Today the journal devotes a special issue to the relations between culture and poverty, which testifies to the revival of the theme of the culture of poverty among liberal researchers who nevertheless want to distance themselves from the conservative hijacking of this theme. Moreover, it tests the idea of a homogeneous culture of poverty against the many empirical studies and strongly deconstructs such a simplification. This reinvestment is accompanied by a call for qualitative sociology in the field of poverty studies, which has been until now dominated by economics and the quantitative social sciences.
The anthropologist Oscar Lewis defined the concept of the culture of poverty as the set of norms and attitudes that have the effect of enclosing individuals in what was originally formed as a reaction to unfavorable external circumstances, but which, when transmitted from generation to generation, perpetuates the state of poverty regardless of how those circumstances change. This anthropological thesis was soon appropriated by conservatives in the United States, who imputed poverty in the major cities to the disorganization of the black family, suspected of producing a veritable culture of dependence on welfare. This appropriation had the counter-effect of banishing for decades any reference to culture in research on poverty. In effect, anyone who attributed poverty to cultural causes was accused of blaming the victim and of automatically dismissing any social policy.
Culture of Poverty Thesis | Custom Writing Services
Poverty, an ubiquitous phenomenon have been explained by scholars and policy makers in varied ways, resulting in a multitude of approaches to understanding the phenomenon. Although many of these approaches are contradictory, they can be broadly categorized into those stressing structural explanations and those emphasizing individual agency and personal dysfunctions. Within the latter is the "Culture of Poverty Thesis" by Oscar Lewis, which located the persistence of poverty in the value systems of the poor. The study thus sought to test the theory in the context of Ghana focusing on an urban slum, Nima. 136 households were sampled, collecting data using both qualitative (observation) and quantitative (questionnaire) methods to adequately examine and gain insight into the pertinent issues relative to the persistence of poverty. Key tenets of the culture of poverty thesis were significantly discredited, rather depicting Nima as a slum of hope offering opportunities to its inhabitants to leap out of their deprived circumstances. This was shown in the strong agency of the respondents in spite of the challenges they face in their daily negotiation of life.