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Re: [xmca] return of culture of poverty (mike cole)

Gregory, you wrote
*I leave it to you as to whether the transformation is of an individual's
view of the world or whether it is a transformation of the big bad world
that is beyond any of us as individuals

This question of where to intervene to "make a difference" [the individual
or macro economic level] doesn't consider the "intermediate" level of

Oscar Lewis in his article "The Culture of Poverty" emphasizes that the
concept of poverty as a distinct "culture" is a GENERALIZATION that may help
to unify and explain anumber of phenomena hitherto perceived as peculiar to
certain racial, national, or regional groups. (p.25)  So what are some of
the factors that Oscar Lewis identified as aspects of this subculture?

He mentioned that out of approximately 50 million citizens living in poverty
he guesses 20% live in the subculture of poverty.  Therefore, it is NOT
poverty he sees as the defining feature but some other variable.

Lewis also mentions the most likely candidates for the sub"culture" of
poverty are the people who come from the lower strata of a rapidly changing
society and are already partially ALIENATED from the free enterprise
capitalist culture.   "alienation" IS a factor.

Lewis writes, "The distinction between poverty and the culture of poverty is
basic to the model described here." (p.23)  If people are poor but "have a
high degree of social organization and a relatively INTEGRATED, satisfying,
and self-sufficient culture" Lewis would NOT classify them as having a
"culture" of poverty.  Therefore being disconnected from ORGANIZED
institutional structures is a characteristic of this sub"culture".

When writing about a poor neighbourhood in Havanna Cuba Lewis SPECULATED
that this neighbourhood did not have a culture of poverty.  He states, "The
people were as poor as before, but I was impressed to find much less of the
feelings of despair and apathy, so symptomatic of the culture of poverty in
the urban slums of the US. The slum [in Havanna] was now highly organized,
with block committees, educational committees, party committees.   Lewis is
making a case for the CENTRALITY of INTERMEDIATE COMMUNITY at a level
between the macro economic and the individual.  Now it is also clear that
Cuba had a macro economic socialist state economy and therefore an argument
could be made that it was the macro economic level that constituted the
conditions for the formation of the intermediate communities.  However, I
believe it is the loss of intermediate communities that contributes to the
sense of isolation and alienation in sub"cultures of poverty.

Lewis also points out that cultures of poverty are ALWAYS a PART or "sub" to
a dominant culture of capitalist organization.  In this sense they cannot
exist outside the dominant value system of capitalism.  However,  want to
suggest it is the destruction of "intermediate" forms of community that may
be the defining characteristic of the sub"culture of poverty.

All of the above examples from Lewis work point to the tension between the
narrative of "social justice" and the narrative of "recognition"  Social
justice may be as fundamentally about our need to be recognized by the other
as it is about the redistribution of income.  I am not suggesting an
either/or tension but rather a both/and understanding that our need to be
"seen" by the other may be central to overcoming the sub"culture" of
poverty.  This is an ETHICAL and MORAL imperative [see Levinas for a radical
articulation of this perspective]


On Tue, Nov 9, 2010 at 9:38 AM, Gregory Allan Thompson <
gathomps@uchicago.edu> wrote:

> This seems to inherently be a problem of atomistic, individualistic
> thinking (or possibly "small group" thinking).
> Might I suggest that people add Paul Willis' Learning to Labor to their
> syllabi in the coming years (seems like Willis fell out of favor with the
> turn of the millennium)? A notion of "cultural adaptivity" might be useful
> as well but one needs to have a vision of the socioeconomic scape into which
> the culture is adapting. Thus, if it is possible to get a dose of Marx in
> there, it might help to at least give people a way to think about larger
> social structure and how the culture of the local group (a 5th dimension,
> no?) is in a dialectical relationship with the larger social structure (call
> it what you will - global economic system, late modern capitalism,
> globalism...). This type of thinking is not an easy point to get across, but
> it provides a vision that can transform the world.*
> -greg
> *I leave it to you as to whether the transformation is of an individual's
> view of the world or whether it is a transformation of the big bad world
> that is beyond any of us as individuals.
> >Message: 3
> >Date: Mon, 8 Nov 2010 17:24:15 -0800
> >From: mike cole <lchcmike@gmail.com>
> >Subject: [xmca] return of culture of poverty
> >To: "eXtended Mind, Culture,Activity" <xmca@weber.ucsd.edu>
> >Message-ID:
> >       <AANLkTimnRTrYOBn7JRATJbf8WLyyjxwgoE3z7vyeWZUY@mail.gmail.com>
> >Content-Type: text/plain; charset=windows-1252
> >
> >This topic is, indeed, coming back in a big way.
> >mike
> >
> >
> >End of xmca Digest, Vol 66, Issue 7
> >***********************************
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