#1 ‘Culture of Poverty’ Makes a Comeback10-18-2010, 11:55 AM‘Culture of Poverty’ Makes a Comeback
William C. Eckenberg/The New York Times
By PATRICIA COHEN
Published: October 17, 2010
For more than 40 years, social scientists investigating the causes of poverty have tended to treat cultural explanations like Lord Voldemort: That Which Must Not Be Named.
The reticence was a legacy of the ugly battles that erupted after Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then an assistant labor secretary in the Johnson administration, introduced the idea of a “culture of poverty” to the public in a startling 1965 report. Although Moynihan didn’t coin the phrase (that distinction belongs to the anthropologist Oscar Lewis), his description of the urban black family as caught in an inescapable “tangle of pathology” of unmarried mothers and welfare dependency was seen as attributing self-perpetuating moral deficiencies to black people, as if blaming them for their own misfortune.
Moynihan’s analysis never lost its appeal to conservative thinkers, whose arguments ultimately succeeded when President Bill Clinton signed a bill in 1996 “ending welfare as we know it.” But in the overwhelmingly liberal ranks of academic sociology and anthropology the word “culture” became a live grenade, and the idea that attitudes and behavior patterns kept people poor was shunned.
Now, after decades of silence, these scholars are speaking openly about you-know-what, conceding that culture and persistent poverty are enmeshed.
“We’ve finally reached the stage where people aren’t afraid of being politically incorrect,” said Douglas S. Massey, a sociologist at Princeton who has argued that Moynihan was unfairly maligned.
The old debate has shaped the new. Last month Princeton and the Brookings Institution released a collection of papers on unmarried parents, a subject, it noted, that became off-limits after the Moynihan report. At the recent annual meeting of the American Sociological Association, attendees discussed the resurgence of scholarship on culture. And in Washington last spring, social scientists participated in a Congressional briefing on culture and poverty linked to a special issue of The Annals, the journal of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.
“Culture is back on the poverty research agenda,” the introduction declares, acknowledging that it should never have been removed.
The topic has generated interest on Capitol Hill because so much of the research intersects with policy debates. Views of the cultural roots of poverty “play important roles in shaping how lawmakers choose to address poverty issues,” Representative Lynn Woolsey, Democrat of California, noted at the briefing.
This surge of academic research also comes as the percentage of Americans living in poverty hit a 15-year high: one in seven, or 44 million.
With these studies come many new and varied definitions of culture, but they all differ from the ’60s-era model in these crucial respects: Today, social scientists are rejecting the notion of a monolithic and unchanging culture of poverty. And they attribute destructive attitudes and behavior not to inherent moral character but to sustained racism and isolation.
To Robert J. Sampson, a sociologist at Harvard, culture is best understood as “shared understandings.”
“I study inequality, and the dominant focus is on structures of poverty,” he said. But he added that the reason a neighborhood turns into a “poverty trap” is also related to a common perception of the way people in a community act and think. When people see graffiti and garbage, do they find it acceptable or see serious disorder? Do they respect the legal system or have a high level of “moral cynicism,” believing that “laws were made to be broken”?
10-18-2010, 11:59 AM
I read that title and for a second there I thought that Punk music was making a return.
Last edited by FlaGator; 10-18-2010 at 12:01 PM.“I have learned now that while those who speak about one's miseries usually hurt, those who keep silence hurt more.”
God judged it better to bring good out of evil than to suffer no evil to exist.
St. Augustine of Hippo
10-18-2010, 12:31 PM
Sic Hacer Pace, Para Bellum.
Before you can do things for people, you must be the kind of man who can get things done. But to get things done, you must love the doing, not the people!
10-18-2010, 01:37 PM
Back before being a victim was fashionable, people spent a considerable amount of time studying the pragmatic behaviors that caused or sustained poverty. Most of this research was conducted within communities that were either segregated or self-segregated and included most of the ethnicities then available including white ethnicities mired in generational poverty.
While feeling marginalized by society could cause poverty (I guess), it certainly doesn't have to.
10-18-2010, 07:15 PM
It's the same as those in poverty. When my ancestors came to America, they did so because things were so bad in Italy that they couldn't survive so they hopped on a boat and came here for work, which was plentiful. As cheap as the labor was, it was heads and shoulders better than what they made in Italy. My ex-father-in-law used to be paid in money and a sack of spaghetti in Italy. Can you imagine being paid in food here? Anyhoo, foreign immigrants came here to work and made a better life for them and their family. This work ethic is passed on to future generations. Blacks went in the other direction. They were slaves(and yes I know I'm delving into large sweeping generalizations here but bear with me) and when freed, many made good lives for them and their families but segregation didn't allow them to really grow as they would have in the north. Somewhere along the lines, the government felt that it was their responsibility to take care of them(and anyone else who was struggling). So, they began doling out free money, food, housing, etc. Even though this welfare was just another form of slavery(but slavery that doesn't require working), these families took all of 15 seconds to realize that work was for suckers. So, you have generation after generation on welfare. Hispanics came her for work, yes, but stuck around when they figured out that working all those long hours in the fields was for suckers and that they can get paid even better just by sitting home doing nothing. Hence the welfare system has done more to put and keep people in poverty than it can claim ever helped anyone ever prosper.
I know the above is a huge brush stroke of generalizations but I believe my point is valid.The Obama Administration: Deny. Deflect. Blame.
10-18-2010, 11:19 PM
The question shouldn't be simply accepting free will and saying "is any of their situation a result of their own actions?" because no one denies that yes it is. The further question is "in what way does one's environment contribute to the actions they take?". Denying that someone's environment impacts their outcome is as radically dense as denying that humans have any form of free will.Originally Posted by Adam Smith - Wealth of Nations
10-18-2010, 11:46 PM
Why do you keep insisting that I want to vote for a Democrat? I've said numerous times I do not. You seem hell-bent on arguing with a made up caricature you learned from Rush Limbaugh, rather than actual people.Originally Posted by Adam Smith - Wealth of Nations
- Join Date
- May 2010
10-19-2010, 11:07 AM
The bottom line (and this what later poverty researchers objected to) was to expose the kid to the behaviors and possibilities that were not an option in their ethnic/social class communities. It worked like a charm for most the kids but at the expense of family relationships and ethnic identity. Many of those kids went on to be highly successful.
A "lite" version of this approach was used in the Settlement Houses. The kid stayed at home and in his or her neighborhood school but the Settlement teachers not only worked with the kid after school but also visited the home and actively recruited the parents into the process. This was for the children of immigrants only, though. The children of native born parents weren't enrolled.
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