Subota, 15 Maj 2021 10:49

Culture of Poverty by Oscar Lewis Istaknut

Book cover design for Five Families: Mexican Case Studies in the Culture of Poverty Book cover design for Five Families: Mexican Case Studies in the Culture of Poverty

The theory of a culture of poverty was created by the American anthropologist Oscar Lewis in his book, Five Families: Mexican Case Studies in the Culture of Poverty, first published in 1959. This theory states that living in conditions of pervasive poverty will lead to the development of a culture or subculture adapted to those conditions. Lewis uses his famous expression of poverty culture to describe it as the idea that poor people do not learn norms and values that can help them improve their conditions and therefore fall into a repeated pattern of poverty.

Oscar Lewis believes that it is very important to distinguish poverty as such or poverty from the culture of poverty. He writes: "As an anthropologist, I have tried to understand poverty and its common features as a culture, or more precisely as a subculture with its structure and rationale, as a way of life which is passed down from generation to generation among family lines." Lewis saw families and their neighbors ensnared in a monotonous, often frustrating, virtually escape-proof lifeway: "The culture of poverty is both an adaptation and a reaction of the poor to their marginal posi¬tion in a class-stratified, highly individuated, capitalistic society. It represents an effort to cope with feelings of hopelessness and despair which develop from the realization of the improbability of achieving success in terms of the values and goals of the larger society."

According to Oscar Lewis, the culture of poverty is characterized by feelings of inferiority and aggressiveness, fatalism, sexism, and a low level of aspiration. He described individuals living within a culture of poverty as having little or no sense of history and therefore lacking the knowledge to alleviate their conditions through collective action, instead of focusing solely on their troubles.

Oscar Lewis saw the culture of poverty as resulting from class divisions, and therefore present not only in Mexico but throughout the world. He argues that conditions favorable for developing the culture of poverty flow from an industrial capitalist society with its inherent inequalities. Some of the characteristics of that are wage labor and production for profit, a high rate of unemployment; underemployment for unskilled labor; low wages; a failure to provide social, political, economic organization for the low-income population; bilateral kinship system; the values of the dominant class stressing the accumulation of wealth and property, the possibility of upward mobility, and thrift; and blaming the poor for personal inadequacy.

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