Social Science and Single Mothers: Decolonizing the Dutch Welfare State, 1970s–90s

Friday, January 5, 2018: 4:10 PM
Columbia 5 (Washington Hilton)
Chelsea Schields, Elizabethtown College
Throughout the 1970s-1990s, a growing number of Antillean families immigrated to the Netherlands seeking improved standards of living and economic and educational opportunities. Soon after the onset of this migration, municipal welfare providers in the Netherlands expressed concern about the prevalence of single motherhood and called on researchers to investigate the perceived connection between household organization and welfare reliance. This paper analyzes the Dutch welfare state’s growing preoccupation with single mothers and investigates how policy interests resulted in the emergence of expertise on the Antillean household. At the same time, Antillean social welfare organizations vigorously participated in debates over welfare and pointed to the struggles of single mothers as evidence of the broader failure of the Dutch welfare state to emancipate growing numbers of Antilleans in the Netherlands. Throughout, I attend to the evolution of post-colonial ties between the former Netherlands Antilles and the Netherlands and show how the endurance of these bonds inflected discussions on family and gender norms. Drawing on municipal archival sources, reports from Antillean organizations, and a vast literature on Antillean women and single mothers, I argue that sexual and reproductive politics have played a critical role in mediating how Antillean and European Dutch experience life in a unified Kingdom.
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