On the Formation of Social Pathology: The Case of Welfare "Single Moms" in Israel

Dr. Amalia Sa'ar
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In the post-welfare state era, "single mothers" constitute an intriguing cultural category. Women who raise children outside the framework of normative heterosexual marriages feature prominently in the popular media, as well as in professional and academic circles. While they are commonly constructed in connotation with poverty, disfunctionality, and potential immorality, the category also embodies fantasies of women's power and alternative life ways.
This paper presents grounded research of local meanings of the cultural category "single mothers" in the case of Israel. It draws on three major sources: In-depth interviews with 32 female welfare clients, of diverse ethnic, religious, and national backgrounds, who raise children without men. Textual analyses of public representations of "single moms" in the Hebrew and Arabic daily media, and in the publications of local professionals. Outline of the genealogy of the concept in English-speaking critical sociology and anthropology. Focusing on the dialectics between practical or embodied representations and official constructions, I explore the complex potential of this category to 'discipline and punish', but also to play the system strategically.

Keywords: Single Mothers, Israel, Constructing Social Pathology
Stream: Anthropology, Archaeology, Cultural Studies, Humanities
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Dr. Amalia Sa'ar

lecturer, Sociolgy and Anthropology Department, University of Haifa
Haifa, Israel

I am a cultural anthropologist. I have done research with Israeli Palestinians, focusing on gender politics and urban conditions. More recently I have become involved in action research with several feminist grassroots initiatives. These projects include economic empowerment of women living in poverty who engage in micro-enterprise; the influence of war and armed conflict on women in Israel; and generational relations in Israeli feminism. I teach at the University of Haifa and am an active member of Isha-l-Isha, Haifa Feminist Center.

Ref: I07P0312