How Low-Income Fathers Prioritize Children, Define Responsibility, and Negotiate State Surveillance.

Journal Name
Dissertation Abstracts International Section A: Humanities and Social Sciences
Journal Volume
Journal Issue
Page Count
Year Published
Author (Individual)
Ulrich, Monika Jean.
Resource Type
Unpublished Paper
Resource Format
Resource Language
In this study, I interviewed 57 low-income urban fathers about how they distribute resources between children, how they define responsible fatherhood and how they negotiate state surveillance. First, using queuing theory, I find that these fathers do not distribute their resources of time and money equally but instead give more of their resources to a smaller number of children in order to maximize their impact. I identify nine criteria that men use to prioritize among their children: timing of life course interruptions, distance, formal child support, desirability of the pregnancy, restraining orders, other resources available to the child, age of the child, gender of the child, and the child's reaching out behavior. Second, instead of financial provision or daily care, these men define a responsible father as someone who: acknowledges paternity to the child, mother, and his local community; spends sufficient time with the child to be at least a mentor or "Big Brother" figure; monitors the child's home; meets the child's basic financial needs before spending money on luxuries for himself; minimizes absences in the child's life; and voluntarily distances himself from the child when it is in the child's best interest. I analyze these findings in light of the common definition of responsible fatherhood and suggest several possible theoretical explanations to explain the divergence from this definition. Third, I find that low-income men experience surveillance through three state institutions: child support enforcement, the criminal justice system, and child protective services. They resisted this surveillance primarily by becoming invisible and dropping "off the radar." Men justified their resistance in five ways: they had their own material needs, they did not want the child, they did not want to separate from their child's mother, compliance was unnecessary, or they were incompetent to comply. I analyze these findings in light of Foucault's theory of state social control which contrasts state responses to leprosy and the plague. (Author abstract)

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