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Re: [xmca] return of culture of poverty

I read that article when it came out a few weeks back. How do you understand it politically?

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Lois Holzman, Ph.D.
Director, East Side Institute for Group and Short Term Psychotherapy
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On Nov 8, 2010, at 8:24 PM, mike cole wrote:

> This topic is, indeed, coming back in a big way.
> mike
> October 17, 2010
> ‘Culture of Poverty’ Makes a Comeback By PATRICIA
> COHEN<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/c/patricia_cohen/index.html?inline=nyt-per>
> 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<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/m/daniel_patrick_moynihan/index.html?inline=nyt-per>,
> 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<http://www.dol.gov/oasam/programs/history/webid-meynihan.htm>.
> Although Moynihan didn’t coin the phrase (that distinction belongs to the
> anthropologist Oscar Lewis <http://www.blacksacademy.net/content/3253.html>),
> 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<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/c/bill_clinton/index.html?inline=nyt-per>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 <http://ann.sagepub.com/content/621/1.toc> that Moynihan was
> unfairly maligned.
> The old debate has shaped the new. Last month Princeton and the Brookings
> Institution<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/b/brookings_institution/index.html?inline=nyt-org>released
> a collection
> of papers<http://futureofchildren.org/futureofchildren/publications/journals/journal_details/index.xml?journalid=73>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<http://www.aapss.org/news/2010/06/18/reconsidering-culture-and-poverty-a-congressional-briefing>on
> culture and poverty linked to a special issue
> of The Annals <http://ann.sagepub.com/content/629/1/6.full.pdf+html>, the
> journal of the American Academy of Political and Social
> Science<http://www.aapss.org/>.
> “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<http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/17/us/17poverty.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=eric%20eckholm%20poverty&st=cse>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<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/h/harvard_university/index.html?inline=nyt-org>,
> 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”?
> As part of a large research project in Chicago, Professor Sampson walked
> through different neighborhoods this summer, dropping stamped, addressed
> envelopes to see how many people would pick up an apparently lost letter and
> mail it, a sign that looking out for others is part of the community’s
> culture.
> In some neighborhoods, like Grand Boulevard, where the notorious Robert
> Taylor public housing projects once stood, almost no envelopes were mailed;
> in others researchers received more than half of the letters back. Income
> levels did not necessarily explain the difference, Professor Sampson said,
> but rather the community’s cultural norms, the levels of moral cynicism and
> disorder.
> The shared perception of a neighborhood — is it on the rise or stagnant? —
> does a better job of predicting a community’s future than the actual level
> of poverty, he said.
> William Julius Wilson<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/w/william_julius_wilson/index.html?inline=nyt-per>,
> whose pioneering work boldly confronted ghetto life while focusing on
> economic explanations for persistent poverty, defines culture as the way
> “individuals in a community develop an understanding of how the world works
> and make decisions based on that understanding.”
> For some young black men, Professor Wilson, a Harvard sociologist, said, the
> world works like this: “If you don’t develop a tough demeanor, you won’t
> survive. If you have access to weapons, you get them, and if you get into a
> fight, you have to use them.”
> Seeking to recapture the topic from economists, sociologists have ventured
> into poor neighborhoods to delve deeper into the attitudes of residents.
> Their results have challenged some common assumptions, like the belief that
> poor mothers remain single because they don’t value marriage.
> In Philadelphia, for example, low-income mothers told the sociologists
> Kathryn Edin and Maria Kefalas that they thought marriage was profoundly
> important, even sacred, but doubted that their partners were “marriage
> material.” Their results have prompted some lawmakers and poverty experts to
> conclude that programs that promote marriage without changing economic and
> social conditions are unlikely to work.
> Mario Luis Small, a sociologist at the University of
> Chicago<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/organizations/u/university_of_chicago/index.html?inline=nyt-org>and
> an editor of The Annals’ special issue, tried to figure out why some
> New
> York City mothers with children in day care developed networks of support
> while others did not. As he explained in his 2009 book, “Unanticipated
> Gains,” <http://home.uchicago.edu/%7Emariosmall/documents/UG_Chapter1.pdf>the
> answer did not depend on income or ethnicity, but rather the rules of
> the day-care institution. Centers that held frequent field trips, organized
> parents’ associations and had pick-up and drop-off procedures created more
> opportunities for parents to connect.
> Younger academics like Professor Small, 35, attributed the upswing in
> cultural explanations to a “new generation of scholars without the baggage
> of that debate.”
> Scholars like Professor Wilson, 74, who have tilled the field much longer,
> mentioned the development of more sophisticated data and analytical tools.
> He said he felt compelled to look more closely at culture after the
> publication of Charles Murray and Richard Herrnstein’s controversial 1994
> book, “The Bell Curve,” which attributed African-Americans’ lower I.Q.
> scores to genetics.
> The authors claimed to have taken family background into account, Professor
> Wilson said, but “they had not captured the cumulative effects of living in
> poor, racially segregated neighborhoods.”
> He added, “I realized we needed a comprehensive measure of the environment,
> that we must consider structural *and* cultural forces.”
> He mentioned a study by Professor Sampson, 54, that found that growing up in
> areas where violence limits socializing outside the family and where parents
> haven’t attended college stunts verbal ability, lowering I.Q. scores by as
> much as six points, the equivalent of missing more than a year in school.
> Changes outside campuses have made conversation about the cultural roots of
> poverty easier than it was in the ’60s. Divorce, living together without
> marrying, and single motherhood are now commonplace. At the same time
> prominent African-Americans have begun to speak out on the subject. In 2004
> the comedian Bill
> Cosby<http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/billcosbypoundcakespeech.htm>made
> headlines when he criticized poor blacks for “not parenting” and
> dropping out of school. President
> Obama<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/timestopics/people/o/barack_obama/index.html?inline=nyt-per>,
> who was abandoned by his father, has repeatedly talked about “responsible
> fatherhood.”
> Conservatives also deserve credit, said Kay S. Hymowitz, a fellow at the
> conservative Manhattan Institute, for their sustained focus on family values
> and marriage even when cultural explanations were disparaged.
> Still, worries about blaming the victim persist. Policy makers and the
> public still tend to view poverty through one of two competing lenses, Michèle
> Lamont <http://www2.cifar.ca/research/successful-societies-program/>,
> another editor of the special issue of The Annals, said: “Are the poor poor
> because they are lazy, or are the poor poor because they are a victim of the
> markets?”
> So even now some sociologists avoid words like “values” and “morals” or
> reject the idea that, as The Annals put it, “a group’s culture is more or
> less coherent.” Watered-down definitions of culture, Ms. Hymowitz
> complained, reduce some of the new work to “sociological pablum.”
> “If anthropologists had come away from doing field work in New Guinea
> concluding ‘everyone’s different,’ but sometimes people help each other
> out,” she wrote in an e-mail, “there would be no field of anthropology — and
> no word culture for cultural sociologists to bend to their will.”
> Fuzzy definitions or not, culture is back. This prompted mock surprise from
> Rep. Woolsey at last spring’s Congressional briefing: “What a concept.
> Values, norms, beliefs play very important roles in the way people meet the
> challenges of poverty.”
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