ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846
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Personal Responsibility among Puerto Rican Teenage Mothers in New York City

A central feature of current policy perspectives about teenage pregnancy and childbearing is the notion of personal responsibility, which emerged out of the most recent congressional discussions to reform the US system of welfare. As a key phrase, personal responsibility operates within a particular cultural logic designed to influence the public imagination about the social lives of young women who mother. Personal responsibility effectively redirects welfare debates away from the structural and political causes of poverty by emphasising the behaviours and decisions of individual women. Poverty becomes explained in terms of behavioural causes that delegitimate political and economic concerns. The portrait that emerges from the ethnographic data on young Puerto Rican mothers from a fieldwork study in New York city for all these young women personal responsibility appeared as an integral aspect of their struggle to support themselves and their children while living in families that were already economically precarious. It calls into question the image of teenage mothers as "feeding off the system" or as non-productive individuals. Such authoritative, state-sponsored cultural narratives about the lives of young mothers make it possible to deflect attention from the actual causes of the declining well-being of the nation. As a racial project, the principle of personal responsibility acts as a non-racial code word that signals to the "American people" who to blame for the decline of its economic (and political) hegemony.

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