Understanding "power talk": Language, public policy, and democracy

Jocelyn Elise Crowley, Margaret Watson, Maureen R. Waller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


This project expands upon social construction studies by critically examining the discourse patterns of two very different groups as they discuss their problems with the child support enforcement system: fathers' rights members (mostly white, middle class fathers who are organizing for emotional support and to reform the child support system) and fathers with children on welfare (mostly poor, African-American fathers). We use standard, qualitative analytical methods on primary, in-depth interview data collected from fathers' rights members, and compare that with in-depth interview data drawn from fathers with children on welfare. In brief, we find three overlapping perceptions in this policy area: child support awards are economically hurtful to fathers, child support obligations are not adjusted for other types of support, and child support enforcement discourages parental cooperation. However, we also show that while there is broad overlap in terms of the general nature of these complaints, each group's members use very different language to describe their difficulties. Fathers' rights members are much more likely to remain connected to the system, and while challenging current policy, do not champion lawbreaking as a viable means of demonstrating their opposition. Fathers with children on welfare, on the other hand, speak in terms that reflect their disconnection from these policies, and frequently reveal their subsequent choice to engage in evasive and even illegal behavior as viable means of expressing their dissatisfaction. Finally, we conclude that these different ways of speaking about public policy problems can have important implications for policymaker responsiveness, and ultimately, each group's political inclusion in a democratic society.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)71-88
Number of pages18
JournalPerspectives on Politics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Political Science and International Relations


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