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Culture - Poverty

The term "culture of poverty" (previously "subculture of poverty") made its first appearance in Lewis's ethnography Five Families: Mexican Case Studies in the Culture of Poverty.[4] Lewis struggled to render "the poor" as legitimate subjects whose lives were transformed by poverty. He argued that although the burdens of poverty were systemic and imposed upon these members of society, they led to the formation of an autonomous subculture as children were socialized into behaviors and attitudes that perpetuated their inability to escape the underclass.

Culture - Poverty

Early proponents of the theory argued that the poor are not only lacking resources but also acquire a poverty-perpetuating value system. According to anthropologist Oscar Lewis, "The subculture [of the poor] develops mechanisms that tend to perpetuate it, especially because of what happens to the worldview, aspirations, and character of the children who grow up in it". (Lewis 1969, p. 199)

Lewis gave 70 characteristics (Lewis (1996), Lewis (1998)) that indicated the presence of the culture of poverty, which he argued was not shared among all of the lower classes. Oscar Lewis's interest in poverty inspired other cultural anthropologists to study poverty. Their interest was based on his idea of a culture of poverty.[5]

The people in the culture of poverty have a strong feeling of marginality, of helplessness, of dependency, of not belonging. They are like aliens in their own country, convinced that the existing institutions do not serve their interests and needs. Along with this feeling of powerlessness is a widespread feeling of inferiority, of personal unworthiness. This is true of the slum dwellers of Mexico City, who do not constitute a distinct ethnic or racial group and do not suffer from racial discrimination. In the United States the culture of poverty of African Americans has the additional disadvantage of racial discrimination.

People with a culture of poverty have very little sense of history. They are a marginal people who know only their own troubles, their own local conditions, their own neighborhood, their own way of life. Usually, they have neither the knowledge, the vision nor the ideology to see the similarities between their problems and those of others like themselves elsewhere in the world. In other words, they are not class conscious, although they are very sensitive indeed to status distinctions. When the poor become class conscious or members of trade union organizations, or when they adopt an internationalist outlook on the world they are, in my view, no longer part of the culture of poverty although they may still be desperately poor.

Although Lewis (1998) was concerned with poverty in the developing world, the culture of poverty concept proved attractive to US public policy makers and politicians. It strongly informed documents such as the Moynihan Report (1965) as well as the War on Poverty.

The culture of poverty emerges as a key concept in Michael Harrington's discussion of American poverty in The Other America.[6] For Harrington, the culture of poverty is a structural concept defined by social institutions of exclusion that create and perpetuate the cycle of poverty in America.

Since the 1960s, critics of the culture of poverty explanations for the persistence of the underclasses have attempted to show that real world data does not fit Lewis's model (Goode & Eames 1996). In 1974, anthropologist Carol Stack issued a critique of it, calling it "fatalistic" and noticed that believing in the idea of a culture of poverty does not describe the poor so much as it serves the interests of the rich.

She demonstrates the way that political interests to keep the wages of the poor low create a climate in which it is politically convenient to buy into the idea of culture of poverty (Stack 1974). In sociology and anthropology, the concept created a backlash, pushing scholars to look to structures rather than "blaming-the-victim" (Bourgois 2001).

Since the late 1990s, the culture of poverty has witnessed a resurgence in social sciences, but most scholars now reject the notion of a monolithic and unchanging culture of poverty. Newer research typically rejects the idea that whether people are poor can be explained by their values. It is often reluctant to divide explanations into "structural" and "cultural," because of the increasingly questionable utility of this old distinction.[8]

Hill, R. (2002) states that some recent scholars believe the work of Oscar Lewis on the culture of poverty was misinterpreted. They believe his theory was not intended to suggest that low-income earners choose to live in poverty. They believe the culture of poverty is a result of coping mechanisms developed by low-income earners. It helps them accept their circumstances, which takes a great deal of personal strength. Recent scholars also suggest that Oscar Lewis acknowledged institutional shortcomings.[10]

Racists began blowing on this particular dog-whistle as soon as the murder of Michael Brown began to attract national attention. No doubt in the coming months it will only get louder. As the sheer scale and brutality of racial inequality in the US comes, however hazily, into popular focus, conservatives across the country will, much like Zionists suddenly concerned with the fate of the Syrian uprising, suddenly evince an intense preoccupation with the lives of black Americans. We will hear how welfare has made blacks dependent on the government, has broken up the black family, and has encouraged a culture of criminality and violence (as evidenced by all that rap music).

Even in those venues where this kind of attack on the character of a murdered young black man is recognized for the victim blaming it is, there is a reticence to directly confront the larger claims the culture of poverty theory makes about African-American culture. One can find any number of articles responding to the latest coded racism from the loud Republican of the moment, which point out how conservatives ignore the history of racial oppression and blame the black poor for their own suffering. Far more rare, however, is a direct confrontation with the description of black culture entailed by the culture of poverty narrative.

The disconnect between claims of a culture of criminality and the evidence presented by reality is not at all unusual when it comes to the various elements that make up the culture of poverty narrative. Its other facets are equally guilty of inverting the world in which we live. Consider three prominent claims made by the would-be augurs of black culture: that black students devalue education out of a conception of school as a white thing, that black parents place a low value on marriage and a stable family life, and that the black poor are simply uninterested in finding work. All of these have been given voice across the political spectrum, from liberals to reactionaries, and all of them are patently false.

This conceit has suffered perhaps more thorough rebuttal than any other component of the culture of poverty. Since the 1960s, social scientists have produced study after study demonstrating that poor and unemployed black Americans have basically the same attitudes towards work as the rest of country. In fact, a recent study found that black job seekers are even more resilient than their white counterparts, staying in the job market longer despite persistent frustrations of their search for employment. One waits in vain for such results to generate a moral panic over the decline of a work ethic in white communities.

And yet, the culture-of-poverty narrative leads us away from that perspective, and exacerbates the widespread tendency to view social inequality through the lens of personal responsibility and cultural predispositions.

And yet the notion that the entrenched racial disparities of US society are, at least in part, the product of black cultural pathologies, retains enormous traction. Sharpton and Cosby are hardly alone among black Americans in identifying with versions of this narrative. A recent survey, for example, revealed that black men both tend to value education and work highly, yet thought that other black men spent too much time thinking about sports and sex. So pervasive is this ideology that people who know it to be false of themselves are willing to believe it of others. The argument can also take a more nationalist register, as in the contention that slavery damaged black American culture so profoundly that the resulting cultural deficiencies, often identified as a lack of community or self-respect, explain aspects of black inequality today, from educational disparities to economic impoverishment.

Yet what the social science literature demonstrates is that however secure the culture of poverty seems as a hegemonic explanation for racial inequality, it ultimately rests on what are, at the end of the day, nothing more than lies. As the uprising in Ferguson has highlighted the connection between American imperialism and militarism on the home front, it is worth remembering that cultural explanations of structural processes have never been a purely domestic affair.

The Culture of Poverty theory proposes that people in poverty develop certain habits that cause their families to remain in poverty over generations. These habits lead people in poverty to make choices that eventually lead to their continuation in the poverty system.

Oscar Lewis was the anthropologist who first used the term culture of poverty to assert the theory that people born into poverty become adapted to poor mindsets. His theory was that those mindsets cause people in poverty to continue in poverty and pass it down generation after generation.

Supporters of the Culture of Poverty Theory believe that people's values in poverty cause them to stay in poverty. Essentially, the Culture of Poverty Theory blames people's values and cultural norms as the reason for the continuation of poverty.

Poverty is used to describe the situation when a person does not have enough money to provide for their basic needs. The list of basic needs usually includes food, housing, and clothing. People who cannot afford all three are considered to be living in poverty. The word is used to describe people who can only afford inadequate types of food, housing, and clothing. Poverty is often associated with high crime, low education, and poor health as well. Poverty-stricken is a phrase that is used to describe extreme cases of poverty. Individuals considered not able to afford housing, food, or clothing are often referred to as poverty-stricken. 041b061a72


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