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Re: [xmca] return of culture of poverty

Wow! So well expressed! Could be a speech of a comrade in the public square. May I suggest that culture is very primal in its origin, nature and in how we are affected by it. Spoken language is the repository, transmitter and key to recreating culture. The vocal body language of words informs us subliminally, of the meanings of all things we name; the effects of things are the same as their meanings. Any thing can only mean whatever its affect on us is. There have been so many good-intentioned attempts to remake the world at large and always it has resulted in a battle charge; The world may be better than it used to be, but that is not at all that plain to see. Listen to Tracy Chapman's song, "New Bwginning". It says we need a new language, new signs, new symbols. It says the old way is broken and it ain't worth fix'in. We need to start all over, we need a new beginning.

		Joseph Gilbert

On Nov 9, 2010, at 12:10 PM, David H Kirshner wrote:

The script, in the American version of capitalism, centers around the right to aspire to unlimited wealth through any means that can be justified as lawful. In the script such accumulation of wealth is deemed an inherent good, regardless of any independent analysis of the value received by the society. Of course, the easiest and most direct route to wealth is through influence on the governments which set the laws that determine what is lawful commerce. Hence our free-market legislatures are one of the truly thriving growth industry in the U.S. But government still has to be at least somewhat responsive to the public. So along with purchasing legislators, business interests now deliver the electorate to them through 'citizens movements' that are researched, set up, and funded by business interests. The entrée for such public influence is the normal tension that exist in any society between more conservative and more progressive communities. By exacerbating these natural differences, business interests are able to marshal support from a sizable proportion of the public that is only too happy to cede power over economic and financial policy to those who promise moral (i.e., traditional) social practices. It's enough to make one want to give up on progressive social causes to wrest back control of economic structures.

-----Original Message-----
From: xmca-bounces@weber.ucsd.edu [mailto:xmca- bounces@weber.ucsd.edu] On Behalf Of Joseph Gilbert
Sent: Tuesday, November 09, 2010 1:27 PM
To: eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity
Subject: Re: [xmca] return of culture of poverty

Re: culture and poverty;
In Order for the possiblity of poverty to exist, it must first exist,
as a potential, in the culture. Culture supports only that which is
included in the script. Within cultures, there is a range of possible
ways of being, these possibchasmslities depending upon what
circumstances that the culture is reacting to. Culture is like
software: Once it is installed, it determines what conclusions are
arrived at. In order for us to accept the notion that poverty is par
for the course, that it will always be with us, that concept must be
included within the script that is culture.  In order for there to be
a world with no poverty and a far greater chance of prosperity, we
must create a script in which the great disparities in wealth that
exist now, are not possible. Great chasms between the material wealth
of one person and another does not foster peace and prosperity and in
fact creates poverty by demoralizing the people. We naturally want to
share freely with others and a cultural script that allows our doing
so would be very helpful.

		Joseph Gilbert

On Nov 9, 2010, at 3:23 AM, Bruce Robinson wrote:

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

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
Patrick Moynihan<http://topics.nytimes.com/top/reference/
then an assistant labor secretary in the Johnson administration,
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 <http://www.blacksacademy.net/content/
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,
arguments ultimately succeeded when President Bill
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
patterns kept people poor was shunned.

Now, after decades of silence, these scholars are speaking openly
you-know-what, conceding that culture and persistent poverty are

"We've finally reached the stage where people aren't afraid of being
politically incorrect," said Douglas S. Massey, a sociologist at
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
a collection
of papers<http://futureofchildren.org/futureofchildren/publications/
unmarried parents, a subject, it noted, that became off-limits after
Moynihan report. At the recent annual meeting of the American
Association, attendees discussed the resurgence of scholarship on
And in Washington last spring, social scientists participated in a
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
acknowledging that it should never have been removed.

The topic has generated interest on Capitol Hill because so much of
research intersects with policy debates. Views of the cultural
roots of
poverty "play important roles in shaping how lawmakers choose to
poverty issues," Representative Lynn Woolsey, Democrat of
California, noted
at the briefing.

This surge of academic research also comes as the percentage of
living in poverty<http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/17/us/
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
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
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
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
through different neighborhoods this summer, dropping stamped,
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
Taylor public housing projects once stood, almost no envelopes were
in others researchers received more than half of the letters back.
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
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
into poor neighborhoods to delve deeper into the attitudes of
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
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
an editor of The Annals' special issue, tried to figure out why some
York City mothers with children in day care developed networks of
while others did not. As he explained in his 2009 book, "Unanticipated
Gains," <http://home.uchicago.edu/%7Emariosmall/documents/
answer did not depend on income or ethnicity, but rather the rules of
the day-care institution. Centers that held frequent field trips,
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
of that debate."

Scholars like Professor Wilson, 74, who have tilled the field much
mentioned the development of more sophisticated data and analytical
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,
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
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

Changes outside campuses have made conversation about the cultural
roots of
poverty easier than it was in the '60s. Divorce, living together
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
headlines when he criticized poor blacks for "not parenting" and
dropping out of school. President
who was abandoned by his father, has repeatedly talked about

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

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
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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