Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Public Policy (PhD)

Degree Level



Graduate School


Anna Zajicek

Committee Member

Yvette Murphy

Second Committee Member

Ed Bengtson


cultural narratives, social group coding, stereotypes, punitive polices, institutional narratives, federal programs


Responsible fatherhood legislation bridges the gap between two explicit family policies in order to serve fathers: The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996 and the Child Support Enforcement Act of 1975. Historically, these two polices have been racialized and discourse surrounding them may contribute to negative cultural formula stories about the primary targets of responsible fatherhood programs: low-income Black fathers.

The first article addresses the question of whether and how congressional discourse disrupts or legitimizes negative cultural formula stories about Black fatherhood. This study examines congressional discourse during hearings on fatherhood legislation. Members of congress legitimized cultural formula stories by constructing welfare fathers as deadbeats. Primary themes included serial illegitimacy and parental abandonment. Members of congress also disrupted cultural formula stories by constructing welfare fathers as dead broke.

The second article addresses the same question, but it is asked of the first Black President of the United States, Barack Obama. Presidential statements surrounding the unconcerned Black father served to reproduce negative cultural formula stories of Black fatherhood by depicting this kind of father as lazy, prone to fathering children with multiple women (serial illegitimacy), and disinterested in fatherhood overall. The institutionalized Black father embodies negative characteristics but his absence and instability stems from historical oppression and socio-economic disadvantages. In addition, it changes the single story often found in negative cultural formula stories of Black fatherhood. Lastly, the self-sacrificing Black father embodies Obama’s ideal characteristics of Black fatherhood by working tirelessly and sacrificing his own well-being for the betterment of his family.

The third article compares congressional and presidential discourse to better understand interpretive conflicts in the meanings of responsible fatherhood. Both members of congress and President Obama presented some negative cultural codes in their discourse on fathers. For members of congress, a large-scale demonstration project conducted with low-income, non-residential, non-custodial fathers helped to shift their cultural formula stories. On the other hand, President Obama’s in-group status allowed him to construct a more diverse spectrum of Black fatherhood.