Theory of Poverty

Theories of Poverty Intro

Class review:

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-We’ve talked about the fact that the factor most closely associated with need for “welfare” (services to meet basic needs) is poverty.

-We’ve talked about who is poor- the proportions of different groups in our society who are in need of social services- The largest group of people in poverty and on welfare is children, and the women that care for them- Feminization of poverty.

-We’ve talked about our ways of delivering social welfare services and the assumptions that underlie social service delivery. These theories shape policy.

-We’ve compared our way of social service delivery and the assumptions that underlie them to ways of social service delivery and about those in need and how to best assist them, to other Western Industrial Countries (European Social Welfare Model)

– We’ve talked about political perspectives that correspond with different assumptions about those in need – why they are in need and what is the best way to meet those needs. As you read poverty theories, connect to the political perspectives that shape the ideology supporting the theory. Think about the role of change, views of the family,(especially women) meritocracy, human nature, how society is structured ( fair or unfair) and finally the role of government and the economic system.

This week, we want to talk in a more detailed and sociological way about the theories that underlie our understandings about why people are in need and what to do about it- we’ll also try to link these theoretical perspectives back to the political perspectives. The major theories to explain need are:

· Individual (please do not bother with genetic, this has been discredited) But do discuss the other individual theories

· Cultural

· Structural

RR tips:

This week I want you all to discuss the differences between the major theories of poverty, and make sure you can identify the sociological theories connected to these explanations; structural/ functional and conflict perspectives.

I’d also like you to discuss the critiques of these explanations. Be sure you can identify which political perspective links to these theories. These theories are a big part of your Community Project and final paper.

Clearly one poverty theory stands out when it comes to the U.S and the “undeserving poor.” And the theory is based on methodologically flawed research. And also still clearly locates the problem of poverty within the individual. Big hint.

Clearly, as a sociologist, the theory that aligns best with the sociological imagination is the structural theory. Yet, this is the theory that is least supported in the US and most supported in the ESM. Make sure you understand this theory. Students seem to leave this out… of their discussion.

Keyssar Reading: According to Keyssar, why do depressions and economic downturns rarely lead to meaningful public policies that address poverty?

Try to think about what social welfare services might look like within these poverty paradigms. It is important to include in your RR discussion a focus on how variables such as race, ethnicity, gender, age, health, geographic location, family size, to name a few.

Lastly, after viewing the Demonizing the Inner City, Ideology and the Urban Poor video- make some connections to the political perspectives you learned, how media reproduces stereotypes and the culture of fear, how the discourse of the “culture of poverty” is reproduced in the media, and the coded language of this demonization. Who manufactures the media? Who benefits from these ideologies? Yes, this film is older, but in light of our current political arena, it is still alive and well. What do you think?

Structural issue- Remember capitalism needs poverty. It needs the threat of poverty to get people to take unappealing slave labor, low wage, dead-end jobs. Capitalism and wage labor cannot exist without poverty.

Who is valued, who is unworthy, and undeserving?

Recommended- Review Wealth Inequality In America to help put these theories into perspective.

If you didn’t watch this video- this week would be a great time to see it-

If You Think Only Poor People Need Welfare, Wait Till You See What Really Rich Folks Do With It


Finally- Please be very careful with judgment calls, and your language. Keep your RR academic! I will not tolerate any marginalizing stereotyping language. Always stay grounded in sociology, in the readings, and not your opinions.

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