Title page for ETD etd-12222005-090657

Type of Document Dissertation
Author Luff, Tracy L.
URN etd-12222005-090657
Title The construction of social problems and the experience of human service programs : contradictory relations in a support group for adolescent mothers
Degree PhD
Department Sociology
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Bailey, Carol A. Committee Co-Chair
Flora, Cornelia Butler Committee Co-Chair
Allen, Katherine R. Committee Member
Calasanti, Toni M. Committee Member
Fuhrman, Ellsworth R. Committee Member
  • human services
  • impression management
  • adolescent mother
  • feminist epistemology
Date of Defense 1997-01-15
Availability restricted

The patterned interactions in a support group for adolescent mothers are analyzed in the context of the specific construction(s) of adolescent pregnancy and motherhood that legitimate the program's existence. Particular attention is paid to the way in which staff and clients are positioned vis a vis one another through the typification of the program's mission and goals. Data analyzed include field notes recorded during ten months of participant observation with the group, program documents describing the history, mission, and goals of the program, and an in-depth interview with the Program Director. Changes in funding patterns led to an increased emphasis on the prevention of child abuse as a goal of the program. The resulting expectations of program staff and assumptions about adoelscent mothers cast these two groups of women into social identities containing inherent contradictions. Differences of social class further complicate the relationship between the groups. Varying strategies of self-presentation are employed by clients and staff as they struggle with these contradictions. The young mothers present themselves in ways that maintain distance between themselves and staff. While the staff are never completely successful and breaking down the barriers between themselves and the young mothers, one style of self-presentation has the potential to bridge the gap. The findings have practical implications for the design and implementation of human service programs, particularly those which address stigmatized categories of women. The findings also have theoretical implications relevant to ongoing discussions of feminist epistemology, and the intersection of gender and social class.

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