Introduction
u
Welfare states everywhere are the targets of controversy. Crippling fina
cial strains and uneven demographic pressures are forcing all industria
ized nations to reevaluate the viability of their social welfare provision
Deep in the throes of a national debate, Americans have dramatical
overhauled the legislative edifice comprising the system we have com
to know as ‘‘welfare.’’ But nowhere else does ‘‘welfare’’ mean quite th
same thing as it does in the United States. Our system targets discre
segmentsofthenationalpopulationmorethanthecitizenryatlarge.Ou
debate focuses on the legacyof the New Deal and theWaron Povertyan
is rooted in what has been described as ‘‘a collapse of confidence in th
public sector.’’
1
Dependency on government programs is widely seen a
undermining family life and generating a social pathology among poo
young, unwed mothers. Discussions about human nature are frequen
and proposals are framed with the intent of transforming individual b
havior. In a nation that takes pride in its tradition of pragmatic conse
sual politics, the American debate on welfare reform has been unusual
probing and ideologically charged.
Whether referring to Europe or the United States, systems of publ
welfareareclearlymuchmorethanasetofregulationsdefiningeligibili
andpaymentschedules.Underlyingthesocialpoliciesofwelfarearedeep
seated,oftenunexaminedsuppositionsabouttherelationshipoftheind
vidual to society.Welfare has also acquired cultural meanings that exten
farbeyondtherealmofpublicpolicyandintotherealmofsocialimagin
tion,whereboundarylinesofclass,race,andgenderarefrequentlydraw
To reexamine welfare is to reexamine our identities as individuals and a
nations.
My purpose here is to explore the cultural underpinnings of anoth
system of welfare—the French welfare state—and to suggest that publ
2001.11.9
12:13
6493
Horn
e
/
A
SOCIAL
LABORATORY
FOR
MODERN
FRA
Previous Page Next Page