Anthropological research on welfare restructuring differs from most poverty research conducted by U.S. policy analysts and many other social scientists by its situating the study of welfare “reform” within an examination of the production of poverty and inequality at the center of the global system of advanced capitalism. In this review we examine urban poverty and welfare-state restructuring in relation to the ascent of neoliberalism, including the rise of market-oriented assumptions about social value, productivity, and investment that dominate civic life and public policy. We focus primarily, though not exclusively, on the United States. After a brief review of four theoretical frameworks that inform ethnographic research on welfare, we explore five approaches or themes in anthropological studies of welfare restructuring in the United States: () the ethnographic challenge to claims of policy success by documenting an unfolding crisis in social reproduction for the poor; () deconstructing the hegemonic discourse on welfare restructuring and juxtaposing it with the lived realities of impoverished households; () contesting and moving beyond the behaviorism of mainstream poverty research; () exploring the multiple perspectives of those differently situated within the welfare-state apparatus; and () theorizing the relationship between welfare restructuring and an eroding social citizenship of the poor. The analysis of gender, race, and, to a lesser extent, class is central to ethnographic research on welfare-state restructuring.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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