Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Social Work (DSW)


Social Work


Lyle S. Hallman Faculty of Social Work

First Advisor

Anne Westhues

Advisor Role

Thesis Supervisor


The single mother has been an enduring and representative character in the development of social welfare. Casted as the embodiment of the various crises of the family which Western democratic nations have experienced throughout the twentieth century, she is the representative of what is outside the foundation of a desirable life: an economically dependent family unit without a male head. Nevertheless, the single mother is also an actual woman raising children alone struggling for survival under very adverse circumstances. In its materiality, it is this body, not the allegorical character, who is the subject of studies and interventions concerned with the future and stability of society. Using a conceptual framework based both on recent developments of Foucault's work and on contemporary feminist investigations of subjectivity, this thesis proposes the single mother as a complex of rationalities which, in interaction with welfare practices, produces a way to govern women raising children alone and a specific mode of life. These two formulations - form of government and way of life - constitute the objects of two case studies which illustrate empirically their meaning. The case studies address the implementation of two welfare programs through the use of texts of rule: textually recorded logs of practice which produce an account of how rationalities and intentions were translated into practices. The first case study examines the implementation of the mothers' allowances program in Ontario from its inception in 1920 until its transformation into Family Benefits in 1967. The second considers the development of the Ontario experiment of public housing as a program addressing the shelter needs of women who raise children alone in indirect and pivotal ways. Through these case studies, the thesis shows how the individual and real woman raising children alone has both her subjectivity and material existence constituted by governmental relations between the single mother complex and the apparatus of welfare. Finally, the thesis relates how the processes of constitution do not totally determine these women and that agency lies in the very processes that subject them. This understanding leads towards a conceptualization that processes of government can create openings for change and transformation.

Convocation Year


Convocation Season