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“The state has replaced the man”: Women, family homes, and the benefit system on a council estate in England

Insa Koch

Keywords: BENEFIT SYSTEM; CITIZENSHIP; COUNCIL ESTATES; FAMILY HOMES; WOMEN

Abstract

This article offers an ethnographic analysis of everyday sociality and the welfare state on a council estate in England. Taking the case of means-tested benefits, it investigates how women's encounters with the welfare state come into conflict with their attempts to build and to maintain family homes. It argues that while the current benefit system offers women a minimum safety net, it also comes with a set of expectations about appropriate behavior that is contrary to the fluid and collaborative nature of women's daily lives. Although the article demonstrates that women contest the punitive effects of the policies by subverting the rules of the benefit system, ultimately it suggests that dependence on the benefit system is a deeply coercive experience. Overall, the article not only provides a critical commentary on current policy developments in Britain, but it also contributes more generally to anthropological challenges of normative models of citizenship.

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