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‘Discuss the claims that social policy constructs personal lives’
In evaluating the evidence that social policy constructs personal lives, it is necessary to explain the terms ‘social policy’ and the ‘personal’ as they are both imbued with ambiguity and complexity. For example, the meanings inherent in social policy can be understood two-fold as both sets of government policies which have specific aims or intended outcomes as well as the academic study of such policies in relation to their causes and consequences. Thus the ‘policy’ and the ‘social’ can be separated to determine greater understanding when discussing the interaction between personal lives and social policy. The complexity of the ‘personal’ lies in that it is not simply the intimate aspects of someone’s life but that it is a multi-layered reflection of wider influences, such as sexuality, age, emotions, friends, family, social networks and societal expectations. Thus while it will be argued that social policy constructs personal lives, evidence will be produced to illustrate that it is not a one-way top-down process, but a multi-directional interplay of interactions between the two as they collide at different times and locations at the three levels of mutual constitution; the individual/psychic level; the service user level; the national level. As a result, by means of resistance, challenge or negotiation, the ‘personal’ both, individually or collectively not only impacts upon, but also has consequences for, social policy in ways that partially shapes or constructs the other thus forming new or different policies. This complex process of mutual constitution, will be expanded upon in context to reveal this relationship at the individual and psychic level, the service-user level whereby it effects the ‘personal’ of welfare professionals, and the national level.
The primary focus of this discussion relates children and young people and their issues in the context of ‘sexuality’ and ‘care’ although this will inevitably overlap with ‘work’ and ‘citizenship’ as multiple sets of relationships and sites of policy intervention are revealed such as the family, health and social care. Further to this, I will apply evidence from my own qualitative research which was compiled from two interviews with an adult care-giver (Brennan, 2008b) and a young care-recipient in a children’s residential home (Brennan, 2008c). The focus on children and young people will also be further analysed through the lens of poststructuralism and feminism although again, there will be overlapping elements of Marxism and psychoanalysis imbedded within the discussion. These perspectives when viewed through their various theoretical lenses help to provide a more multi-dimensional view of how social policy is experienced in its mutual constitution with more diverse subject-positions occupied by ‘personal’ lives. In taking on a more subjective view it reveals how and in what ways social policy is inclusive to some and exclusionary to others triggering challenges, negotiations and resistance. The conclusion will indicate that while there is evidence that social policy constructs personal lives, the challenges, negotiations and resistance or what Lewis and Fink conceptualise as ‘excess’, ensures that the ‘personal’ both collectively and individually also constructs social policy thus ensuring that the dynamic processes of society are constantly evolving and producing what one hopes will be positive and equal social change (Lewis and Fink, 2004, ‘Course Companion’, p.22).
When conceptualising care from a poststructural perspective, its meanings become fluid and unstable as continuity and change informs the mutual constitution of care policies and the ‘personal’ of both caregivers and receivers. As Fink (2004) argues, the normative assumptions about care practises, identities and locations are challenged because care is dependent upon the discursive properties inherent at the various levels of care both as a provision and as a recipient (Fink, 2004, ‘Care’, p.3). Care is relational and reciprocal and often perceived as an unspoken, unwritten taken-for-granted aspect of the everyday on many levels. In reality however, the giving and receiving of ‘care’ can be a burden to some, a source of discomfort for others, and a site of oppression for many. This is because levels of care vary in different situations and for different actors as the overlapping dualisms of male/ female, adult/child, private/ public, paid/ unpaid, deserving /undeserving inform political agendas that shape ‘care’ policies.
Such dualisms are explained by Foucault’s (1970) poststructural analysis in how language is utilised to define the differences between the dominant norms and those which stand outside the accepted criteria (Fink et al. 2004, Course Companion, p.62). In other words, something is defined by what it is not – for example, it is light simply because it is not dark. Similarly this is exacerbated and utilised discursively in relation to class, ‘race’, gender, age and disability. Thus a suitable place to commence a discussion about the mutual constitution of policies surrounding care and its interaction with the ‘personal’ of children and young people lies within the home – the family.
Poststructuralism reveals how the normative assumptions surrounding the caring identity is gendered and subsequently ‘naturalised’ into a traditional female role. Thus the dominant identity of carer of children within the family is generally the mother – an unpaid, taken-for-granted given role based upon the essentialist model of the biological attributes and ability to give birth. As Foucault (1979) argues the subject-position of mother is not rooted in biology, but discursively rooted in culture and history.
Similarly, a feminist analysis argues that the so-called ‘natural’, ‘caring disposition’ of women is a myth stemming from the post-war Beveridgean welfare state which claimed to privilege married woman by enabling them to stay at home full-time and raise the children while caring for their husbands. If they do not fit with the these norms then they are deemed as bad mothers as expressed by one of my interviewee’s in my own research when he declared that in four months;
“I have only seen my mum once since I moved in here, and then she just dropped in last February, it was not an arranged visit or anything” (Brennan, 2008c).
Here, the mother is negatively perceived, thus it is with certain irony that despite no mention of his father, the status of men remains greater than that of women. For example the construction of the homemaker/carer/ within the nuclear family norms was enabled based upon their husband’s contributions to the state. However, feminists argue this served only to restrain and subordinate women further by extending their dependency. The home became the site of oppression and struggle which the second and third wave feminists have sought to ameliorate as subordinate female positions shifted ‘paid’ work to one that is ‘unpaid’ ‘work’ within the construction of the nuclear family. However, when those dominant nuclear family norms and values are destabilised, the assumption is that it is anything but ‘normal’ and considered a threat to the welfare of children and young people. This demonstrates how the ‘personal’ in its collective form as inherent in all New Social Movements of ‘race’ and disability among others, produces social change as it impacts on social policy in the implementation of excess against these norms and values.
Demonstrating the psychic element of the ‘personal’, a poststructural analysis argues that such normative assumptions of childcare are internalised which is evident when Carabine (2004) draws on the personal narrative of Max, for whom, a heterosexual marriage stood outside of his comfort zone. However, social policy dictated his public heterosexuality based upon learned expectations which relates to what Lewis & Fink (2004) argue are processes of non-identification, are commonplace within both racialized and sexualised discourses, as they subsequently trigger the expansion of the ‘personal’ to wider social relations in a bid to find a collective socio-cultural identity and meaning outside of the psyche.
Closely related to postructuralism, a psychoanalytic lens reveals that being physically in but not of the imagined community negatively affects the ‘personal’ in lacking any sense of belonging (Carabine, 2004, ‘Sexuality’, p.5). Meanings produce assumptions which, in identifying Max as a homosexual ensured he exercised what Lewis conceptualised as passing, as deviating from the heterosexual ‘norm’ is problematized indicating the inequalities of citizenship and social power derived from the ‘hierarchical ordering of difference’ (Lewis, 2004, ‘Citizenship’, p.20). This demonstrates how social policy produces normative assumptions that identified the signifying practices that placed Max outside of the hegemony of heteronormative nuclear family. Marriage is an expected trajectory in life’s path, which he obligated through denial of his own private emotions and self-identification. While, his dream of becoming a father was realised, the marriage ended upon meeting a man and embracing his homosexuality. This dispels two myths, as Max resistance to the dominant norms ensured that heonly became full-time carer to his children but also his wife had not taken to motherhood so enthusiastically and therefore became the part-time mother with fortnightly access (Rice, 2002:p.27, in Carabine, 2004, p.5). Max states that even in 2002 it remains unusual for men to be the primary care-giver.
Carabine (2004) argues that the notion of sexuality maintains the heteronormative assumptions that heterosexual intercourse occurs in the private sphere, within the legally binding contract of marriage. Children born out of wedlock or the victims of divorce are therefore excluded from certain social policies such as decent housing and education or simply enough money to lead a life similar to their peers which negatively impacts on their ‘personal’. Despite this, marriage is historically and socially specific and therefore continues to discursively subordinate the personal lives of women and children in the private sphere in the policies made by men, for men, in the male dominated public sphere.
One such policy ‘Every Child Matters’(2003) focuses on a different element of private and informal methods of care within the home and unpaid, which are an ongoing concern for many British families. While the policy pledges to reward informal carers as being an asset to society, parents of disabled children are, it claims, not using local authority direct payments. However, the policy then states that many local authorities are reluctant to administer direct payments. The ambiguity of direct payments is evident when used by the middle classes who already possess the cultural capital to secure the best care and the ability to cover any financial shortfall. In contrast, the working class, direct payments would be frugal to prevent over-expenditure, thereby potentially excluding their child from all the care available. This again indicates a poststructural perspective as it demonstrates how knowledge is in fact power. When coupled with issues of guilt about hiring a stranger to care for their disabled child, psychoanalytic issues re-emerge in this mutual constitution at the individual level and at the service-user level because for the carer, inflicting pain on a child in need of treatment triggers a defence mechanism that blocks awareness of their pain, which, Mawson argues, prevents job satisfaction. As such, as well as infantalizing clients, many caring practises deny dignity, privacy, and autonomy to the client, affecting their ‘personal’, as care becomes a public issue(1994, p.68, in Fink, 2004, ‘Care’, p.22)..
Similarly, the feminization of care is embedded in discourses of sexuality as male carers doing ‘women’s work’ are assumed to be gay; therefore they are considered to possess ulterior motives – a gender differential that affects the ‘personal’ of men with potentially serious consequences. This no doubt was an issue that underpinned my first interviewee’s lack of success in his attempts to work with social care;
“It was something that always interested me I suppose, while I was working I decided to do some volunteer work and liked it, so decided that I would like to continue in the care area (Brennan, 2008b).
“I went for an interview and thought I did well, (…) to be honest I was very pleased with myself and thought I had a good chance of getting the job, unfortunately (laugh) that was not the case, they phoned me to say that I was unsuccessful but they did offer me relief work instead which I took, from there I got my foot inside the door of Social Care” (ibid).
Indeed it has recently been mediated that there is a stark absence of male teachers within the primary education sector, but with assumptions such as these ensuring that the negative thinking surrounding the mutual constitution of male teachers and current policies then it is not surprising. However, it is apparent that social policies on for example discipline, falls to the male teacher who is often isolated by gender due to the vast majority being female. To be the sole person administering punishments to naughty boys has a negative impact on the ‘personal’ of both the male teacher and the one being punished in this unofficial mutual constitution (new.bbc.co.uk).
However, the feminization of care is turned on its head when adults needing care are the focus as young people and children are conveniently situated to take on the caring role – free of charge (Fink et al., 2004).The policy highlights their plight and insists local authorities must assist, but in reality they are merely enable without any form of advertisement to ensure awareness of the provision, therefore little assistance is forthcoming as local authorities are keen to maintain low budgets which they depend on young carers to ensure. Furthermore, the likelihood of benefit dependency maintains material inequalities that further exclude young carers from the lifestyles of their peers. Their caring duties also impinge on education and leisure – deemed by the Green Paper as essential for their future in terms of growth, socialization, mental health and their future. However, veiled threats for parents of truants and offenders are revealed if they fail to accomplish this end as the mutual constitution of social policies and the personal of young carers renders them at risk and vulnerable to attack, by definition which serves to facilitate the intervention of Social Services, the irony of who, although not universal – are mostly women. The issuing of compulsory parenting orders that claim to halve re-offending, can also remove children from the family home – thus echoing the past.
Indeed my own qualitative research indicates how this works in practise and demonstrates how lived experiences of personal lives is impacted upon by social policy as they become mutually constituted. For example, the sixteen–year-old resident of a care home was clearly unhappy with the way policies were implemented stating his distaste of social work intervention and his disappointment of his mother when stating;
“Yeah well the Social Worker found where I was staying and refused to allow me to stay there.. My mother agreed to a voluntary Care Order… because they [social workers]are interfering so and so’s who think they know what is good for me” (emphasis added)(Brennan, 2008c). However, upon critical analysis of my research methods I also realise that my role as a residential care worker shaped the outcome in negative ways firstly by declaring that employed subject-position and then by offering advice:
“All I can say is that you should take what ever is out there in the way of help and make it work for you” (Brennan, 2008c).
Also in response to my question on the adequacy of care he stated;
“What care? Staff don’t f…..g care” (Brennan, 2008c).
I replied with:
“ Now W I am sure that is not true, perhaps you feel that staff don’t care maybe because it is not the type of care that you are looking for” (Brennan, 2008c).
While this demonstrates the need for reflexivity in terms of ensuring an objective approach is implemented by the researcher putting their own feelings to one side, it is illustrative of the difficulties of conducting qualitative research through semi-structured interviews to produce an empirical and valid contribution about the social world. Even classic sociologists such as Durkheim (1964), who once claimed that an experiment produced social ‘fact’ if the experiment when repeated twice produced the same outcome, was later reflexive about this upon the realisation that no research whether quantitative or qualitative can ever be value-free (in Churchill, 2004, RAAB; Part 3, 2004, p.55). Similarly, in my semi-structured interviews with a residential care manager his responses indicated that he was responding only in ways that did not reflect negatively on himself. This indicates that despite the best efforts of the researcher, the interviewee will only impart with what he he/she wants you to know, and not necessarily what the researcher should or wants to know. Despite this, measures are taken to prevent subjective shaping of the researcher such as in Goldson’s research – although again, it can never be deemed as value-free despite his lengthy experience.
Nevertheless, Goldson (2004) argues these mixed messages by the social workers and by the spoken word of children in care reveals that childhood is socially constructed towards legitimizing the control of children. Again, this is discursively produced as two centuries ago, children were treated as adults until philanthropists’ and reformists’ reconstructed the childhood discourse through interventionist methods that removed children from the streets and ‘dysfunctional’ families. They were then institutionalized, until reforms by the self-proclaimed ‘public mother’ Mary Carpenter, orchestrated the emergence of ‘institutional schools’ (2004, ‘Care’ p.88). Prior to this there was little distinction between ‘deprived’ victims in need of care, and ‘depraved’ threats in need of control, as they were placed together often within adult prisons (Carpenter, 1853, in Goldson, 2004:p.88). Similarly, the Green Paper targets families deemed unable to care adequately for children revealing how the earliest reformers constructed the idealized image of the family as a self-regulating entity.
As Goldson argues, children today are constructed via inter-generational differentiation from adults, but are then further differentiated on an intra-generational level in terms of social divisions (2004: ‘Care’, p.81). The pluralism of British society problematizes any generalization of children in ways that the Green Paper states – instead they are categorised according to class, gender, and ‘race’. Goldson places the care and control theory in the context of Victoria Climbé who was represented as a deprived victim who was in need of care (2004, ‘Care’, p.83). However, the language employed surrounding children shifts as textual connotations mediated in another headline constitutes children as depraved ‘thugs’ in need of control (ibid). This shapes public opinion, constructs negative identities and stereotypes that legitimize the dichotomy of deserving/undeserving and subsequent punishment. Thus, as Cohen argues, the overlapping parameters of care and control are inseparable (Cohen, 1985, p.2, in Goldson, 2004, ‘Care’, p.85).
Continuing the poststructuralist view of Goldson’s research argues that the institutional fix is equal for both for victims and threats in contemporary Britain (2004, ‘Care’, p.87). He focuses on the gender differentials as a disproportionate number of boys are incarcerated within youth offender’s institutions towards protecting the community, whereas girls tend to go into secure accommodation towards protecting themselves, which is evident in the extracts reference the provision of childcare for teenage parents returning to education – implicating that in their premature maturity resulting from caring for parents is evidence of embarking prematurely on sexual relationships (ibid). This again is discursively constructed as historically girls were locked up for sexual misconduct, revealing the heteronormative continuity and protectionist discourses.
This is closely examined in Thomson’s (2004) research on sex education within schools which takes a feminist view that girls are responsible for avoiding pregnancy as well as ensuring the sexual health of both herself and her partner (Thomson, 2004, ‘Sexuality’, p.103). The study revealed that the power imbalance between the genders discouraged the female’s insistence on using condoms for two reasons – not wanting to gain a bad reputation; and admitting that the transition to sexual activity was taking place (ibid.). Thus risks were taken all too often.
Goldson’s study of secure accommodation reveals contradictory personal narratives of both those being cared for, and their adult carers. One girl admitted she would not be alive now if she had not be taken into care, while another declared she could look after herself thus they had no right to lock her up as she had coped alone for years. While this demonstrates Higgins’ (1988) claim that while the personal is unique, it is also mirrored and experienced by others, thus not an individualistic phenomenon (Higgins,1998, pp.3-4 in Lewis & Fink, 2004,p.22). Nevertheless, both accounts were mirrored by their respective care workers (Goldson, 2004, ‘Care’. pp.99-101). Here, control is paramount to care.
A Marxist analysis of teen pregnancy would argue that lone mothers are both the consumers and producers of welfare in their provision of the future child-bearers and workforce of Britain. However, the restrictions imposed on young women today is discursively imbedded in the past as the Poor Laws of 1838 dictated in its claims that illegitimacy was indisputably the fault of the young female because “continued illicit intercourse has, in almost all cases, originated with the mother” (Extract 1.16, The New Poor Law View, 1938, in Carabine, ‘Sexuality’, 2004, p.39).
For example, qualitative research data on teenage conceptions linked poverty to teenage pregnancy (Thomson, 2004, p99). However, there was no consideration of what Bourdieu (1977) termed the ‘logic of practice’ for these teenagers, as the choices they make, which make sense to them, were influenced by local cultural and social class values which may see parenthood as a sign of maturity and in many ways the only route to adulthood (cited in Thomson, 2004, p96). While the ‘logic of practise’ is a convincing argument, it fails to mention how the rate of abortion for middle class girls far exceeds that of working class girls. Nevertheless, these values provided teenagers with the resources to resist, or apply ‘excess’ to the powerful effects of normalising social policy and their subject position within it (Lewis & Fink, 2004, p23). Thus, these teenagers are active agents rather than passive recipients of policy discourse, and do not recognise this discourse that views teenage pregnancy as problematic, as being applicable to them (Carabine, 2004, p33).
In contrast to the control of girls, care for boys is constructed in ways that control as Goldson’s research into young offender’s institutions embraced a different discourse – fear. Rape, beatings, extortion, and suicide were prevalent according to all the boys. This represents what Higgins’ (1988) claims that collective understanding is viewed both socially and historically which were evident in the interpellation that provided understanding of their sense of self. However, the narratives of the prison officers revealed a language shift in that child abuse claims was redefined as bullying. The mutual constitution of new social policies and the personal lives of these boys were negatively impacted, exacerbated by the resistance of staff to implement the new policy that all new inmates require proper care and counselling upon arrival. That it was never met, shows how the mutual constitution at the service-user level can become complex and dangerous as the staff’s ability to detach themselves from the caring role protected their own ‘personal’ by activating their defence mechanisms before crossing the public/private boundary to freedom at the end of the working day(ibid. pp.101-5).
However, as Goldson (2004) argues, a Marxist element is more than present in the discourse of ‘care’ relating to children as all prisons in the last decade have been built by private corporations. Similarly the adult interviewee in my research stated that:
“In the last year the number of Residential Homes have doubled, mmm new homes are opening every week, so therefore it will take longer to get around to inspecting all of the homes” (Brennan, 2008b).
This could explain the need for Goldson to bring to our attention the U-Turn regarding Tony Blair’s pledge in 1999 to “eradicate child poverty”, which shifter two years later to how we must “catch, convict, punish and rehabilitate young offenders” (Blair, 1999/2000, quoted in Goldson, 2002d: p.687). This being a complete U-turn also on the Children’s Act 1989 which claims that every child has the right to a happy and loving childhood within the care of their families.
In conclusion, it is evident that the mutual constitution of social policy and personal lives concerning sexuality and care is experienced in vastly differing ways when applying it to children and young people. This is made more apparent through the use of theoretical perspective as it provides multi-dimensional perspectives of how policies are experienced according to various levels of diversity showing therefore how this impacts upon status and citizenship. While all these critical approaches have been applied to a variety of care and sexuality discourses, they can only produce a snapshot of the social world, however, the value of research in collective forms help us to understand in part, the epistemological and substantive nature of how social policies are constantly challenged by personal lives at the psychic, individual and collective levels including by welfare professionals at the service-user level. Social policy, within the content of this essay seeks solely to enforce social control and economic gain by defining and redefining the shifting boundaries of power in its mutual constitution with personal lives. However, the claim that social policy constructs social lives is not as substantive as the very fact they are constantly evolving is due to the continuing challenge, negotiation, resistance and excess employed by personal lives – no matter how miniscule.
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4,707 words with 700 extra words to assist the client with greater understanding of the wider aspect of mutual constitution.
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