Assessment of the Usefulness of Individualistic Theories of the Causes of Poverty
An individualistic (cultural) perspective suggests that poverty comes
as a result of behaviour and lifestyle more likely to result in
poverty. This perspective is often referred to as ‘victim-blaming’.
They are said to be ‘work shy’, preferring instead to live on state
welfare benefits. This explanation of poverty argues that the poor'
subculture may be so pervasive that these deviant attitudes are
reproduced from one generation to another by parents who act as
‘deviant role-models’ to their children. In this way the poor are said
to be a part of a subculture, which is ...view middle of the document...
-Patterns of consumption reflect immediate gratification values,
rather than planning for future prosperity.
Life-course decisions, reflected in high incidence of single parent
families, dilute family resources.
North Regions: -
-Unwillingness to move to jobs in south.
-Attachment to particular style of life.
Oscar Lewis (1961) carried out a study in which he observed peasant
culture poor communities of Mexico and Puerto Rico. He found attitudes
of fatalism, apathy, immediate gratification and failure to
participate in institutional life. His theory also shows that this
attitude is passed on through generations. The theory shows that
poverty has a structure and a rationale, so that policy to alleviate
poverty requires a systematic and integrated approach. Theory led to
direct intervention strategies to improve the situation of those in
poverty by altering their way of life.
Arguments directly against Lewis’s study come from the anthropologist,
Mangrins (1968), who researched slums in Peru and found the poor were
far from apathetic or resigned and also had remarkable organising
Coates and Silburn (1970) studied a slum in Nottingham called St
Annes. They did find helpless poor but they argued this was a
consequence (see later explanations) and not a cause.
Rutter and Madge (1977) suggested there was “little documentation of
my communities in this country which might correspond with the
descriptions of a culture of poverty given by Lewis. Interestingly,
Rutter and Madge did a separate study arguing there is a ‘Cycle of
A Situational perspective argues directly against this suggesting that
poverty is due to a through no fault of their own but argue there are
many social, economic and environmental factors which prevent poor
from improving their position. It argues that behaviour is a reaction
to this social situation but not a cause. This difference in situation
means different norms and values from the rest of society. For
example the elderly have insufficient resources during working life to
make provision for retirement. Hannerz (from Haralambos), a Swedish
anthropologist studied a black low-income area of Washington DC. He,
(like Coates and Silburn in their study of Nottingham) found
fatalistic behaviour but believed this was due to the way these
constraints have moulded them.
Social democratic structural explanations argue poverty...