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States of Dependency
Welfare, Rights, and American Governance, 1935–1972

$123.00 (C)

Part of Studies in Legal History

  • Date Published: April 2016
  • availability: Available
  • format: Hardback
  • isbn: 9781107076846

$ 123.00 (C)

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About the Authors
  • Who bears responsibility for the poor, and who may exercise the power that comes with that responsibility? Amid the Great Depression, American reformers answered this question in new ways, with profound effects on long-standing practices of governance and entrenched understandings of citizenship. States of Dependency traces New Deal welfare programs over the span of four decades, asking what happened as money, expertise and ideas travelled from a federal administrative epicenter in Washington, DC, through state and local bureaucracies, and into diverse and divided communities. Drawing on a wealth of previously un-mined legal and archival sources, Karen Tani reveals how reformers attempted to build a more bureaucratic, centralized and uniform public welfare system; how traditions of localism, federalism and hostility toward the 'undeserving poor' affected their efforts; and how, along the way, more and more Americans came to speak of public income support in the powerful but limiting language of law and rights. The resulting account moves beyond attacking or defending Americans' reliance on the welfare state to explore the complex network of dependencies undergirding modern American governance.

    • Offers a methodology for exploring the legal history of the 'age of statutes'
    • Challenges conventional depictions of the US welfare state by showing that government officials also used rights language to describe need-based income support ('welfare')
    • Enriches our understanding of the modern welfare rights movement by showing that rights language circulated earlier than scholars have thought
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    Reviews & endorsements

    "States of Dependency inverts the story of New Deal social benefits to provide a fresh perspective on the story of state-building. Tani explains how federal authorities relied on the language of rights to legitimize new programs, only to run afoul of local communities. This powerful book suggests how providing relief led to a stronger central government with the authority to scrutinize individual lives. I’m persuaded!"
    Alice Kessler-Harris, Columbia University, and author of In Pursuit of Equity: Women, Men and the Quest for Economic Citizenship in 20th-Century America

    "The publication of Karen Tani’s States of Dependency marks a new beginning in the history of the American welfare state. Deftly weaving together the techniques of social welfare history, legal history, the history of the state, and the history of administration, Tani offers an entirely new perspective on the persistence of poverty and the progress of social reform from the New Deal to the 1970s, from social security to the welfare rights movement. She tells the grand story of the rise (and fall?) of the American welfare state with expert attention both to complex matters of law and administration as well as to the everyday social struggles over issues of localism, needs, rights, race, gender, and inequality that basically define this important field of inquiry. This is bold and revisionist history in the traditions of Willard Hurst, Theda Skocpol, Michael Katz, and Jerry Mashaw."
    William Novak, University of Michigan

    "In this brilliant administrative history, Karen Tani traces the remaking of poor relief from the passage of the Social Security Act to the failure of a federally guaranteed minimum income. Centering our attention on the assumptions, commitments, and everyday actions of what might be thought of as the worker bees of the modern administrative state (the mid-level interpreters of statutes - here, lawyers, social workers, and other professionals who staffed the Social Security Administration and state and local level welfare offices) and the fulcrum of modern state power (federal matching grants which bound national, state, and local governments together in an uneasy embrace, a new fiscally-driven federalism), States of Dependency beautifully and powerfully captures the intricate web of dependencies, the mode of governance at the heart of the modern American state in the ‘age of statutes.’'
    Barbara Young Welke, University of Minnesota

    'This book is a useful study of changes in assistance provided to poor people between the New Deal era and 1972, focusing on themes such as the development of rights language during the 1930s; the role of the New Deal in re-arranging powers of local, state, and the national government in providing assistance; the increasing reliance on law and the courts to legalize relief; and how these changes contributed to the rise of the modern American government … Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through professionals.' J. P. Sanson, Choice

    … a profound and richly detailed reflection on the evolution of the right to government aid in the mid-twentieth-century United States … Tani’s approach teaches about more than welfare rights. It offers new insights into the history of the national government and its relationships to state, city, and local governments.' Annelise Orleck, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

    'If Karen Tani’s States of Dependency were a movie, we would describe it as a 'prequel'. It provides the backstory to the well-known tale of the emergence of the welfare rights movement in the 1960s. This book is impressive in many ways. Tani’s research is nothing less than extraordinary. … One of the greatest strengths of Karen Tani’s book is that it shows us in great detail how rights and federalism were interwoven during the first three decades of the American welfare state.' R. Shep Melnick, Publius: The Journal of Federalism

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    Product details

    • Date Published: April 2016
    • format: Hardback
    • isbn: 9781107076846
    • length: 428 pages
    • dimensions: 235 x 160 x 29 mm
    • weight: 0.75kg
    • contains: 9 b/w illus. 4 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    Part I: Introduction
    1. A new deal for poor relief? The modern American state and the endurance of the local
    2. An 'appeal to attitude': rights as an administrative tool
    3. Human needs and legal rights: competing visions of governance in 1940s welfare administration
    4. Claiming welfare rights: fair hearings, state-court claims, and a forgotten federal case
    Part II: Introduction
    5. Dependency and its discontents: the fractious politics of federal grants
    6. States' rights meet welfare rights: federal administrative enforcement in the age of rehabilitation and resistance
    7. Unsuitable homes, undeserving fathers, and the administrative origins of poverty law
    8. Subjects of the constitution, slaves to statutes: the judicial articulation of welfare rights
    Appendix. Figures and tables.

  • Author

    Karen M. Tani, University of California, Berkeley
    Karen Tani is Assistant Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley. Prior to joining the faculty at Berkeley, she received her J.D. and Ph.D. in history from the University of Pennsylvania and held prestigious fellowships at New York University and the University of Pennsylvania. Her work has appeared in leading law journals, including the Law and History Review and the Yale Law Journal, and has won awards from the American Society for Legal History, the Hellman Foundation, the William Nelson Cromwell Foundation, and the National Academy of Social Insurance. She coedits the Legal History Blog, the field's leading source for news and announcements.

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