Alumni (National Fellow)

Gwendoline Alphonso

National Fellow
Ph.D. Cornell University (2010)
Dream Mentor:
Adam Sheingate
Johns Hopkins University
Fields of Interest:
American Political Development
Gender History
Social Issues


Gwendoline Alphonso is an associate professor of politics and director of the Pre-Law Advising Program at Fairfield University. Alphonso is interested in the study of state-society relations, particularly the intersection of culture and morality with law and political development. Her primary research interests are two-fold: first, those pertaining to American politics: United States Congress, political parties, American political development, gender and politics, politics of the family, social policy; and second, those relating to law: feminist legal theory, family law, comparative constitutional law, and theories of criminal law and punishment. Alphonso’s first book, Polarized Families, Polarized Parties Contesting Values and Economics in American Politics, was published in May 2018 by the University of Pennsylvania Press.

Thesis Description:

Progressive & Traditional Family Orders: Parties, Ideologies, and the Development of Social Policy across the 20th Century
Alphonso’s dissertation, “Progressive & Traditional Family Orders: Parties, Ideologies, and the Development of Social Policy across the 20th Century,” examined the origins and evolution of partisan family ideology and its effect on social policy through three periods in 20th century American political history - the Progressive Era (1900-1920), the postwar Period (1946-1960), and the Contemporary period (1980-2005). The overarching contention is that the family has been a central organizing principle of political development and the historical development of American social policy, a claim that has been largely overlooked in political and policy analysis. Through extensive inductive analysis of party platforms, congressional hearings, family bill sponsorship/co-sponsorship, and roll call data in the House and Senate, she identified patterns in the development of partisan family ideologies, contending that there have been two competing family ideologies - the progressive and traditional - that have persisted across the past century. She explored the two family ideologies as part of broader family political orders, defined as “constellations of ideas, policies, institutions, and practices regarding the family that hang together and exhibit a coherence and predictability.” Her dissertation documented and explained the change and evolution of the progressive and traditional family orders, their partisan composition and attendant social policies. By inserting social policies into evolving family orders and unearthing elite interests, partisan dynamics, electoral family conditions, and family ideologies, the project hoped to account for why certain types of policy ideas, such as same-sex marriage, gain ascendance during certain periods while others decline.

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