Reconsidering culture and poverty

Contributors

  • Sandra Susan Smith
  • Alford A. Young, Jr.
  • Stephen Vaisey
  • Maureen R. Waller
  • Nathan Edward Fosse
  • Vijayendra Rao and Paromita Sanyal
  • Joshua Guetzkow
  • William Julius Wilson
  • Lynn Woolsey
  • Raúl M. Grijalva

Reconsidering Culture and Poverty, edited by David Harding, Michele Lamont, and Mario L. Small

Excerpt: Introduction

Culture has returned to the poverty research agenda. Over the past decade, sociologists, demographers, and even economists have begun asking questions about the role of culture in many aspects of poverty, at times even explaining the behavior of low-income populations in reference to cultural factors. Unlike their predecessors, contemporary researchers rarely claim that culture will sustain itself for multiple generations regardless of structural changes, and they almost never use the term pathology, which implied in an earlier era that people would cease to be poor if they changed their culture. The new generation of scholars conceives of culture in substantially different ways.

By considering poverty in the United States and abroad, examining both the elite, policy-making level and the daily lives of low-income people themselves, the articles convey a composite and multileveled picture of the ways in which meaning-making factors into the production and reproduction of poverty. The volume aims to demonstrate the importance of cultural concepts for poverty research, serve as a model and a resource for poverty scholars who wish to incorporate cultural concepts into their research, assist in the training of future scholars working at the nexus of poverty and culture, and identify crucial areas for future methodological, theoretical, and empirical development. The volume also serves to debunk existing myths about the cultural orientations of the poor for those formulating policy; as the editors point out, “ignoring culture can lead to bad policy.”