The Culture of Poverty

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The gap between the rich and the poor is widening ' this is a reality that many societies in our world are experiencing today. As a result, we are forced to wonder what is happening in each of these groups that is leading to the growing inequality. We can assume that those who are wealthy will do pretty much everything they can to remain in that category. Can we assume the same for the poor? Are those that are faced with poverty behaving in such ways that perpetuate their low status? The culture of poverty thesis, as defined by anthropologist Oscar Lewis, locates poverty within an individual or group’s values, beliefs, and behaviours. This essay will discuss and critically evaluate Lewis’ thesis. It has proven to be applicable in certain societies; however, research has shown that it is not consistent throughout different societies across the time and space. Some researchers and academics even claim that the culture of poverty simply does not exist, or at least that there is no evidence of it. Others hold that poverty can be explained through the situational theory, which concerns economic and social structures within societies. Still, despite extensive criticisms, the culture of poverty thesis remains to be seen within popular culture. Oscar Lewis developed the culture of poverty thesis after conducting observational research in the slums of Mexico and the United States during the early 1960’s. The thesis states that certain groups and individuals tend to persist in a state of poverty because they have distinct beliefs, values, and behaviours that are incompatible with economic success. His concept, which was influenced by his Marxist background, holds that people develop common traits as a way of adapting to living in poverty within a capitalist society. These traits are then passed on from one generation to the next. Lewis described the culture of poverty as “a way of life,” claiming that the poor develop their own specific subculture as a way of rejecting...
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