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Unformatted text preview: REFLECTIONS/ ~ HISTORIQUES nterested in representation and commemoration, and our om a Native American pictograph commemorating the >erior by the Shamaan Myeengun and a party ofManitous. GENDER, STATE AND SOCIETY: ADEBATE WITH THEDA SKOCPOL )RE ... erdisciplinary Framework rt, Literature and the Social Sciences :ultural-Intellectual History :re Religion and History Meet PROTECTING SOLDIERS AND MOTHERS (CAMBRIDGE: HARVARD UNIVERSITY PRESS, 1992) LINDA GORDON ~tion: The Transition of French Politics at the End of the ury & Uses of the Past Self-Destruction in Paris in the First Half of the 19th Noble Widows & Land in 13th-Century Britain Ecological Mythhistory :The Problem of Memory in Historical Psychology he Frontiers of Experience: Merleau-Ponty & Irigaray '{Ues": Author-Publisher Relations in Fin-de-Siede France ~e times a year with an annual subscription rate of md $24 for individuals. In the spirit of Contention, Theda Skocpol and I agreed to debate about different approaches to welfare history. We decided to organize our discussion around my review of her book and her response, and it is a challenge and a pleasure for me to engage in this exchange with a scholar of Skocpol's high caliber. This background explains the construction in what follows of a deliberately polarized argument. In our interpretations of the development of public provision in the Progressive era and after, and in our political leanings regarding social policy today, I suspect that we agree far more than we disagree. For example, we position the Social Security Act as the product of a history of welfare policy, not as a de novo result of the Depression. We both find that organized white women reformers had a substantial influence on this history. We both attribute significance to absences, noting missed opportunities in the early twentieth century. But the purpose of this exchange is to identify and explore intellectual differences so as to reveal the assumptions behind dissimilar approaches and the complexities of historical interpretation. Hence, this is not a general review or even a review essay trying to offer a balanced .ECTIONS/REFLEXIONS HISTORIQUES :tudies, Kanakadea Hall Contention, Vol. 2, No.3, Spring 1993 140 LINDA GORDON characterization of the book. It is an essay focused exclusively on substantive and methodological differences. For over a decade, Theda Skocpol has been making an important contribution to historical sociology in building a theory and practice of incorporating the state into explanatory problems. Labelled sometimes with Skocpol's phrase "Bringing the State Back In," sometimes as a "new institutionalism," the perspective expresses a critique of social-history and historical-sociology work that exaggerates societal and understates political influence. Her influential paradigm stimulated both emulation and criticism. Last fall she published a book, Protecting Soldiers and Mothers, on the development of social policy (what I would call welfare policy) from the Civil War pensions to the Sheppard-Towner Act of the 1920s. In it she not only offers a developed example of the influence of politics-in what she now calls a "polity-centered" analysis - but also the first book-length treatment of the history of US social policy to grant appropriate attention to the woman-dominated stream of welfare activism. 1 It is a significant book. I pursue only a few of many possible debates that I might have with Theda Skocpol.2 I object, first, to her (usually implicit) theory of gender and of women's participation in social-policy history, and second, to her polity-centered explanations. I also argue with one aspect of her method -specifically, with the use of explanatory methods that apply precise and quantitative comparisons to inappropriate material and thus produce falsely precise answers. I. Protecting Soldiers and Mothers argues that there were several lines of welfare development in the post-Civil War U.S., including a paternalist and a maternalist, and that the latter was more influential early in this century: "A fundamental question addressed in this book is why maternalist forces promoting social policies for mothers and women workers were considerably more effective in U.S. politics during the early 1900s than were paternalist forces that simultaneously worked for the enactment of policies targeted on male wage-earners" (p. 56). The paternalist line derived from the Civil War veterans' pensions, about which Skocpol has published extensively, arguing that these became a massive GENDER, STATE A program of public provision, peaking lo twentieth century, the scale of the Civil rable to that of some European social Progressive era, Skocpol argues, som pensions could be transformed into a gen insurance for workers, but this did not was the only victory of this paternalist a lost, paradoxically, because of the Civil party system ofthe late nineteenth centu of those pensions in its patronage net, an were above all concerned to overcom democracy (p. 355). Reformers were th public social provision because they fe "cleanly" but would enlarge the power' compensation was an exception becam existing state functions, not an extensio A maternalist line of developme1 organizations such as the Congress oJ Women's Clubs, was the only welfare reformers' fear of the inevitable corrupti victory of the maternalist women reJ mothers' aid (sometimes known as mott the 1910-20 period. The momentum oft in the 1920s, through the influence of tl lished in the Department of Labor in 15 health education program inaugurated b~ Act, 1921-29. Unfortunately, the maten late 1920s, when Sheppard-Towner v Bureau weakened by an alliance of the A Public Health Service and President Ho This history functions for SkoCJ the state back in." Reacting against a s ignores state structures, Skocpol's work politics. This book features state actor usually ignored, she charges, in societ) that rest on class or gender. And it argu and political arrangements in limiting < and failures. For example, she emphasiz politics -through nonpartisan member ,GORDON 1 essay focused exclusively on substan- :s. )kocpol has been making an important y in building a theory and practice of 11atory problems. Labelled sometimes 1e State Back In," sometimes as a "new ~presses a critique of social-history and ~gerates societal and understates polit:tdigm stimulated both emulation and ,ook, Protecting Soldiers and Mothers, ;y (what I would call welfare policy) Sheppard-Towner Act of the 1920s. In cample of the influence of politics-in tered" analysis - but also the first r of US social policy to grant approprited stream of welfare activism. 1 It is a possible debates that I might have with 1er (usually implicit) theory of gender ;ial-policy history, and second, to her argue with one aspect of her method natory methods that apply precise and ,ropriate material and thus produce thers argues that there were several 1e post-Civil War U.S., including a .t the latter was more influential early ~stion addressed in this book is why .l policies for mothers and women :ctive in U.S. politics during the early that simultaneously worked for the tle wage-earners" (p. 56). The paterl"ar veterans' pensions, about which rrguing that these became a massive GENDER, STATE AND SOCIETY 141 program of public provision, peaking long after the War. At the turn of the twentieth century, the scale of the Civil War pension program was comparable to that of some European social insurance programs. During the Progressive era, Skocpol argues, some reformers expected that these pensions could be transformed into a general program of old-age and health insurance for workers, but this did not occur. Workmen's compensation was the only victory of this paternalist approach. Other opportunities were lost, paradoxically, because of the Civil War pensions: the strong political party system of the late nineteenth century had captured the administration of those pensions in its patronage net, and in the Progressive era, reformers were above all concerned to overcome the "corruption" of patronage democracy (p. 355). Reformers were thus hostile, Skocpol argues, to any public social provision because they feared it could not be administered "cleanly" but would enlarge the power of the party machines. Workmen's compensation was an exception because it required only a reworking of existing state functions, not an extension of them (p. 296). A maternalist line of development, pushed by a variety of women's organizations such as the Congress of Mothers and the Federation of Women's Clubs, was the only welfare strategy able to get around the reformers' fear of the inevitable corruption of public assistance. The major victory of the maternalist women reformers was the state and local mothers' aid (sometimes known as mothers' or widows' pensions) laws of the 1910-20 period. The momentum of the maternalist line continued even in the 1920s, through the influence of the U.S. Children's Bureau (established in the Department of Labor in 1912), with the maternal and infant health education program inaugurated by the short-lived Sheppard-Towner Act, 1921-29. Unfortunately, the maternalist dynamic was stopped in the late 1920s, when Sheppard-Towner was repealed and the Children's Bureau weakened by an alliance of the American Medical Association, the Public Health Service and President Hoover's conservative supporters. This history functions for Skocpol as an argument for "bringing the state back in." Reacting against a stream of historical sociology that ignores state structures, Skocpol 's work for over a decade has emphasized politics. This book features state actors who represent a point of view usually ignored, she charges, in society-centered analyses such as those that rest on class or gender. And it argues the influence of state capacity and political arrangements in limiting or conditioning various successes and failures. For example, she emphasizes how a women's mode of doing politics- through nonpartisan membership organizations with the ability 142 GENDER, STATE Ar\ LINDA GORDON to mobilize local affiliates- worked because it took advantage of existing state patterns. Women used existing state agencies, such as the juvenile courts or investigatory hearings of state legislatures. Because of the relation between women's organizations and the state, a relation largely outside party politics (women could not yet vote), these organizations were well suited to lobbying state legislatures and courts on nonpartisan bases. Because they were nonpartisan and because state capacity was undeveloped, the bureaucracy relatively small, their own labor could accomplish some of what the state could not, such as collecting social data for expert reports. The success of workmen's compensation and the failure of public old-age or health insurance were also primarily influenced by state capacity - the lack of a professional bureaucracy and reliable civil service control at a crucial moment of reform made Progressives worry about the corruption that, they believed, would accompany government provision. Skocpol 's new definition of the state - what she now calls the polity- includes the influence of a variety of civic organizations, prominently including women's groups, on mothers' pensions and the Sheppard-To..,ner Act. She brings in the important role of the unions, mainly AFL unions, challenging the common conclusion that all unions were opposed to public insurance. She shows that many state and local unions were more positive towards public social insurance. The major reason for this national/local difference, she argues, was that state federations were in some ways more political than the national AFL, as it was primarily at the state level that unions had political influence. In this discussion she makes a contribution to the scholarship arising from the question, why did the US have no Labour or Social Democratic Party? Her argument runs as follows: she places some weight on the fact that craft unions more than industrial ones thought they could protect their members' interests best through workplace and market action (p. 217). Mainly, however, she emphasizes state factors. One was the lack of proportional representation in the U.S., so that third-party candidates usually ended up getting no representation despite a substantial popular vote. This constitutional aspect of the U.S. state tended to confirm organized labor's suspicion of the value of electoral politics (p. 221). Making it more difficult for unions to influence one of the two major parties was the decline of the competitive party system and its replacement in some areas by a regional system of one-party rule (such as the "Solid South") (p. 223). The main obstacle, she argues, to politicized unions was the power of the courts to stop legislation, creating bitterness within the unions and forcing them constantly to defend themselves ag< ation was labor's certainty that public ins a manner hostile to union interests by a pn with one such elite -judges - was ext:J II. These brief distillations of Skoq indicate its richness in detail and its coh( fails, however, to create a satisfying ex social provision in this period, and ever what happened lacks precision. A maj< systematic exclusion of social-structural] gender, from her analysis. I am aware that the book's subtitl or economic] Origins of Social Policy. S substitute political for social determinis1 social factors combine (p. 47). This is continues a vacillation that has characte her general statements are often reasona insignificance: asserting that the state rna explains lucidly how past state policy inf notably in a fine discussion of "policy f1 actual narration of historical process her i she is resting on the claim that the state excluded from explanations. Still, this book is more open to s ment influence than her previous work that making women visible required exan recently, women were legally excluded a marker of this shift that in Protectint changes her claim about what matters fn rather mysteriously, as her only explan: attributing the new nomenclature to pol of a discussion of the state/polity differe we get simply a list of the kinds of proce: 'fit' - or lack thereof - between the GENDER, STATE AND SOCIETY <\GORDON :ed because it took advantage of existing ing state agencies, such as the juvenile of state legislatures. Because of the zations and the state, a relation largely d not yet vote), these organizations were latures and courts on nonpartisan bases. 1d because state capacity was undevelmall, their own labor could accomplish mch as collecting social data for expert ; compensation and the failure of public lso primarily influenced by state capacbureaucracy and reliable civil service >rm made Progressives worry about the 1ld accompany government provision. :>f the state - what she now calls the ·a variety of civic organizations, promups, on mothers' pensions and the s in the important role of the unions, he common conclusion that all unions . She shows that many state and local js public social insurance. The major ·ence, she argues, was that state federalitical than the national AFL, as it was ons had political influence. kes a contribution to the scholarship id the US have no Labour or Social LJns as follows: she places some weight han industrial ones thought they could ;t through workplace and market action >hasizes state factors. One was the lack h.e U.S., so that third-party candidates ;entation despite a substantial popular he U.S. state tended to confirm organ:>f electoral politics (p. 221). Making it ;e one of the two major parties was the ;tern and its replacement in some areas le (such as the "Solid South") (p. 223). oliticized unions was the power of the 1ittemess within the unions and forcing 143 them constantly to defend themselves against the state. Another consideration was labor's certainty that public insurance would be administered in a manner hostile to union interests by a professional elite; union experience with one such elite- judges - was extremely negative (p. 228). II. These brief distillations of Skocpol's narrative may be enough to indicate its richness in detail and its coherence as an argument. The book fails, however, to create a satisfying explanation of the construction of social provision in this period, and even its description and narrative of what happened lacks precision. A major reason for these faults is the systematic exclusion of social-structural power relations, such as class and gender, from her analysis. I am aware that the book's subtitle is The Political [i.e., not social or economic] Origins of Social Policy. Skocpol writes that she tries not to substitute political for social determinism, but to show how political and social factors combine (p. 47). This is not what she does. Instead, she continues a vacillation that has characterized her work on social policy: her general statements are often reasonable, modest, even to the point of insignificance: asserting that the state matters. (In this book she shows and explains lucidly how past state policy influences new policy several times, notably in a fine discussion of "policy feedback" [pp. 57-60].) But in the actual narration of historical process her implicit premise often shifts, until she is resting on the claim that the state is all that matters, and society is excluded from explanations. Still, this book is more open to social-structural and social-movement influence than her previous work on social policy. I think it likely that making women visible required examining the social realm since, until recently, women were legally excluded from state office and power. It is a marker of this shift that in Protecting Soldiers and Mothers, Skocpol changes her claim about what matters from state to "polity." She does this rather mysteriously, as her only explanation of the shift is in a footnote attributing the new nomenclature to political scientist Peter Hall. Instead of a discussion of the state/polity difference, historical and/or theoretical, we get simply a list of the kinds of processes involved, which include "the 'fit' - or lack thereof- between the goals and capacities of various 144 LINDA GORDON politically active groups, and the historical changing points of access and leverage allowed by a nation's political institutions" (p. 41 ). Thus one induces what "polity" means and how it differs from "state" by the context, by what Skocpol actually considers in the book. Polity is evidently broader than state and includes not only those who hold government jobs and offices, not only those who participate in electoral and other official state-organized processes, but also those connected with civic organizations who pressure or lobby government or politicians. Polity-centered explanations can include the impact of some civic organizations- a premise without which there would be virtually no women in policy history. Moreover, the shift in paradigm allows Skocpol to meet the criticisms of many scholars who pointed out how much was excluded from her previous work. But the result of this shift may have been to evacuate her very argument, or at least to reduce it to a weaker formulation -that one should not leave the state out of explanations of policy development, but that other influences are also significant. For example, her conclusion with regard to the mothers' aid laws passed in most states between 1910 and 1930, for example, is exactly that which earlier historians have drawn -that the most influential factor was the women's movement. Theoretically speaking, there is no longer anything in her approach that distinguishes it from the approaches of many of her critics. But while her amendment to her state-centered claims brings social movements back into the force field, it continues to leave out social structure. Without any dis...
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