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Abstract

The terms “dependence” and “independence” have historically been used as status makers in social and political discourse in the United States. As various groups and individuals have pursued particular political goals, they have used and defined those terms in diverse ways and attached different meanings and connotations to them. The category of “dependent” in particular has been transformed from a term that at one time marked a natural condition in which certain groups existed, to a term that today defines a social problem. This article describes the content of, and the reasons for this transformation. The author concentrates upon dependency discourse as it has been used in shaping welfare reform and in the treatment of poor people in the United States. The author considers influences of individual autonomy, and social covenants. The article concludes that the categorization of “dependent” and “independent” is too ambiguous and similarly, the conceptions about which individuals and classes of people are “dependent” have changed over time.

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