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Agents, Armies, Allies: Semantics of Public-Private Partnerships in US Welfare Reform

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Global competition and demographic change have put modern welfare states under pressure. To ensure budget consolidation without too harsh a retrenchment of benefits, privatization and competition have become white hopes in the social-political debate. As states are courting civil society to take over responsibility in the realm of social welfare, they create opportunity structures for religious communities to re-enter the public sphere. While it has become fashionable to announce the resurgence of religion in heroic diagnoses of the world order, little attention has been given to what is going on below on the meso-level of public-private collaboration between religious and non-religious organizations. In this article I will examine US welfare reform as a strong case of privatization and communalization of welfare responsibility, which involves an explicit invitation to religious communities to join in as public social service providers. I will argue for a religious studies perspective to religion and social politics that focuses on the semantic patterns of the political discourse and explore the guiding semantics of public-private partnerships from the initial Charitable Choice legislation under the Clinton government to George W. Bush’s Faith-based Initiative and finally to the New Era of Partnerships announced by Barack Obama.

Affiliations: 1: Ruhr-Universität Bochum,


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