated oppositions are discursive entities which play a role in generating knowledge about the meaning of citizenship. I conclude that the proliferation of discourses about family and tradition veil the operations of power which construct American ideal citizenship. I am interested in the extent to which each program deploys Foucauldian technologies of governance (Miller and Rose 1989; 1991, 183), and the ideological work that this governance performs. Of particular interest is the role of public education according to Althusser s notion of the Ideological State Apparatus (1971, 143-7, 152, 156) through which abstinence sex education programs are used to indoctrinate students into seeing the world a certain way and accepting particular roles within that world. Because of the dominance of the Christian Right in contemporary U.S. political and social life, the production, institutionalization, and indoctrination of family-centered citizenship knowledge has led to the naturalization and solidification of conservative norms. Contemporary anxieties about families therefore speak to the high stakes conservatives have in maintaining a particular brand of Americanism.



sexism, race, class, gender, sexuality, family, abstinence, sex education, welfare, welfare reform, citizenship, Americanism