The Cost of Participating while Poor and Black: Toward a Theory of Collective Participatory Debt

From the Margins to the Center: A Bottom-Up Approach to Welfare State Scholarship

By Jamila Michener, Cornell University, New York, Mallory SoRelle, Duke University and Chloe Thurston, Northwestern University, Illinois

In this article we reassess conceptions of the welfare state with an eye towards the limits of current scholarly approaches. In particular, we propose centering the study of the welfare state around those who occupy the margins of American society. We argue that concentrating on populations at the proverbial “bottom” of standard economic and political hierarchies productively reorients research on social policy and politics by bringing crucial but often overlooked facets of the welfare state into sharper view. Specifically, the bottom-up approach we offer here entreats political scientists to re-consider where they look in their efforts to delineate the welfare state, how to examine what they find, and what kinds of questions to ask in the process. Ultimately, studying the welfare state from the bottom up suggests a host of new directions for scholars seeking to understand its politics.