Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Person vs. Structure

I've been delinquent in my promised posts about what happens to the displaced people if they could no longer afford their homes due to capped housing subsidies; however, with good reason. Yesterday I finished up my monster linear algebra test, which hopefully turned out well. Anyway, a couple of weeks ago Mark handed me an article from the NY Times titled Culture of Poverty Makes a Comeback.

This reading spurred the Economics and Moral Sentiments Readings Group to take on the classic Moynihan Report which has been a very controversial article since it was written in 1965 by then Under Secretary of Labor for LBJ. The Moynihan Report acknowledged that Black Americans had a long history of oppression through slavery and "separate but equal" and their new freedoms afforded through the Civil Rights Act would be challenged by residual prejudice. However, that was not controversial. The controversial part of the report was that the greatest challenge to Black Americans would be the disadvantages they were creating for themselves because of the deterioration of their family structure.
There is no one Negro problem. There is no one solution. Nontheless, at the center of the tangle of pathology is the weakness of the family structure

At the time nearly one-quarter of all Black Americans were born out of wed-lock. This disadvantaged them because that meant less purchasing power in the family. This also meant the children were less likely to attend a quality school or have parents that were actively involved in their lives. The statistics are still high amongst Black Americans at 72% (this recent report from Yahoo! News speaks to that); however, children born out of wedlock now exceed 40% of all children born in the United States ---this is a post for another time.

What is driving what Moynihan called "The Tangle of Pathology"? Moynihan spoke of poverty as a cultural problem. In poverty, he wrote that children are, "Constantly exposed to the pathology of the disturbed group and constantly in danger of being drawn into it."

This is where the article about the culture of poverty comes in. Recently the sociology profession has come under fire for falling in love with structuralist explanations of human behavior. See Jonathon Imber's article here. And, the people at OrgTheory blog provide some nice links and background explanation) Structuralism looks at social organization and says that decisions people make are mostly a function of their environment and situation. In fact, people might make these decisions because they have poor values and priorities -not a just a bad environment.

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