Resignation without relief: democratic governance and the relinquishing of parental rights

Gillian Slee, Matthew Desmond

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Sociologists have long studied the ways people resist oppression but have devoted far less empirical attention to the ways people resign to it. As a result, researchers have neglected the mechanisms of resignation and how people narrate their lived experiences. Drawing on 81 interviews with parents with past child protective services cases, this article provides an empirical account of resignation in an institutional setting, documenting how parents understand relinquishing their rights as a process of personalization, calculation, or socialization. Phenomenologically, parents typically confronted multiple barriers and setbacks simultaneously, the combined weight of which pressured them to “give up,” interpreting structural and institutional pressures as individual choice. This article accordingly identifies resignation as a crucial feature of democratic governance.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)583-623
Number of pages41
JournalTheory and Society
Issue number4
StatePublished - Jul 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Child protective services
  • Children
  • Democratic governance
  • Parents
  • Resignation
  • Rights


Dive into the research topics of 'Resignation without relief: democratic governance and the relinquishing of parental rights'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this