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Lessons of Welfare: Policy Design, Political Learning, and Political Action

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  01 August 2014

Joe Soss*
American University


This article explores the links between welfare participation and broader forms of political involvement. Adopting a political learning perspective, I present evidence that policy designs structure clients' program experiences in ways that teach alternative lessons about the nature of government. Through their experiences under a given policy design, welfare clients develop program-specific beliefs about the wisdom and efficacy of asserting themselves. Because clients interpret their experiences with welfare bureaucracies as evidence of how government works more generally, beliefs about the welfare agency and client involvement become the basis for broader political orientations. I conclude that the views of government that citizens develop through program participation help explain broader patterns of political action and quiescence.

Copyright © American Political Science Association 1999

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