Social-scientific imagination: the politics of welfare in fiction by women, 1949-1979
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This thesis explores how writers mobilise what I call the “social-scientific imagination” to think through the welfare state during its “golden age.” Given the ongoing rollback of welfare programmes in Britain and elsewhere, the study offers timely insight into the history of the welfare state and its possible future. To that end, the chapters concentrate on postwar writers’ indirect and mediated representations of the welfare state in the form of a “social-scientific imagination” manifested in both cultural ideology and literary style. The term “social-scientific imagination” describes these writers’ engagements with the language and technique of social scientific disciplines like sociology, psychiatry, criminology, sexology and the science of city planning in their fiction, and how they imagine these disciplines as shaping the construction and maintenance of the British “welfare state” and its institutions. The texts I explore here capture the tension between care and control, between freedom and security, that is fundamental to the operation of social welfare programmes and that complicates women’s orientation to the welfare state; it is a relationship characterised by ambivalence, even though, as Jane Lewis has argued, women during the war and since perceived they would be – and have been – the welfare state’s primary beneficiaries. This, then, is the central problem examined in this thesis: that the novels represent welfare policies as integral to women’s security at the same time as they point up their coercive tendencies.