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Re: [xmca] return of culture of poverty

I think the cause for the current lack of rebellion is cultural. Our culture, through the way sounds are used to identify things, informs us subliminally of the affects on us and therefore of the meanings of everything which we name. We operate within a script particular to our culture. If we want to change the play, we ought to change the script. Associating certain sounds with certain things gives us a sense of the meanings of those things.

		Joseph Gilbert

On Nov 9, 2010, at 3:53 AM, Julian Williams wrote:


But surely in a way aren't these people right: sometimes the rightists put their finger not on but somewhere near the pulse - they speak of the philosophy of poverty rather than the poverty of philosophy... surely the main reasons poverty continues and we cant get the blood-suckers off our necks today ARE cultural as well as political, pace Bourdieu, unless you think the main reason for the present lack of rebellion is something else ...

Hope to see you in London tomorrow behind the students/workers/ academics banners... 12 noon on the embankment.


-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca- bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Bruce Robinson
Sent: 09 November 2010 11:23
To: eXtended Mind, Culture,Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] return of culture of poverty

We Brits are now seeing this sort of ideas being pushed as a rationale for dismantling the welfare state, introducing workfare, and stigmatising the unemployed and sick. We are told work, whether compulsory or voluntary, is a solution for those on benefits long term, even when few jobs exist and the cuts mean there'll be even fewer. They are to blame because they supposedly have no motivation to change unless pushed to the starvation line. The US is
being used as a more or less conscious model for these changes.

Bruce R

----- Original Message -----
From: "mike cole" <lchcmike@gmail.com>
To: "eXtended Mind, Culture,Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
Sent: Tuesday, November 09, 2010 1:24 AM
Subject: [xmca] return of culture of poverty

This topic is, indeed, coming back in a big way.

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
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
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<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
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
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
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

"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

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

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

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
York City mothers with children in day care developed networks of support
while others did not. As he explained in his 2009 book, "Unanticipated
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

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,
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

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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