Degree Date



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Social Work and Social Research


The much-heralded antipoverty strategy of asset-building emphasizes saving and acquiring wealth as a key route out of poverty (as opposed to relying on public assistance). This case study of a financial literacy program in Philadelphia focuses on how asset-building discourse gets enacted on the frontlines and assesses its implications for how caseworkers and clients come to address issues of poverty in general. Drawing on multiple sources of evidence, the dissertation finds that asset-building discourse as enacted in this agency setting is fundamentally contradictory: it promotes the idea that the poor can acquire financial literacy to the point of becoming market-savvy entrepreneurs but simultaneously works to discipline the poor to thoughtlessly save out of habit. Asset-building is more about inculcating the habit of saving than about teaching economically rational decision-making. These findings indicate that asset-building is consistent with a neoliberal outlook that focuses on disciplining the poor to be market compliant irrespective of whether this compliance helps overcome or reinforce living in poverty. The conclusions discuss how to get beyond the disciplinary dimensions of asset-building.


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