5-Paragraph Essay: “The Culture of Poverty” – 11 Topic Ideas

Topics and ideas
Posted on March 16, 2016

If you are in need of some facts to include in your next five paragraph essay on the theory of the culture of poverty, then consider the list of facts below. These are a diverse representation of many aspects of the concept, covering not only information about the author and initial public reception, but the academic criticism it has received since its introduction, its historical influence in political legislation, and its modern revival among welfare reforms. These facts should help you to substantiate your claims in the body paragraphs of your next work:

  1. It is still debated among among scholars, sociologists and government policy makers as to whether poverty comes from economic, social, and political conditions or whether it comes from behavior of poor people themselves. One attempt to better answer this question was made by Oscar Lewis, an anthropologist who published a theory in 1959, called the culture of poverty.
  2. This social theory is the one which expounds upon the cycle of poverty idea and in spite of being harshly criticized after its publication, has intermittently influenced welfare politics and social support services across the United States.
  3. Further scrutiny revealed that this particular theory was flawed. sociologists and anthropologists have determined that this theory suffers from methodological fallacies including a reliance on the assumption that behavior only comes from preferred cultural values.
  4. The theory of the culture of poverty has influenced political reports since its publication in 1959. This theory has impacted US public policy for many years and has actually formed the basis for public policy regarding poor people during a significant portion of the 1960s. Upon initial publication it became the backbone of President Lyndon Johnson’s welfare reform. The war on poverty put forth by President Lyndon Johnson was strongly influenced by this theory.
  5. In 1965 an American senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan wrote a report which was called “The Negro Family: the case for National Action”. This report stated that poor black people in America were stuck in a web of underachievement. This meant that the core reason black families were breaking down and the traditional male role was in decline was simply a result of deviant family structure. In this conception the family breakdown was the driving reason for black males leading deviant lifestyles. This failure transmitted itself from generation to generation. The report argued that the origins of this deviation of family structure could be tied directly to slavery where the traditional family was not a viable possibility for african americans.
  6. The idea of a culture of poverty and cultural dependency was actually the foundation for anti-poverty legislation including the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families legislation which was put into action in the year 1997. This legislation was introduced as part of welfare reform in the year 2005. This program and others rely upon the assumption that dysfunctional behavior is what generates poverty.
  7. Modern social programs focus on the need to end the individual dependency on government benefits and instead promote marriage and productive occupation as a social norm. The idea is that if social norms can be cultivated by the environment in which they live, people who are impoverished should be able to change the behaviors and attitudes they passed down from one generation to the next one.
  8. With regard to this theory, there is a particular problem with the reliance on the assumption that behavior is derived only from the preferred cultural values of individuals. This is to say that the evidence of poverty in conjunction with the rate of school dropout rate, drug abuse, crime, and unemployment are the results of the behavior which is preferred by the individuals who live inside of impoverished conditions. This would further mean that the culture of poverty theory presumes that once a set of deviant norms has been developed, like that of drug use or organized crime being viewed as standard or normal, all of the desired behavioral patterns of people living in impoverished situations would then reflect upon this standard behavior and thought.
  9. An alternative concept to the theory of the culture of poverty is that individuals will behave in whatever way is least legal, such as participating in underground black market economies or gain not because they truly desire to or because they are following a cultural norm, but rather because they are forced to do so without any other options given the lack of job opportunities or education available in the neighborhoods in which they live. In other words individuals who live in a ghetto might have to turn to illegal methods for getting money such as drug selling, just to survive in their conditions. These ghetto behaviors are adaptive behaviors and not normative. This means that if the individual in question is given sufficient opportunities for education and employment then even those who live in of ghettos would eagerly halt all illegal activities and instead turn to conventional methods of earning.
  10. The theory of the culture of poverty has suffered serious academic criticism and remained one of the theories sociologists can explain why poverty still remains in spite of the countering programs. It is argued by some that this particular theory is lacking in a proper analysis of the manner in which structural factors and individual characteristics interact. None the less it remains a basic economic and anthropological theory.
  11. Critics of this theory point out multiple flaws in the way that the anthropologists have interpreted information and applied it to the general society. This theory assumes that the culture itself does not change and is fixed, in the way that once a population is created within the culture of poverty no type of intervention and no method to alleviate the poverty will change the attitudes and behaviors held by the population of that culture.

These should provide some substantial data for your future 5-paragraph essay on the culture of poverty. Please follow these links to also find our 20 specific topics and 1 sample essay on the matter as well as our guidelines on how to write a 5-paragraph essay.

Galbraith, John Kenneth. The Culture of Contentment. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1992. Print.
Leacock, Eleanor Burke. The Culture of Poverty. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1971. Print.
Lewis, Gordon K. “Culture of Poverty or Poverty of Culture?”. Monthly Review 19.4 (1967): 44. Web.
Lewis, Oscar, and Oliver La Farge. Five Families; Mexican Case Studies in the Culture of Poverty. New York: Basic Books, 1959. Print.
Lewis, Oscar. La Vida. New York: Random House, 1966. Print.
Melloni, A. “Poverty of The Church–Poverty of Culture: A Contribution of Giuseppe Dossetti to Vatican II”. Theological Studies 75.3 (2014): 485-501. Web.
Mohan, Brij. “Poverty of Culture”. Poverty & Public Policy 2.1 (2010): 185-186. Web.

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