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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The politics of deservingness: Discourses of gender, race, *class, and age in the 2005 Social Security debates
by Beechey, Susanne N., Ph.D., The George Washington University, 2008, 258; 3297154
Abstract (Summary)

This dissertation analyzes the 2005 Social Security debates as captured on the Congressional Record to articulate the politics of deservingness which characterizes contemporary Social Security policy debates. Using grounded theory method as a research framework, I perform a feminist discourse analysis of the 2005 Social Security policy debates to interrogate the ways in which socially constructed systems of power and difference such as gender, race, class, and age are functioning explicitly and silently in and around congressional debates on Social Security policy. The analysis is augmented by interviews with key informants from policy organizations involved in the 2005 debates.

I analyze the stories that members of Congress tell about Social Security recipients on the Congressional Record and find three distinctive types of stories—hypothetical, constituent and what I call "my family" examples. I then uncover the rhetorical face of Social Security as an elderly, white woman who is characterized as relying upon and deserving of the benefits she receives—the beloved mother or cookie-baking granny of a member of Congress. Next, by analyzing how deservingness is constructed and preserved on the floor of Congress through gender, race, class, and age, I articulate a fresh intellectual framework for understanding contemporary Social Security policy debates, by making an argument for what I term the politics of deservingness. While deservingness is the dominant discourse surrounding Social Security in 2005, I uncover a counter-discourse—the discourse of unfairness—which is constructed through gender, race, and age and emerges from policy organizations advocating for private accounts.

This dissertation contributes to the study of public policy by uncovering the dynamic and living ways discourses—such as the discourses of deservingness and generational fairness—structure policy debates, and also adds to our understanding of the important, though often difficult to discern, ways in which ideas about gender, race, class, and age impact public policy in the United States. The methodology offers a fresh approach to policy analysis while the substance contributes to scholarly literatures such as social construction of target populations, policy feedbacks, and comparative U.S. welfare state, as well as the substantive Social Security policy literature.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Kennelly, Ivy
Commitee: Cordes, Joseph, Morgan, Kimberly J.
School: The George Washington University
Department: Public Policy and Administration
School Location: United States -- District of Columbia
Source: DAI-A 69/02, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Womens studies, Political science, Public policy
Keywords: Age, Class, Congress, Deservingness, Feminist policy studies, Gender, Race, Social Security
Publication Number: 3297154
ISBN: 978-0-549-44575-3
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