Domestic Contradictions

Race and Gendered Citizenship from Reconstruction to Welfare Reform

Domestic Contradictions

Book Pages: 256 Illustrations: 3 illustrations Published: August 2021

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Gender and Sexuality > Feminism and Women’s Studies, History > U.S. History

In Domestic Contradictions, Priya Kandaswamy analyzes how race, class, gender, and sexuality shaped welfare practices in the United States and the conflicting demands that this system imposed upon Black women. She turns to an often-neglected moment in welfare history, the advent of the Freedmen's Bureau during Reconstruction, and highlights important parallels to welfare reform in the late twentieth century. Kandaswamy demonstrates a continuity between the figures of the “vagrant” and “welfare queen” in these time periods, both of which targeted Black women. These constructs upheld gendered constructions of domesticity while defining Black women's citizenship in terms of an obligation to work rather than a right to public resources. Pushing back against this history, Kandaswamy illustrates how the Black female body came to represent a series of interconnected dangers—to white citizenship, heteropatriarchy, and capitalist ideals of productivity —and how a desire to curb these threats drove state policy. Challenging dominant feminist historiographies, Kandaswamy builds on Black feminist and queer of color critiques to situate the gendered afterlife of slavery as central to the historical development of the welfare state.


“Priya Kandaswamy brings to light the struggles of African American women to navigate the competing and contradictory demands placed upon them after emancipation. By linking the question of state assistance in the aftermath of the Civil War to the contemporary welfare debate, Kandaswamy enables readers to see the endurance of antiblack racism and heteronormativity as well how state power operates to enforce labor discipline and maintain social stratification. The parallels between these two time periods are eye-opening.” — Premilla Nadasen, author of Household Workers Unite: The Untold Story of African American Women Who Built a Movement

Domestic Contradictions is remarkably original in its historiographic perspective and structure. Rather than offering a ‘long history’ of race, gender, and welfare, Priya Kandaswamy boldly juxtaposes two key moments in welfare state history and, in so doing, is able to successfully demonstrate the haunting of Reconstruction's violent limitations in the late twentieth century. Sharp and innovative, it will be an influential work in gender theory and gender history. Indeed, Kandaswamy's impact on feminist scholarship and public debates will be very significant.” — Sarah Haley, author of No Mercy Here: Gender, Punishment, and the Making of Jim Crow Modernity


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Priya Kandaswamy is Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Mills College.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  vii
1. Welfare Reform and the Afterlife of Slavery  1
2. Making State, Making Family  29
3. Marriage and the Making of Gendered Citizenship  59
4. Domestic Labor and the Politics of Reform  105
5. The Chains of Welfare  151
Conclusion  193
Notes  197
Bibliography  215
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-1-4780-1431-7 / Cloth ISBN: 978-1-4780-1340-2