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"Uses of the Underclass in America" by Herbert J. Gans

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on 18 November 2015

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Transcript of "Uses of the Underclass in America" by Herbert J. Gans

Two Microsocial Functions
Risk Reduction: People "distance the labeled from those who label them
Three Political Functions
institutional scapegoating
: The poor are blamed for their own living conditions. Stigmatizing them as "lazy" is a way of taking the heat off the failing economy and housing industry. They are further blamed for the absence of political will to do anything about it.
conservative power shifting
: The power is shifted to the "right." The poor lose political influence and the political system pays more attention to the demands of the affluent class.
spatial purification

"Underclass areas" are torn down to make room for the affluent. Stigmatized poor ppl are isolated into areas with homeless shelters, halfway houses, drug treatment facilities, & garbage dumps. Minimal police protection sets the stage for many illegal activities.
Economic and Normative-Cultural Functions
"Uses of the Underclass in America"
by Herbert J. Gans

The ultimate question: Will the idea of undeservingness persist?
If poverty goes down, so will poverty-related crime and the idea
If poverty gets worse, then so will poverty-related crime, as well as stereotyping and stigmatization
Those who benefit will try to maintain undeservingness and its stigma
Instead of judging one single group, people's "judgements should be distributed up and down the socio-economic heirarchy, requiring Americans also to consider whether and how people in the working, middle, and upper classes are undeserving
This can also apply to our criminal justice system and the fairness of punishments for crimes
Americans need to separate the conception that deviance also means socially harmful, rather than just different
Those with influence, including scholars, writers, and journalists, need to deconstruct the notion of the undeserving poor in order to make public opinion in favor of antipoverty programs
Author re-emphasizes his five main ideas:
1- the criminal and deviant behavior among the poor is largely poverty related rather the product of free choice based on distinctive values
2- the underservingness of the poor is an ancient stereotype that is vastly exaggerated
3- poverty-related devianceis not necessarily harmful just because it does not accord with mainstream norms
4- the notion of undeservingness survives in part because of the positive functions it has for the better-off population
5- the only certain way to eliminate both this notion and the functions is to eliminate poverty
Which of the 13 specific functions do you think is most valid or you found to be most prevalent in your own life?
Do you think that this usage of the underclass and idea of undeservingness will persist? Can such a notion be "untaught" and/or eradicated from society?
Two Macrosocial Functions
reproduction of stigma and the stigmatized:

An "anticipatory stigmatization" exists where the children of the stigmatized poor are predicted to remain in poverty, thus becoming an available scapegoat for the upper class. Agencies that provide service to the stigmatized poor are underfunded and mistreat the people being "helped."
extermination of the surplus:

Morbidity and mortality rates remain much higher among the poor. This is seen as a way to eliminate the people who have become surplus labor and are no longer needed by the economy. The competition for those left to compete for scarce jobs and resources is easier.
Econmic Functions:
Economic Banishment
those "labeled as undeserving can be banished from the formal labor market" (pg. 336)
ex: school-dropouts, ex-convicts
gives immigrant workers the opportunity to work for less and reduces the official unemployment rate
Supplying Illegal Goods
"80 percent of all illegal drugs are sold to Whites who are not poor"
Job Creation
"The larger the number of people who are declared undeserving, the larger also the number of people needed to modify and isolate as well as control, guard, and care for them" (pg. 337)
ex: social workers, teachers, psychiatrists, doctors, police, judges, welfare bureaucrats, journalism etc.
Normative Functions:
Moral Legitimation
"Undeservingness justifies the category of deservingness and thus supplies moral and political legitimacy, almost by definition, to the institutions and social structures that include the deserving and exclude the undeserving" (pg. 337)
ex: class hierarchy
Norm Reinforcement
"By violating, or being imagined as violating, a number of mainstream behavorial patterns and values, the underserving poor help to reafirrm and reinforce the virtues of these patterns" (pg. 338)
ex: poor imagined as being lazy, reaffirms work ethic
Supplying Popular Culture Villains
Reinforced by the media and news

Key Ideas
-Gans focuses on the idea that " Poverty is good for you as long as long as you are not among the poor
-Povery has negative fucntions for the poor and non poor
Examples: Street crime and other activities that deviate from "mainstream" norms, like having a child
at a young age
- Many people believe that the number of people who partake in these negative functions is a lot higher than it actually is; they attribute their actions to "moral shortcomings"
- People attribute those who are unempolyed as being lazy and are therefore undeserving of things like public aid and other financial support
- One reason for exaggeration, stereotyping, and attraction of the poor is that undeservingness has some positive functions for those that are better off
-Gans delves into the idea of latent positive functions that would probably not be abolished if widely recongnized, which includes microsocial, economics, mornative- cultural, political, and microsocial functions.
-Through stigmatizing the poor as undeserving, it
serves to prevent people from having the responsibility of treating them like moral equals
- It also protects from being angered or hurt by who they label as poor
Scapegoating and Displacement: The poor people are blamed for any shortcoming in life which harbors some feelings of revenge or need for punishment
-Also serves as a a displacement function in which they can be blamed for causing social
Displacement further serves as a catharsis for better off people to "unload their own problems"
Full transcript