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Sunderland Repository records the research produced by the University of Sunderland including practice-based research and theses.

‘Pitied but distrusted’: Discourses surrounding British widows of the First World War

Smith, Angela (2007) ‘Pitied but distrusted’: Discourses surrounding British widows of the First World War. Doctoral thesis, University of Sunderland.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)


This thesis employs critical discourse analysis (Fairclough, 1995) to unpick the
discourses surrounding British widows of men who died as a result of the First
World War. The war widows’ pension scheme, as implemented under the Royal
Warrant of 1916, was the first (financially) non-contributory pension, and the first
specifically directed towards women in Britain. Implemented against a backdrop of
the first mass, industrialised war of the modern era, the discourses and ideologies
underpinning it are firmly rooted in those of the previous century.
At a time when the State was intervening in the life of its citizens in more extensive
way than at any previous time, it also sought to distance itself from these citizens
through the use of an impersonal style of communication. This was used to present
war widows’ pension legislation that was framed around discourses of morality and
nationalism that masks underlying parsimony and patriarchy.
This thesis draws on a wide range of resources such as charitable records, media
sources and Hansard reports, concentrating on a selection of 200 individual case
files relating to claims for a war widow’s pension, held in the National Archive,
Kew. Two case files are analysed in detail using discourse-historical analysis
(Wodak, 2001) as a framework for a linguistic analysis. The two case files chosen
represent widows whose experiences are typical of those found in the corpus. One
widow is representative of the sizeable group of women who had their pensions
stopped because of ‘improper’ behaviour, the correspondence in her file revealing
how discourses of morality, social welfare and national identity are employed
interdiscursively to deny her State funds. The second case study is more diachronic,
showing how one widow, in common with thousands of others, was denied a
pension on grounds on ineligibility. She employs discourses of social welfare and
nationalism to support her claim over a period of nearly 40 years. Over the course
of the 20th century, the relationship between the State and the public altered, and this
case file offers an opportunity to explore this in some detail.

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Depositing User: Barry Hall


Item ID: 3327

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Date Deposited: 11 Jan 2013 14:49
Last Modified: 18 Dec 2019 15:34