Welfare And Power: More Harm Than Good?

1003 words - 4 pages

In her article, "To Fulfill Their `Rightly Needs': Consumerism and the National Welfare Rights Movement," Felicia Kornbluh reflects on the relationship between welfare departments and the lower class recipients. Noting the battle over the content of the budget between beneficiaries of welfare and authorities (Kornbluh, 94), Kornbluh points to "fair hearings" as a solution to disputes (97). Yet, the hearings may amount to nothing due to the fact that the same authorities concerned in the battle also run the hearings, thereby creating a struggle of power between recipients and welfare departments. Theorists Michel Foucault and Emile Durkheim analyze the function of power in relation to the welfare state in order to determine the successfulness and legitimacy of welfare.

Foucault argues that because authority stems from relationships, one must work and try to gain dominance over others regardless of the social class he resides in so as to gain power. He asserts, ."..power...is produced from one moment to the next...in every relation from one point to another" (93). Therefore, groups such as the welfare departments, caseworkers, and even merchants can hold power over the lower class based solely on the ability to dominate the relationship between themselves and welfare recipients. Both welfare departments and caseworkers allocate money to the low-income citizens in need of money and, as a result have the ability to sustain dominance. Merchants also exploit these consumers by using "hard sells, high prices, poor merchandise and...very high rates of interest" (Kornbluh 82). Furthermore, "Power is everywhere; not because it embraces everything, but because it comes from everywhere" (Foucault, 93). Thus, society should not blame welfare departments or merchants for dominating or taking advantage of members with a low socio-economic status. Welfare beneficiaries themselves perpetuate the problem by creating a dependence on welfare departments. Recipients cannot dominate the relationship between themselves and welfare departments or merchants and thus must concede all power to these groups. Foucault would argue that this dependence on the system creates no motivation in welfare recipients to better themselves or rise in society and therefore devalues the fundamental ideals of welfare. Although Kornbluh claims that "Fair hearings, trial-like administrative procedures...became a particularly effective back up tool for protests over the budgeting decisions of local welfare department" (97), such "fair hearings" may not produce any results. These "trial-like...procedures" favor caseworkers and welfare departments who essentially run the hearings and can choose to make the same decisions previously made and deny any appeals, as occurred in the case of Margaret Hayes (Kornbluh, 98). The "fair hearings" may not provide lower-class citizens in need of the money to raise themselves up to a fair level of standards and therefore...

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