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What Role Does Culture Play in Poverty?

  • Wed, Jul 21 2010
    • Panel, with Lamont and Wilson

Sociologists David Harding, Michèle Lamont, Mario Small (editors), and William Julius Wilson (contributor) take up a long-abandoned subject in their May 2010 volume of The Annals, “Reconsidering Culture and Poverty.”  They reject an earlier view that people would cease to be poor if they simply changed their culture. Instead, they point to new research that reconsiders the ways in which “meaning-making” factors into the production and reproduction of poverty. They emphasize the need for careful empirical analysis of how the poor make sense of and explain their current situations, options, and decisions, and what they do to improve their prospects. They stress that ignoring culture can lead to bad policy if the real motivations of poor people are misunderstood or ignored.  On May 13, 2010, Harding, Lamont, Small and Wilson presented a policy briefing at the Capitol Visitor’s Center in Washington, DC, at which they summarized the findings of their volume. Listen to the two-part podcast of the briefing or read the transcript.  Podcast interviews with David Harding, Michèle Lamont, Mario Small, and William Julius Wilson delve into their individual concerns about culture and poverty—and how they were led into their particular research directions.


David Harding: “Understanding what it is like to be a poor person in this country”

Michèle Lamont: “The need to engineer policies so the poor are not stigmatized”

Mario Small: “Defining policy through evidence not preconceptions”

William Julius Wilson: “How cultural and structural forces interact.”