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Rooted in poverty

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Abbey Cressman

on 19 March 2014

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Transcript of Rooted in poverty

Historicizing the Poverty Narrative
"Poor people often know about possibilities for social change even when they lack the social power or resistant community to effect those changes. Reading poverty narratives oppositionally means allowing that poor people shape and are shaped by textual realities and that they have valuable knowledge about this process and about national culture as a whole.”
Rooted in poverty
1. Contextualize socio-economic landscape

2. Connecting Blood Sports to Atwood’s “Shadow Side” of Debt

3. Placing Lullabies for Little Criminals and Blood Sports in Conversation: Evaluating Text as Poverty Narratives
Roxanne Rimstead
"Poverty exists in relation to affluence"
"Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth"
Margaret Atwood
Crash Course in Capitalism
"An economic and political system in which a country's trade and industry are controlled by private owners for profit, rather than by the state" -Oxford Dictionary
"People are poverty stricken if their income (even if adequate for survival) falls radically [below] that of the community. They cannot wholly escape therefore, the judgement of the larger community that they are indecent. They are degraded... in the literal sense, they live outside the grades or categories which the community regards as acceptable," (John Kenneth Galbraith, 'The Affluent Society').
"All societies at all times [share] the capacity to not see what we do not wish to see" _______
Discursive marginalization
"Symbolic violence...blaming, naming or erasing the poor, constructed them as inherently inferior and thus naturally outside of the community, the state, the nation, and even cultural representation itself."
Political philosophy where power is distributed based on achievement
Logic of meritocracy: "admire the rich... denounce the poor"
"[The] Downtown Eastside community is a convergence of the spatial processes of social polarization ... [and] growing socio-economic and spatial divide between the “haves” and “have-nots”," (Smith).
1995*: 25%
2013: 15%
Vancouver poverty rate
*Blood sports took place in 1993-98
National Average:
2013: 9%
- "Entire neighbourhoods were marked as undesirable and their inhabitants marginalized by discourses of cleanliness and practices of civic order that constructed them as abject populations to be spatially segregated and contained. Montreal in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries did not escape such discourses, as similar forms of spatial exclusion were enacted through various forms of urban legislation, policing, and charity that sought to manage, reduce, and redress the poor, the transient, and the unhomed in the nation's most important and rapidly growing industrial city at the time" (Beneventi 264)
“'I’ll help you with rent and food and bills and all you have to do is one itty- bitty thing.’ ‘What?’ ‘I want you to be good. […] You listen to me when I tell you what to do. No arguing. No debates. No whining.” (78)
“He felt uncomfortable touching her, like he was fondling a really expensive vase that he’d have to pay for if he broke.” (120)
Evaluating Text as Poverty Narrative VIA RIMSTEAD'S LENS
GOAL 1: To bring a number of previously excluded or devalued narratives into the range of critical perception beside better known [typical] literature on poverty
→ Lack of linear plot/ending – challenges ending of Lullabies for Little Criminals
→ Unsettles and destabilizes readers
→ Modes of telling: epistolary, transcription of film, perspectival changes
Evaluating Text as Poverty Narrative VIA RIMSTEAD'S LENS
GOAL 1: To bring a number of previously excluded or devalued narratives into the range of critical perception beside better known [typical] literature on poverty
→ “Montreal is seen through the eyes of a neglected, abused, and exploited child inevitably drawn into the vortex of prostitution and drug addiction,” (Beneventi 268).
→ Unsettles reader by normalizing child’s voice within inherent struggle
→ Privileged position as reader

Evaluating Text as Poverty Narrative VIA RIMSTEAD'S LENS
GOAL 2: To know more about how we construct poor subjects textually and socially
→ “We’d go out to a club or restaurant where you had to know which fork to use and Jer would use the right one and I’d think, Man, if Mom saw that, she would cream. We could be doing the dirtiest, filthiest things in private, and she wouldn’t care. Jer knew how to act in public. He knew how to talk to waiters, how to pick a wine, and how to chat while we waited to get the Jag out of valet parking.” (168)

Evaluating Text as Poverty Narrative VIA RIMSTEAD'S LENS
GOAL 2: To know more about how we construct poor subjects textually and socially
→ “When she is picked up for vagrancy by the police in St. Louis Square and sent to family services, she feels as though she were trapped in formaldehyde, like ‘one of the little fetuses in jars in the chemistry lab at our school.’ Baby continually inhabits spaces of physical and psychological entrapment,” (Beneventi 269)

Evaluating Text as Poverty Narrative VIA RIMSTEAD'S LENS
GOAL 3: To ask why certain images of the poor are invested with greater or lesser cultural power and how they acquire meaning and power over time
• Cognitive Distance (RE: Rimstead)

→ “Forget him. His daddy’s a janitor at Wal-Mart. No one’s going to put a biker hit on us for killing him.” (215)
→ Intimately dismissive

Evaluating Text as Poverty Narrative VIA RIMSTEAD'S LENS
GOAL 4: To find methods of understanding poor people as more than mere objects of study entrapped in other peoples images - but also as speaking subjects, agents of cultural change, and concrete beings who live and feel social boundaries and material constraints.
• “’Come around here, you’ve got to see this,’ Paulie said. ‘It’s like she’s mainlining.’ The nurse beside her stiffened. We’d had to disclose about Paulie being in Narcotics Anonymous. I think we freaked some of the staff. The whole week we were in the hospital, they acted like we were going to break out the rigs and turn our room into a shooting gallery.” (5)

Popular early Canadian poverty narratives
“the boys grew up dirty and sad, spikey also, like grass beside the railroad tracks.”

“A boy can be two, three, four potential people, but a man is only one. He murders the others.”

Other forms of media take notice
“The songs spoke of dreams, but in dreams tricks were played on you: you reached for a rose and you were handed a dirty diaper."
Important Works of the Last 25 Years: Non-Fiction
"Class knowledge comes from experience and story, history and memory, and from the urgency of witnessing."
“All those years of living completely in the present make chronology difficult for them. They often can't tell you if the event they are describing occurred last year, or five days ago. Everything is completely arbitrary; there is no emotional sequence"
“You’re being taught to tell us, preach to us, how to fix our problems,” Mom says, “instead of asking us, the real experts.... Don’t tell me how to fix my problem – first we need to find a common ground....We need to find a common language.”
Important Works of the Last 25 Years: Fiction
“She thought that poverty was like a sickness you put to sleep inside you, and it didn’t hurt too much as long as you didn’t move. You grew used to it, you ended up not paying much attention to it as long as you stayed tucked awa
with it in the dark.”
“If I keep going to school next year like Ma and Pa and Sophie say they want me to, the reader will cost 16 cents, and no one else in the family has gone that far in school yet, so we’ll have to buy an new one. I do like school, but the books and scribblers are so expensive.”
Important Works of
the Last 25 Years:
“During one game [the fans] broke into a ridiculous war chant whenever I stepped onto the ice … When I scored, the ice was littered with plastic Indian dolls … A cartoon in one of the papers showed me in a hockey helmet festooned with eagle feathers, holding a war lance instead of a hockey stick.”
Definition of Debt
1. Sin or trespass
2. Something owed: Obligation
3. A state of owing
The common-law action for the recovery of money

Atwood's definition of debt: Debt is a "human construct", which "magnifies both voracious human desire and ferocious human fear" (Atwood 2)
Atwood states that the constant circle of debt related to sinful activities such as excessive overspending or sinful acts related directly to religion
Debts are not necessarily about owing money, but are sometimes a metaphor for sin
Religion and debt are almost exclusively intertwined, since the word "debt"is placed straight into the United Church's version of the Lord's Prayer
"Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors...The word 'debt'-blunt and to the point-was well fitted to the plain, grape-juice-drinking United Church" (Atwood 44)
The Shadow Side
Atwood explains that the "Shadow Side" is reserved for people who do not pay their debts
There are different solutions for these people, such as going to jail ("paying for their crimes"), debtors prison, paying their debt to society
However, revenge is sometimes taken out upon these people
Death and debt are connected, as sometimes debt will only constitute for blood (Atwood 149)
Atwood gives an excellent example of a debt being paid in blood, using Shakespeare's
The Merchant of Venice
This is also an example of a negative
Debt and Sin
The Creditor and The Debtor
The Merchant of Venice
The play's plot is focused primarily around the borrowing and owing of money
Shylock is the creditor, being a Jew and a money lender, he has very little political or social power.
However, Shylock uses his role of creditor to
gain power and authority
over Antonio (the wealthy Christian merchant) by demanding a "pound of flesh" as payback
Being in the position of Creditor brings forth immense power, as being the debtor is a form of "slavery" (Atwood )
Final Themes of Atwood's Text
Debt is not just attributed to financial matters, but is an "imaginative construct" formed by human society (Atwood 203)
The relationship between the creditor and the debtor is just as important as the debt itself
Also gives the creditor extreme power over the debtor
Since debt is a "mental construct", how society thinks about it
"changes how it works"
(Atwood 203)
By exploring themes of indebtedness and socio-economic mobility, our group seeks to illustrate how the material permeates societal and personal connections on more than an economic level.
Class-Based analysis of poverty:
Process of analyzing poverty conditions within an area or group through the examination of social classes, as well as the mobility between these classes. It provides an analysis of poverty based completely in class structures, versus other types of analysis (such as racial or geographic).
What, if anything, is problematic about the video we just watched in terms of Canadian Nation identity?
"remnants of a nation except that there were too many of them for a remnant" (Gallant 273).
Poverty Exists in relation to Affluence
"People are poverty stricken in their income (even if adequate for survival) falls radically [below] that of the community. They cannot have what the larger community regards as the minimum necessary for decency; and they cannot wholly escape therefore, the judgement of the larger community that they are indecent. They are degraded ... in the literal sense, they live outside the grades or categories which the community regards as acceptable"
John Kenneth Galbraith,
The Affluent Society
"all societies at all times [share] the capacity of not seeing what we do not wish to see"
a political philosophy where power is distributed based on achievement

logic of meritocracy: "admire the rich...denounce the poor"
Discursive Marginalization
"symbolic violence ... blaming, naming or erasing the poor, constructed them as inherently inferior and this naturally outside of the community, the state, the nation and even cultural representation
"when we fail to question stereotypes, dominant discourse, and textual conventions of portraying the poor we may be complicit in the symbolic violence that normalizes the exclusion of the poor in 'market society'"
The situation of the poor becomes naturalized when we don't question these
“Knowing the Poor”
A Case Study in Textual Reality Construction
by: Bryan Green

We must become better readers of poverty and be wary of the covert ways in which the reality of the poor is being constructed in ways that benefit the non-poor (Canadian Government, affluent society)
Impose documented reality upon situated reality
The non-poor do this to achieve “closure over lived reality” - distancing themselves from blame

Becoming Better Readers of Poverty
DO develop more emancipatory ways of reading about poverty (not oppressive)
DO read critically - liberate the poor (and non-poor) to think with opposition about the poor’s place in society
DON’T be part of the nation problem by failing to read the poor’s voices - or reading pseudo-voices (covert government constructions)

The Poverty Narrative
We Must:
Begin interrogating these images from a politically engaged perspective

Also consider gender, ethnicity, nation in addition to poverty and class

“Firebug brought his pliers to the needle in Tom’s nipple. Tom felt a tug, and then blood ran down his chest like tears, warm, warm and absorbing." (186)
Poverty Narrative: Definition
Any text that includes stories by or about the poor that explains the complexity of everyday experiences in order to recover previously silenced voices
“When the poor speak out as remnants of nation, national unity itself seems frayed or non-existent, and the relational logic between the poor and the wealthy nation is more apparent.”
Definition (cont.)
• Liberates the poor to think oppositionally about their place in society
• Creates sites where identity is constructed and negotiated instead of merely reflected.
• Acts against the nation’s attempt to erase the poor from the public view or control them in terms of their movement or labour power
Discussion Topic:
Can anyone think of specific examples within our nation where we have attempted to erase the poor from public view or control them in terms of their movement or labour power?
Poor Identified as Either:
External Others
Projection that ‘real poverty’ only exists elsewhere
i.e. the ‘Third World’ or the ‘Old Country’
Internal Others
Contain them in safely manageable ghettoized or stigmatized spaces
Fix them with insults, degrading paradigms, stereotypes or euphemisms
i.e. ‘white trash’

: 1st person narrative

Many poverty narratives:
Depict people who feel nationless and alone:
An absence larger, caring community
Lack a more inclusive national image
Must identify themselves in relation to other forms of community
Consider Baby

Main GOals:
1. Bring previously excluded or devalued narratives to forefront alongside well-known literature on poverty
2. Examine how we construct poor subjects textually and socially
3. Consider why certain images of the poor carry greater cultural power than others
4. Find methods of understanding the poor as more than mere objects of study

No one secret to poverty
No overarching theory
Do not overgeneralize or impose a “top-down” analytical structure of the poor

Trade and Industry
Supply and Demand
More Income,
more consumption
Social Inequality
"Poverty is not an accident; it is not a by-product. It is an inherent and crucial feature of a society whose economic structure is grounded in class and exploitation. The Pivotal idea is that there are powerful and privileged actors who have an active interest in maintaining poverty. It is not just that poverty is an unfortunate consequence of their material interests, it is an essential condition for he realizing of their interests. To put it bluntly, capitalists and other exploiting classes benefit from poverty."
- Wright, "Interrogating Inequality: The Class Analysis
of Poverty"
Marx: Class as a determinant of social inequality
Believed the rise of capitalism created two classes:
those who control the
economic system or the means of production
those who must sell their
labour for wages
In order to exist, capitalism must create patterns of unequal relations between these two classes - thereby placing social inequality as a natural result of these relations
two of the barriers that prevent workers from recognizing the adverse effects of exploitation and acting upon them
1. Justifying the economic system, thereby creating these social relations and the inequalities that result
people who control the means of production (and get wealthy in the process of doing so) have power because they are more motivated, intelligent, and creative than those who don't control the structures of the economy.

2. The Structural embodiments of capitalist ideology
governmental actions such as laws, regulations, policies and other forms of ruling that maintain these class-related relations
Weber: Class, Status, and Party as Determinants of Social Inequality
Status as it comes from sources other than class, such as educational credentials, race, gender, language, religion, and place of residence

This status is associated with differences in access to economic, political and social resources as well as influence. In a competitive society, these sources of status can be used to exclude others from obtaining these resources.
Neo-Marxism and Poverty
The four common views about the causes of poverty in capitalist societies
Placing the blame on the poor
who is poor within Canada?
1. Does anyone have any alternative arguments about whether or not Blood Sports or Lullabies for Little Criminals fulfills Rimstead’s goals of a poverty narrative? We exhibited ways that they do speak to these goals, but are there also ways that either text does not fit the criteria?
2. Since the mid 1990s, income inequality in Canada has been rising. With this growing gap between people of wealth and people in poverty, do you think the poverty narrative has the power to eradicate stigmas and give voice to the marginalized? If so, to what extent?
1. Poverty as a result of inherent individual characteristics
(genetics or low IQ)

2. Poverty as the by-product of contingent individual
characteristics (low motivation, poor work habits, and

3. Poverty as a by-product of social causes

4. Poverty is a result of the inherent properties of the social
Poverty Rate:
the percentage of individuals whose income falls below the pre-tax Low Income Cut-Offs (LICOs).
Depth of Poverty:
the degree to which, on average, the income of low-income individuals falls below the Statistics Canada pre-tax LICO lines
Low Income/Wage Gap:
especially high in British Columbia, which has the highest low-income/wage gaps and the second-highest poverty rates in the country

The "culture of poverty" a perception that reflects the first two Neo-Marxist views about the causes of poverty in capitalist societies - placing the cause of poverty on the individual.
In a more modern sense, many neoliberals also support this notion as they would claim the fault is of the individual under the current so-called "free" economic environment.
The imposition of neoliberal economic policies (cutting taxes to the wealthy, reduction of fiscal and business regulations, shredding of the social safety net, etc.) make this stance difficult to swallow.
Full transcript