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Debrief: Does Lower-class Culture Perpetuate Poverty?

My commentary to follow.

“Does Lower-class Culture Perpetuate Poverty?” Banfield, E. The Un-Heavenly City Revisited; Ryan, W. Blaming the Victim, in Finsterbusch and McKenna; Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Social Issues. Guildford: Dushkin, 1984; pages 60-75.

Issue Summary Notes:

Assumptions: General American consensus on “happiness” in “pursuit of happiness” equates the term with “doing well” or “getting ahead in life.”

“The real difficulty in reconciling the American ideal with the American reality is not the problem in accepting income differentials, but in explaining the persistence of generational poverty.” The two analyses pose opposite conceptions of causality.

Progressive analysis: William Ryan. The cultural outlook of the poor keeps them in poverty. By satisfying their basic material needs, the poor will eventually take care of their own cultural “uplift.” Culture follows from material well-being. Conservative arguments of cultural deprivation often assume a “blaming the victim” stance.

Conservative analysis: Edward Banfield. Agrees that the term “cultural deprivation” is loaded with middle-class bias, but doesn’t believe that the lower classes are “culturally deprived.” They are not without culture, they have their own culture that provides some degree of familiarity and pleasure. Not all poor are “lower-class” but there are some poor who embrace lower-class culture, for whom little can be done. These poor will always be with us. Material well-being follows from culture, in this case only the abandonment of lower-class culture will lift them from poverty.

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