Date of Graduation

7-2015

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Public Policy (PhD)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Political Science

Advisor

Anna M. Zajicek

Committee Member

Brinck Kerr

Second Committee Member

Valerie Hunt

Third Committee Member

Lori Holyfield

Abstract

Welfare drug testing was authorized by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996, and has subsequently garnered extensive legislative interest in numerous states. This policy raises several questions, which are the subjects of the two journal articles and one manuscript included in this dissertation.

The first article addresses the question of a possible confluence of War on Drugs and Welfare Reform policies as evidenced through welfare drug testing policy, and indicated by continuity in policymakers’ rhetoric. This study examines federal-level policymakers’ debate discourse in these two policy streams. The analysis finds themes of the social pathology, crime, drug addiction, and welfare dependency present in both policy areas, and comparable in both debates, supporting other studies discussing the convergence of criminal justice and welfare systems.

The second article examines the social construction of welfare recipients through state legislators’ public discourse on welfare drug testing. Proponent discursive statements outnumbered opponent statements nearly 5:1. Proponent discourse was overtly derogatory toward and disparaging of welfare recipients. Opponent discourse was generally more sympathetic and supportive of the target population. However, not all opponents were against welfare drug testing in principle or practice. The analysis demonstrates a strong negative construction of welfare recipients as deviants, and indeed as drug abusers.

The third manuscript examines the co-construction of policy discourse and race, class, and gender constructions of welfare recipients via state legislators’ welfare drug testing discourse. Using an intersectional perspective, this study examines how categories of race, class, and gender give meanings to policy discourses concerning drug testing of welfare recipients, and conversely, how policy discourses concerning welfare drug testing give meanings to categories of race, class, and gender. We find a move away from explicit racialized and gendered discourse toward implicit constructions of race and gender, and a virtually exclusive explicit focus on constructions of social class in the characterization of an unworthy, suspect, shiftless, and deviant poor population. The constructions of race, gender, and particularly social class effectively co-construct welfare drug testing discourse which justifies welfare drug testing policy in order to manage the derelict poor.