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Culture of poverty

The culture of poverty concept is a social theory explaining the cycle of poverty. Based on the concept that the poor have a unique value system, the culture of poverty theory suggests the poor remain in poverty because of their adaptations to the burdens of poverty.

The term "subculture of poverty" (later shortened to "culture of poverty") made its first prominent appearance in the ethnography La Vida: A Puerto Rican Family in the Culture of Poverty, San Juan and New York (1966) by anthropologist Oscar Lewis. 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 therefore 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.

Lewis gave some seventy characteristics (1996 [1966], 1998) that indicated the presence of the culture of poverty, which he argued was not shared among all of the lower classes.

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 groupand do not suffer from racial discrimination. In the United Statesthe culture of poverty of the Negroeshas 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 ideologyto 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.
(Lewis 1998)

Although Lewis 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) and the War on Povertymore generally.

Since the 1960s critics of culture of poverty explanations for the persistence of the underclasses have attempted to show that real world data do not fit Lewis' model (Goode and Eames, 1996). Despite decades of this criticism by prominent sociologists, anthropologists and other academics who argue that descriptions of the poor as being culturally unique have little explanatory power, the culture of poverty concept persists in popular culture.

See also

  • Cycle of poverty

References

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Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/Culture_of_poverty"



This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.
It uses material from the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture+of+poverty Wikipedia article Culture of poverty.

 
  All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License