Stating the Family

New Directions in the Study of American Politics

Edited by Julie Novkov and Carol Nackenoff

Glance at a political party’s platform, catch a politician’s speech, sample the news, and you will find the family—not as a mere group of people living together in the private sphere, but as a contentious entity at the center of political disputes and policy debates over everything from marriage equality and gender identity to immigration and welfare reform. The key role of the family in politics and public policy, so often relegated to the outer margins of political science and theory, comes in for long overdue consideration in this volume. Bringing together political scientists and legal scholars of wide-ranging interests and perspectives, Stating the Family explores the role of the family in American political development: as a focus of political struggle, a place where policy happens, a means of distributing governmental goods, and a way of relating individuals to the state and to each other in legal terms.

While the authors gathered here examine important policy questions that relate to the family—including immigration, welfare, citizenship, partisanship, and ideology—they pay particular attention to changes in family structures and responsibilities in light of the rise of neoliberalism. Illustrated with case studies—some contemporary, some historical—their essays provide individual takes on different links between family and politics, creating a nuanced conversation on this complex topic. The result is a multifaceted view of the family’s place in the development of American political institutions and a unique understanding of the work that family does to structure politics—and that politics does to structure families.

“For far too long political scientists have ignored the role that the family plays in constituting political power. This pathbreaking collection of essays centralizes the family, moving across political time and space to demonstrate that the modern family is not natural and that the state’s support of it is not neutral. The result is a fascinating rethinking of the way that the state and family work together to produce and undermine power and freedom. Must reading for anyone interested in understanding how political life is being ordered and transformed in our distinctive political time.”

—Susan Burgess, distinguished professor of Political Science, Ohio University

“Julie Novkov and Carol Nackenoff introduce and present a provocative, diverse, and richly researched set of readings on the family in Stating the Family: New Directions in the Study of American Politics. Their edited volume explores the direct and indirect roles that policymakers—presidential administrations, executive agencies, members of Congress, and the courts—have had in defining, constituting, and prioritizing families from antebellum Louisiana to the present. The chapters bring welcome and overdue attention to the political construction of ‘family’: it is not, and never was, solely ‘private,’ but, as the contributors show, inevitably implicates the state with respect to economics, gender roles, and political status.”

—Bartholomew Sparrow, professor of government, University of Texas at Austin

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About the Author

Julie Novkov is professor of political science and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at the University of Albany, State University of New York. Carol Nackenoff is the Richter Professor of Political Science at Swarthmore College. Nackenoff and Novkov are the coeditors of Statebuilding from the Margins: Between Reconstruction and the New Deal.