Entrepreneurs of Themselves: How Poor Women Enact Asset-Building Discourse

Welfare policy discourse plays an important role in shaping how marginalised groups are identified and how poverty is addressed. Research on welfare policy discourse has mostly adopted a top-down perspective, examining how marginalised groups are constituted through interrelated discourses that are produced and enacted by powerful actors. However, little attention has been given to understanding how welfare policy discourse is used and enacted by marginalised groups themselves. This article focuses on asset-building discourse, a newly ascendant discourse which suggests that poverty can be alleviated through savings and building wealth. Drawing on in-depth interviews with 24 poor single mothers of colour participating in a matched savings programme, the article explores how poor women rely on asset-building discourse to make sense of their poverty challenges and how to overcome them. The study finds that the women express neoliberal ideals as they seek to portray themselves as committed to becoming self-sufficient, financially literate, disciplined savers and entrepreneurs. The findings indicate that the women feel empowered and see themselves as worthy citizens, irrespective of whether their economic situation has actually improved or whether they ultimately come to resist asset-building discourse’s individualisation of their predicament.

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