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Document Type

Article in Response to Controversy

Abstract

Public understandings of the causes and roots of poverty as stemming from a personal deficit are still with us, as evident in the views put forward by popular writers such as Ruby Payne (1998), echoing and lingering in the ideological orientations and practical approaches of key professions that interface with the poor, such as Social Work and Human Services. Critiques of these frameworks are concerned with the blame-the-poor, personal-pathology paradigm embedded in such perspectives, including Payne’s arguments located in culture of poverty theories that date back to the 1960s work of Oscar Lewis (1961), Daniel Moynihan (1965), and Ben Seligman (1968). While they may resonate with commonsense understandings of the poor (e.g., generational poverty), their intimation to inherent flaws in the personal psychology and socialization practices of the poor--personal pathologies, so to speak--portend a dangerous form of social engineering. Alternately, deeper analysis of the confluence of structural forces that shape and determine poverty offered by leading scholars such as Charles Valentine (1968) and more recently Ida Susser (1996), Judith Goode and Jeff Maskovsky (2001), and Paul Farmer (2005) help us probe beneath the superficial determinants of and presumptions about poverty.

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