Feminization Through Poverty by Karen Bridget Murray

1. Introduction

The aim of this paper is to problematize the taken-for-granted understandings of “poverty” within “feminization of poverty” discourse.[1] Proposed here is an alternative research frame focused on ascertaining how poverty governance produces feminized subjectivities, a lens that would focus on feminization through poverty. The phrase “feminization of poverty” entered scholarly discourse in 1978 when Diana Pearce (1978), a researcher at the Catholic University of America used the phrase to describe the growing preponderance of poverty among Black women and children in urban United States. Since then, poverty’s feminization has become a predominant discourse within feminist scholarship, denoting the manifold ways in which poverty’s feminized character surfaces, persists, and transforms. The feminization of poverty frame has also been productively included in theorizing democracy and the state. (Agathangelou 2004; Bakker 2007; Brodie 1996; Brodie 2008; Dobrowlosky and Jenson 2004; Little 2001; Porter 2003). Critiques of the feminization of poverty frame have focused inter alia on the fallacies and omissions of the focus on feminization processes or on its ideological function. In short, the phrase has been said to lack analytical clarity [2]. In some cases, the feminization of poverty refers to trends concerning the growing number of women living in disadvantage. In other cases, it is used to highlight disparities between male and female poverty rates. Still in other cases, it emphasizes qualitative understandings of poverty whereby women’s poverty is regarded as the most severe. From a different angle, the feminization of poverty discourse hinges upon essentialized notions of femininity and masculinity that shroud from view, for instance, the transgendered elements of poverty or the racialized character of poverty. Joanna Brenner has stressed how the feminization of poverty frame has often advanced a liberal political agenda and hindered a more radical politics that “challenges the hierarchical organization of work and the privatization of care giving,” in a manner that would “generate[…] a more inclusive set of claims.” Wendy McKeen (2009) has made a similar point in the Canadian setting, arguing that feminist advocacy centred on the “feminization of poverty re-affirm[s] an orientation that privilege[s] the strategy of targeting” through means tested programs. In this way, the frame of feminized poverty undermines claims to universal entitlements based upon need and erodes “opportunities for more radical, social justice, oriented forms of political action“(53).

The invocation of the feminization of poverty discourse and the critiques it has generated have been  illuminating and insightful, but they are limited in their common understanding of poverty as a trans-historical condition that can be measured, mapped, tracked, and therefore modified towards an emancipatory future. Certainly material deprivation has always existed, but the manner in which it is defined and acted upon as a governmental matter is historically contingent and intertwined with wider political and governmental goals, including the generation of wealth, security and order.[3] By treating poverty as an unstable and historically specific category of concern, this paper demonstrates how material deprivation and other modes of extreme human suffering are being harnessed as gendered and racialized techniques of power.

Drawing upon examples from the Canadian context, and in relation to the city of Vancouver , my analysis  demonstrates how poverty operates as a technique of rule that, in effect, brings into visibility the ideal feminine subject.[4] We see this in relation to two key elements. First, a new science of human development has infused Canadian state policy to stress the centrality of interventions in early childhood education and care as a primary consideration in addressing low educational achievement, unemployment, under-productivity, criminality and a myriad of other governmental problems. This emphasis expressly downplays material inequalities as a focus of governmental attention in favour of programs and services aimed at regulating “problem” individuals and populations. Second, poverty (lack of food, housing, basic necessities of life, etc.) has become institutionalized and naturalized through new street-level practices inspired by theories of human development . These processes have rendered Vancouver’s east end (see Map 1) hyper-visible in terms of images of gendered and racialized peoples, especially in relation to the figure of the Aboriginal mother.[5] Importantly, these street-level practices use poverty as an opportunity to encourage “problem” mothers and would-be mothers to voluntarily enter professional or quasi-professional settings for official judgments and interventions. Through these human development practices and the discourses to which they are tied, the ideal femininized subject is brought into visibility in relation to what it is not, a service dependent, highly regulated, gendered and racialized body, the emblem of which is the Aboriginal mother. The ideal feminized subject is, therefore, produced as a non-Aboriginal freely choosing individual whose desires and conduct align with contemporary urban capitalist expectations of self-reliance and autonomy.

2. Poverty and Human Development Science

The growing influence of human development ideas in Canadian public policy research and practice traces back to two influential texts: The Learning Society: Proposal for a Program in Learning and Human Development (Canadian Institutes for Health Research 1992) and Reversing the Real Brain Drain: Early Years Study Final Report (McCain and Mustard 1999) (hereinafter The Early Years). The publication of these reports launched the rise of human development as a major area of scholarly investigation, policy design, and programmatic innovation in Canada. The Learning Society was the founding statement of the Human Development Program of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (hereinafter CIFAR), a “think tank” modeled after the Rockefeller Foundation, and at the time headed by founding president Fraser Mustard, a medical doctor, health researcher, academic, and university administrator (McMaster University 2009) who held a Cambridge doctorate for blood coagulation research. CIFAR’s research priorities  aligned with the goal of influencing state policy to support economic growth. Generous state financing supported these efforts, including direct transfers, support from various universities, and tax-deductible donations, the latter rendered feasible after its incorporation as a registered charity. A number of foundations and corporations also provided financial support, including the Royal Bank of Canada, which took a particular interest in human development research (Brown 2007 118; Canada, Department of Finance 2001; Goodale 2005). The Learning Society’s premises would gain broad public appeal  through Mustard, who played a key role in shaping the human development agenda in Canada over the latter years of the twentieth century and into the twenty-first (White 2008). The Early Years was a Government of Ontario commissioned report that Mustard co-wrote with Margaret McCain, member of the McCain foods family empire and former Lieutenant Governor of New Brunswick (hereinafter The Early Years). Mustard prepared the report after he had stepped down as CIFAR’s first president to head the Founder’s Network. This move came at a time when Mustard’s status as an early childhood development expert was rising. With the Founder’s Network, Mustard sought to promote “national and international networks centred on early childhood development” (Packham 2011 3). Described as having comprised “more than 1000 individuals” with whom Mustard “made connections as [he] developed and arranged funding for the CI[F]AR programs” (Couchiching Institute on Public Affairs 2011), one business database lists a CIAR-Founders Network as having only three people on staff and annual “sales” of $1 to $5 million (Profile Canada nd). According to the Canada Revenue Agency, the Founders’ Network became a federal charity for taxation purposes only in 2010 (Canada, Canada Revenue Agency 2012). Mustard worked as a consultant for UNICEF and the World Bank under the banner of the Founders’ Network, although to his death referred to himself as CIFAR’s “founding president” (McCain, Mustard, and Shanker 2007 154). The Founders’ Network provided a profit-making capacity consultancy work relating to early development that CIFAR, perpetually grappling with uncertain funding, would not have afforded.

The Learning Society defined human development in binary terms, dividing the optimal from the suboptimal human. The optimal human had an “informed, lively, engaged mind” and was imbued with “rationality skill, intuition, civility character, [and] values” (CIFAR 1992 54). Seeking to grasp how “development” proceeds “successfully” from childhood to adulthood, CIFAR trained attention on deviations from the ideal, focusing on “collecting and organizing existing data on suboptimal development, and the barriers that operate in such circumstances,” including “social conditions in families, schools, and work organizations, but also in any biological predispositions with known neurological consequences” (CIFAR 1992 44). Drawing inspiration from primatology studies, The Learning Society noted that a subset of Rhesus macaques “offspring consistently show[ed] a tendency to react more adversely to stressful situations and to be more passive in novel learning situations than their “normal” counterparts. This tendency seems to be genetically determined, since it expresses itself before the process of socialization can logically be expected to have had an impact. However, experiments that manipulate the quality of familial relations in early life show that this genetic tendency can be largely overcome, by providing the vulnerable monkeys with a very supportive social environment in their first several months of life. By contrast, when animals grow up in more adverse circumstances, those who seem to be genetically vulnerable end up at the bottom of the social hierarchy in adulthood” (CIFAR 1994 27).

Applying these findings to the human setting, CIFAR analysts problematized changing gender norms, namely the increasing number of women in the paid labour force and the rising number of single-parent households, as a threat to “normal” human development and therefore future productivity. They argued that these dilemmas could be ameliorated if “vulnerable” offspring were “cross-fostered to a highly nurturing and competent mother.”  These sensibilities implicitly valourized stay-at-home mothers within two-parent heterosexual families, even though CIFAR analysts conceded that a return to this norm was infeasible. Such “traditional” mothers were, nevertheless, tacitly singled out as a potential pool of participants in any efforts to mitigate dangers posed by their deviant counterparts.

That poverty was a primary hindrance to human development was rejected by CIFAR analysts who pointed to research on how new immigrant Southeast Asian children, even materially disadvantaged ones, performed “superbly in science and mathematics” because of “supportive [and] interactive” family environments. The implication was clear. Poverty need not be a barrier to efforts to promote normal human development. Human development could proceed successfully even in conditions of poverty (CIFAR 1994 11, 22-28; Keating and Mustard 1993 99).

These presuppositions valourized urban space as a milieu of progress and civilization in a manner that was inherently racialized. CIFAR’s epistemological orientation was, of course, self-evidently racialized, grounded as it was in primatology, a predominantly “Western,” “(Judeo-) Christian science” dominated by “white people” (usually men) (Haraway 1989 6-10). At the same time, Indigenous peoples at first contact were implicitly depicted as backward and uncivilized at first contact. As Mustard described in a paper co-authored with Daniel Keating, the first director of CIFAR’s Human Development Program the “human primate” had “gone through a remarkable range of socio-economic changes in an extremely brief period in biological terms.” The Agricultural Revolution, they wrote, “led, over time, to the formation of urban centres and the cultures and civilizations with all their interplay of social forces, technological changes and intergroup trade.” Cities would be, therefore, key nodes through which Canada would overcome its “fail[ure] to develop its potential for technical and scientific innovation fully;” and human development research could position Canada as key contributor to the “world economy at a more advanced technical level.” CIFAR construed racialized conflict as a barrier to this objective. In thinly veiled remarks about “race” riots in the United States and the United Kingdom, Keating and Mustard noted that “[p]oor-quality social environments” were “damaging a substantial part of the next generation.” Canada, they cautioned, would need to learn from these examples of “major inner city problems” that witnessed “the worst economic decline.” Racial assumptions also imbued the line between the bio-socially “fit” and “unfit,” construing the latter as a threat to the health and well-being of the “nation.” These socio-biological notions of race dovetailed with a cultural-based race suicide argument. CIFAR analysts also saw presumed “Asian” family norms as a danger to “English speaking cultures” competitive advantage in the global economy (Keating and Mustard 1993 97 and 101; CIFAR 1992 22).

The principal programmatic proposal emerging from CIFAR’s research was the parent-training centre. The Early Years explained that parent-training centres would involve interventions “from the time of conception” through to the pre-school years to ensure offspring “some normalization of the quality of the sensory stimulation and supportive social interaction” (Keating and Mustard 1993). Problem parents and would-be-parents created their need. Parental remediation and guidance on human development scientific norms would be the goals. Joint adult-child participation would ensure that the primary target population would be, in effect, unemployed parents. One such group would be parents on income assistance, a group overrepresented by “single” mothers. The Aboriginal mother would be particularly visible. Census data from 2011 showed that 35 percent of census-defined Aboriginal families were lone-parents compared to 17 percent of non-Aboriginal families. Aboriginal peoples were also overrepresented among the unemployed (Government of British Columbia 2011a).

The spatial sensibility of the parent-training centre revealed a knowledge deficit that CIFAR analysts sought to address in the creation of the Early Development Instrument (hereinafter the “EDI”). The EDI was a survey comprising roughly 100 questions that created the new and ultimately highly influential governmental discourse of “child vulnerability,” assessed according to a five-point scale of “physical health and well-being; social competence; emotional maturity; language and cognitive development; and communication skills and general knowledge in relation to developmental benchmarks rather than curriculum-based ones” (Human Early Learning Partnership nd; Offord Centre for Child Studies nd). Promoted as a measure of kindergarten children’s “readiness to learn,” the EDI was also a tool for ascertaining geographical units where parenting and community resources had failed according to the science of human development.

Vancouver would become a key node in this emerging human development knowledge economy in large degree through Government of British Columbia funding of the work of the University of British Columbia’s Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP), headed by Clyde Hertzman, one of Mustard’s former students, a medical doctor, epidemiologist (Brown 2007 109; McMaster University 2009), one of the architects of the EDI, and also the Director of CIFAR’s Population Health Program. The Government of British Columbia entered into a research agreement with the University of British Columbia that provided Hertzman resources for province-wide long-term EDI mapping. The agreement turned the EDI research project into a state-centric endeavour. Unlike CIFAR, which operated at arm’s length from official institutions of authority, HELP’s EDI mapping project obtained 100 per cent of its funding from Government of British Columbia.

Through its relationship with University of British Columbia, the provincial government gained unprecedented access to individualized EDI findings linked to other data sources, including, birth, dental, medical, education, and child protection data (Hertzman 2011a 227-28, 238; Hertzman 2011b; Hertzman 2012a; University of British Columbia 2010 13).  While such data were ostensibly stripped of personal identifiers, importantly, in accordance with The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (1996), personal information privacy rights promised in HELP’s research ethics protocol would not apply where there were concerns about threats to child welfare apply (other than in instances of solicitor-client privilege). This is particularly germane with respect to the EDI Project’s focus on promoting child welfare according to human development scientific norms. The British Columbia version of the EDI included terminology that closely aligned with the legal language concerning the duty to report under the Child, Family and Community Service Act Child, Family and Community Service Act [RSBC 1996] (compare Chapter 46, Sections 13 and 14 with Janus and Offord, 2000). There is little doubt that vocabulary similarities were intentional. The Australian version of the EDI, contrived in a different legal setting, is void of such language. In cases where the duty to report applied, state officials in British Columbia, through HELP, were in a position to observe and regulate not only individual children participating in the EDI survey, but also their parents/caregivers, whose identities, addresses, and so on were linked to EDI findings. One need not deny the importance of protecting children from violence and neglect to recognize this university-state collaboration’s inherent authoritarian character, a feature obfuscated in  promises to protect privacy.

The Government of British Columbia’s involvement turned the EDI Project into an overtly colonial endeavour trained on Aboriginality as a predominant racial classification. Seventeen percent of HELP’s funding envelope was allocated to EDI data surveying of Aboriginal children (University of British Columbia 2010, 17), even though census-defined Aboriginal peoples in British Columba comprised less than 5 per cent of the population in 2011 (Government of British Columbia 2011a 5). Employing the characteristic classification and comparison techniques of colonial rule, Aboriginal status was the only overtly racialized category in the BC version of the EDI (Janus and Offord 2000a), a classification, which of course simultaneously produced the “non-Aboriginal.” Reinforcing the centrality of Aboriginality as a key problem space, maps showed “local areas [reporting] the highest rates of Aboriginal children in [state] care [were] all parts of school districts that report relatively high … rates of vulnerability among Aboriginal children on one or more EDI scale….” (Kershaw, Irwin, Tratfford, and Hertzman 2006 64, 154-55).  EDI analysts interpreted these maps according to Christopher Jencks and Susan E. Mayer’s notion of “collective socialization practices” (Kershaw, Anderson, Warburton, and Hertzman 2009 28; see also Kershaw, Irwin, Tratfford, and Hertzman 2006), a theory holding that human conduct, good or bad, is contagious. High vulnerabilities of a few children were, therefore, less a problem than those of the many where densely clustered. Within this knowledge, Indigenous women, their reproduction and parenting, were especially visible in relation to Indian band reserves and inner-city locales. Hertzman would depict these results in graphic images that included male figures as symbols representing concentrations of vulnerable children. “You can see,” he would say, “… an army of the vulnerable marching towards you – a cause to not sleep at night” (Hertzman 2011c 14). Such information was presented as objective, apolitical, and capable of producing scientifically informed interventions that would reduce the statistical and geographical divides separating human development patterns of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples.

The EDI project quickly turned Vancouver into a global center of human development research, policy advocacy and program design. In 2005, The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Commission on the Social Determinants of Health, designated HELP the Global Knowledge Hub for Early Child Development. By 2011, roughly thirty countries had adopted, considered for adoption, or in the process of adopting the EDI as a performance measure (Einboden, Rudge and Varcoe 2013 3). By then, the EDI was at the core of an endeavour to establish a scientific standard of human rights indicator based on human development (Guhn, Janus, and Hertzman 2007; Hertzman 2012a; Vaghri, Aarkadas, Kruse, Hertzman 2011 185; Young 2007). As the EDI began to travel the globe, Vancouver’s east end was being transformed into a laboratory for human development program experimentation and a vital site through which images of Aboriginal mothers as problem subjects would be produced and circulated. It is to this that the next section now turns.

3. The Figure of the Aboriginal Mother and Naturalized Poverty

In her superbly researched master’s degree thesis, Meghan Elizabeth Longstaffe, a Univesity of British Columbia doctoral student of History, showed how, after World War II, the figure of the “Indian” woman became closely associated with Vancouver’s east end. At that time, the number of Indigenous peoples living in Vancouver’s east end was growing. Migration to cities was a gendered process. Men typically sought educational and employment opportunities. Women often fled violence or found themselves forced off reserve for having lost their legal status as Indians. Until 1985, women lost their legal “Indian” status if they married non-Status Indians. Some arrived via the criminal justice system. In 1958, Indigenous women comprised sixty percent of the population of Oakalla Women’s Prison, located on the fringe of Vancouver. Most offences were for liquor violations. Until the late twentieth century, the Indian Act regulated various forms of liquor consumption. Once released from prison, many chose to stay in the city, no doubt gravitating to Vancouver’s east end, by then commonly known as “skid road,” for its lower cost housing (Longstaffe 2009 13-15).

The “dead Indian girl” in the east end, hinging on a narrative of “infantilized and victimized women,” became a common figure in popular, academic, and governmental discourses (Longstaffe 2009 ii and 10). Such images endured. For example, when the east end witnessed an HIV/AIDS epidemic in the mid-1990s, officials singled out Indigenous women, over-represented among sex workers, as bearers and transmitters of disease (Canada, Public Health Agency of Canada 2010c 12) and threats to the fetus (Government of British Columbia 2011b; Masotti, Szala-Meneok, Selby, Ranford, and Van Koughnett 2003). In his 2012 report on police investigations into the cases of dozens of missing and murdered women from the east end, many of whom were Indigenous women, Commissioner Wally T. Oppal, found that “faulty stereotyping” (Opal 2012 96) had negatively effected police efforts.

Human development programs embarked upon by the federal government reinforced this linkage between images of Aboriginal women and Vancouver’s east end as problem fields. The Children and the Community Action Program for Children, established in 1993, targeted parents of children up to six years of age (Van de Plaat and Barrett 2005) with the aim of reducing “threats to children’s health[,] … while striving to strengthen skills and capabilities of parents to take action on their health and the health of their children” (Canada, Public Health Agency of Canada nd; see also McKeen 2007, Murray 2004, and Vosko 2006). The Canadian Prenatal Nutrition Program, struck in 1994, to “enhance programs for vulnerable pregnant women,” specifically those “facing challenges that put their health and the health of their infants at risk,” such as “poverty, teen pregnancy, social and geographic isolation, substance use and family violence” (Canada, Public Health Agency of Canada 2013). Each program endeavoured to generate partnerships between public and private agencies, the latter including charitable/non-profit/voluntary agencies and for-profit organizations. Each program also singled out “Aboriginal women and recent immigrants” for “culturally sensitive” interventions (ibid), stressing how “biological forces … combine with a child’s individual experience, interactions with parents, and place within the community context” (Canada, Public Health Agency of Canada 2010a). Building upon these programs, the federal government established, in 1995, the national Aboriginal Head Start. Stressing the importance of ensuring Aboriginal people “have meaningful input in the program design, implementation, management, evaluation and ongoing planning” (Canada, Public Health Agency of Canada 2010b), this program reinforced the classificatory divisions between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples. This interconnection was further fortified in activities pursued by the provincial government and non-profit groups.

These programs were officially depicted as pan-territorial, but the east end was overrepresented in program allocations in Vancouver. We can understand this spatial effect in relation to the east end’s crucial place in capitalist urbanization into the twenty-first century. [u4] At the same time, the predominance of the east end as a human development milieu was fortified through the requirement that organizations work in partnership with each other as well as state and private organizations. Urban areas with high levels of poverty and disadvantage were more likely to have established agencies in a position to collaborate. In 2012, the Downtown Eastside alone had “174 non-profit social service agencies that serve the low income population” (City of Vancouver, 6)

Poverty and disadvantage were integral to the interventions aimed at promoting human development in Vancouver’s east end. Unemployment, low incomes, drug addictions, lack of housing, fear of being forced to relinquish one’s child, and so on, provided agencies with opportunities to hold out numerous carrots — free food, access to temporary housing, legal advice and education on child protection laws, detoxification assistance, and so on — encouraging “voluntary” participation. The work of [first name] Sheway (Vancouver Native Health Society 2013) encapsulated these processes that were endemic to the human development street-level service setting (see for instance Murray 2011). Many individual women no doubt welcomed the alleviation of hardship, however temporary and fleeting it might have been. This did not erase the fact that an inherent violence existed in the system, which functioned and endured through human want and suffering, particularly that of racialized women, more often than not Indigenous women. Human development strategies, aimed overtly at promoting the vitality of the “species” (Kershaw, Anderson, Warburton, and Hertzman 2009 1), naturalized, normalized and managerialized already deep inequalities. Placed within remit of professional judgment and the state’s gaze with respect to child protection laws, participants in this human development services’ web lived under the threat of criminalization and forced removal of children. Nowhere was this more obvious than with regard to the Government of British Columbia’s human development based Strong Start BC program. Parental/guardian accompaniment of children was a legal requirement for participation. All participants, children and parents had to register allowing a basis for further data to be linked to the EDI (Government of British 2007 and 2011c; School Act, 1996). Registration opened a space for regulation and judgment.

Material disadvantage was also utilized as a governmental tool for stabilizing the feminine biological subject more broadly. The rendering visible of deviant people and places simultaneously brought into view the ideals promoted in human development thought and practice. Opposite to the gendered, racialized and highly regulated and service dependent body, the emblem of which was the Aboriginal mother, was the ideal feminized subject. The latter would approach reproduction and parenting as a lifestyle decision that accorded with governmental objectives of promoting wealth, order and stability. At the same time, to fall outside the ideal was to breach the science of human development and therefore to threaten the optimum survival the species. The circulation of these norms was effected not only through the interconnecting spatial imaginary of Vancouver’s east end and images of deviant mothers, but also through the global distribution of human development scientific premises. Through these dynamics, the structural norm of the two-parent heterosexual family that dominated for several decades after World War II was being transformed into a care-giving norm flexible enough to accommodate a myriad of family forms. The policing of the family was simultaneously displaced by a new emphasis on the perpetual need for the policing of child vulnerabilities in order to promote human development equilibrium. The ideal feminized subject therefore hinged on the figure of the disadvantaged and spatially concentrated Aboriginal mother.

Studies of “street-level bureaucracy” (Lipsky 1980) have repeatedly shown front-line agencies do not straightforwardly implement official policy and programmatic expressions.  No doubt various forms of resistance challenged the oppressive interventions taking shape in Vancouver’s east end. On the surface, however, whatever modes of resistance existed, the science of human development was not a target. The Community Action Program for Children in the Downtown Eastside and Strathcona, referred to as the Children Need Care Now CAP-C Coalition, publically endorsed Mustard’s ideas:

It is recognized that providing supports to vulnerable parents of very young children reduces the risk of those children developing physical, mental and social health issues, or problems in school, later in life. For every dollar spent in the early years, it saves $7.00 down the road (Dr. Fraser Mustard et al) (DTES.ca 2008).

Undoubtedly this support for EDI practices  stemmed in part from an internalization of human development scientific premises. At the same time, naysayers had cause to remain silent. Human development based funding for street-level services, offering as it did a modicum of relief for disadvantaged peoples, would be the only game in town. As The BC Aboriginal Child Care Society cautioned: “[g]iven that the EDI has been and will be used … to make spending decisions, [it will be] important to ensure that the information about Aboriginal children is accurate[,] … to recognize that there are ‘pockets of vulnerability,’ [and to acknowledge the] need for Aboriginal capacity building to use EDI data” (BC Aboriginal Child Care Society, 2005 5). In this context of generalized docility, Indigenous women bearing and raising children were offering up a vital mode of resistance against naturalized poverty, oppression and violence (Smith 2005 128).

4. Conclusions

Feminization through poverty offers an alternative to the feminization of poverty frame for examining the relationship between gender and material inequalities. Whereas the feminization of poverty stresses the gendered character of poverty, the feminization through poverty lens emphasizes how poverty operates as a technique of power that produces feminized subjectivities. When human development thought and practices are analysed in this way, we see how poverty is not only naturalized but also how it links up to novel spatial practices that render gender and racial lines visible and therefore governable. On the one hand, the racialized feminine body emerges as a key site of regulation. On the other hand, the ideal femininized subject is brought into visibility in relation to what it is not, a service dependent, highly regulated, gendered and racialized field, the emblem of which is the Aboriginal mother, defined in terms of a misalignment with human development science’s reproductive and parenting norms. The feminization through poverty lens overcomes the limitations of the feminization of poverty frame by unsettling poverty as a self-evident material reality. In this way, the analysis has offered up a productive entry point for further disrupting the autonomous, self-reliant, non-Aboriginal ideal at this crucial moment of contemporary capitalist urbanization.

 

Notes

[1] I am indebted to Anna Agathangelou, Isa Bakker, Shannon Bell and Ann Porter for ongoing feedback and support of the ideas herein. My deepest appreciation extends to visiting York graduate student Azalyn Manzano who provided exemplary research assistance and to the helpful feedback from participants in Rutger’s University’s Sawyer Seminar in Race, Space and Place in the America’s (2013). Errors are of course my own. The research upon which this paper is based could not have been completed without generous funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Grant Number: 832-2002-0114) and York University.

[2] For an introduction to debates about the feminization of poverty’s analytical purchase see: Athena Mutua, “Why Retire the Feminization of Poverty Construct?” Denver Law Review, 78 (2001): 1179-1210.

[3]For a discussion of the neo-Foucaultian themes informing this analysis see Karen Bridget Murray, “Governmentality and the Shifting Winds of Policy Studies,” in Miriam Smith and Michael Orsini, eds. Critical Public Policy: Canadian Perspectives. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press (2007), 161-184.

[4]Poverty techniques such as these have a long history in the governance of reproduction and parenting see Karen Bridget Murray, “Governing ‘Unwed Mothers’ in Toronto at the Turn of the Twentieth Century,” The Canadian Historical Review, 85, 2 (2004): 253-276.

[5]Following Alfred and Corntassel, the term “indigenousness” refers to “an identity constructed, shaped, and lived in the politicized context of contemporary colonialism. The communities, clans, nations and tribes [called] Indigenous peoples are just that: Indigenous to the lands they inhabit, in contrast to and in contention with the colonial societies and states that have spread out from Europe and other centres of empire” (2005, 597). I use the term “Aboriginal” and “Indian” in relation to official colonial government policies and discourses rather than as denoting an essentialized identity.   See Taiaiake Alfred and Jeff Corntassel, “Being Indigenous: Resurgences against Contemporary Colonialism,” Government and Opposition, 40, 4 (2005): 597-614.

 

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