About Oscar Lewis
Oscar Lewis, born on December 25, 1914, was an American Anthropoligt. He is best known for his vivid depictions of the lives of slum dwellers and his argument on a cross-generational culture of poverty among poor people transcends national boundaries. Lewis contended that the cultural similarities occurred because they were “common adaptations to common problems” and that the culture of poverty is both an adaptation and a reaction of the poor to their marginal position in a class-stratified, highly individualistic, capitalistic society.
This is why his study is crucial as it illustrates the context in which poverty as a concept and as a condition is defined from one cultural setting to another. Lewis’ study is important to this study because it highlights causal factors that perpetrate poverty and leave most people incapacitated and destitute. In a highly classified society today, poverty has almost become like an inherited condition and in some cases, it may appear that poverty has been inflicted upon the masses.
On the other hand, poverty in some societies appear to have become the way of life and most people hve accepted that as a way of life, never to come out of diplorable and hostile socio-economic situations. Definition and nature of poverty
According to a mini research I conducted recently around the Mulungushi University community including few students outside the school of social sciences, the following were some of the descriptions of poverty from the interviewees. Lack of basic needs like decent housing, food, clothing, etc Inadequacy of the basic needs compared to the number of siblings or size of the family Having no plan on how to survive
Having no money to buy the basic needs
Different authors have defined poverty differently and I must say that poverty is relative because of culture, different locations, and settings. Poverty has been defined as an absolute phenomenon by some scholars that regardless of the setting, poverty still remains to be poverty on the basis of deprivation, economic pressures and inconsistencies, unfair distribution of resources, and corruption. Asked what causes poverty, respondents drawn from the said community gave the following views:- Laziness
Being born in a poor family
Members do not share ideas on how to prosper
Unequal distribution of resources among citizens (Interview session 2012). Poverty has also been defined as an economic condition in which people lack sufficient income to obtain certain minimal levels of health services, food, housing, clothing, and education generally recognized as necessary to ensure an adequate standard of living.
What is considered adequate, however, depends on the average standard of living in a particular society. Relative poverty (as hs been expalined above) is that experienced by those whose income falls considerably below the average for their particular society. Absolute poverty is that experienced by those who do not have enough food to remain healthy.
However, estimating poverty on an income basis may not measure essential elements that also contribute to a healthy life. People without access to education or health services should be considered poor even if they have adequate food. Causes of Poverty Individuals who have a lower-than-average ability to earn income, for whatever reasons, are likely to be poor. Historically, this group has included the elderly, people with disabilities, single mothers, and members of some minorities.
In the West today, a significantly large group in the poverty-stricken population consists of single mothers and their children; these families account for about one-third of all poor people. Not only do women who work outside the home generally earn less than men do, but also a single mother often has a difficult time caring for children, running a household, and earning an adequate income.
Other groups disproportionately represented below the poverty threshold are people with disabilities and their dependants, very large families, and families in which the principal wage earner either is unemployed or works for low wages. Lack of educational opportunity is another cause of poverty. In the developed world, a larger percentage of blacks than whites are poor today, in part because of a heritage of inferior education, meaning reduced employment opportunities later. Much of the world’s poverty is due to a low level of economic development.
China and India are examples of heavily populated, developing nations where, despite substantial recent industrialization, poverty is rampant. Even in economically developed countries, widespread unemployment can create poverty. The Great Depression impoverished millions of Americans and Europeans in the 1930s. Less severe economic contractions, called recessions, cause smaller increases in the poverty rate. THE CULTURE OF POVERTY
The culture of poverty is a social theory that expands on the cycle of poverty. Proponents of this theory argue that the poor are not simply lacking resources, but also have a unique value system. According to Oscar Lewis, “The subculture [of the poor] develops mechanisms that tend to perpetuate it, especially because of what happens to the world view, aspirations, and character of the children who grow up in it” (www.cato.org 1st October 2012).
The term “subculture of poverty” (later shortened to “culture of poverty”) made its first prominent appearance in the ethnography Five Families: Mexican Case Studies in the Culture of Poverty (1959) by anthropologist Oscar Lewis. Lewis struggled to render “the poor” as legitimate subjects whose lives were transformed by poverty.
He argued that although the burdens of poverty were systemic and therefore imposed upon these members of society, they led to the formation of an autonomous subculture as children were socialized into behaviors and attitudes that perpetuated their inability to escape the underclass.
There is a tendency to this inculcation of attitude and belief and that once you are born in a culture that is destitute and poverty stricken, it is okay to continue living like that. There re many people who find it difficult to adjust to a new life when things change for the better. They would rather continue staying in a shanty compound because they feel they do not deserve a better residential area.
This is true of a case study that was conducted in Monze’s Freedom shanty compound in 2008 where Edgar Mainza (Social Worker and Development Facilitator) found that most respondents prefered to remain in this shanty compound and even build better houses therein despite the lck of orderliness.
Most respondents felt that they could not leave old friends and relatives there as their change of residence may appear to be betrayal to the old associates (Mainza 23). Lewis gave some seventy characteristics (1996 , 1998) that indicated the presence of the culture of poverty, which he argued was not shared among all of the lower classes.
The people in the culture of poverty have a strong feeling of marginality, of helplessness, of dependency, of not belonging. They are like aliens in their own country, convinced that the existing institutions do not serve their interests and needs. Along with this feeling of powerlessness is a widespread feeling of inferiority, of personal unworthiness.
This is true of the slum dwellers of Mexico City, who do not constitute a distinct ethnic or racial group and do not suffer from racial discrimination. In the United States, the culture of poverty that exists in the Negroes has the additional disadvantage of racial discrimination. People with a culture of poverty have very little sense of history. They are a marginal people who know only their own troubles, their own local conditions, their own neighborhood, and their own way of life.
Usually, they have neither the knowledge, the vision nor the ideology to see the similarities between their problems and those of others like themselves elsewhere in the world. In other words, they are not class conscious, although they are very sensitive indeed to status distinctions. When the poor become class conscious or members of trade union organizations, or when they adopt an internationalist outlook on the world they are, in my view, no longer part of the culture of poverty although they may still be desperately poor.
(Lewis 1998) Although Lewis was concerned with poverty in the developing world, the culture of poverty concept proved attractive to U.S. public policy makers and politicians. It strongly informed documents such as the Moynihn report(1965) and the War on Poverty more generally.
CHARACTERISTICS OF POVERTY IN RURAL ZAMBIA
The rural part of Zambia has distinct features that characterize it with the poverty that fits the Zambian profile. Generally, most rural Zambia lacks facilities such as electricity, running or clean and safe drinking water, and distant schools for children, who have to walk long distances, poor and lack of communication facilities, lack of employment opporttunities, and other conditions that perpetuate or inflict poverty on the rural communities. THEORIES THAT EXPALIN POVERTY IN ZAMBIA
Selecting or creating appropriate theory for use in examining an issue is an important skill for any researcher. Important distinctions here includes a theoretical orientation (or paradigm) which is a worldview, the lens through which one organizes experience (i.e. thinking of human interaction in terms of power or exchange). A theory is an attempt to explain and predict behavior in particular contexts. A theoretical orientation cannot be proven or disproven; a theory can.
Having a theoretical orientation that sees the world in terms of power and control, I could create a theory about violent human behavior, which includes specific causal statements (e.g. being the victim of physical abuse leads to psychological problems). This could lead to an hypothesis (prediction) about what I expect to see in a particular sample, e.g. “a battered child will grow up to be shy or violent.” I can then test my hypothesis by looking to see if it is consistent with data in the real world. I might, for instance, review hospital records to find children who were abused, then track them down and administer a personality test to see if they show signs of being violent or shy.
The selection of an appropriate (i.e. useful) theoretical orientation within which to develop a potentially helpful theory is the bedrock of social science. People who are generally compassionate, kind, and generous as well having a desire to improve other people’s lives have an experience of having passed through difficult times of survival.
They will come up with orphanages, drop in centers, family centers, rehabilitation centers, and other forms of charity and social services, which aim at uplifting the lives of people. Probably, the theory of survival of the fittest may fit into the Zambian context having in mind the kind of policies, programs, and strategies that appear in themselves good to reduce poverty yet have shoe strings that are difficult to untie. For example, the Citizens Economic Empowerment Fund, which introduced complicated forms to fill in by applicants.
It is even a non-starter for villagers who have never been to school to access those funds so that they can fight poverty in their families and communities. The language and bureuacracies either disqualify them or threaten their capacity to successfully access such public funds, which are meant for every citizen who is I a diplorable or poverty stricken situation.
Hebert Spencer (1820–1903), coined the term “survival of the fittest”. Some Post-Modern social theorists like Shepard Humphries, draw heavily upon Spencer’s work and argue that many of his observations are timeless (just as relevant in 2008 as 1898). Vilfredo Pareto (1848–1923) and Pitirim A. Sorokin argued that ‘history goes in cycles’, and presented the social cycle theory to illustrate their point. Ferdinand Tonnies (1855–1936) made community and society (Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft).
Many of the classical theories had one common factor: they all agreed that the history of humanity is pursuing a certain fixed path.
They differed on where that path would lead: social progress, technological progress, decline or even fall, etc. Social cycle theorists were much more skeptical of the Western achievements and technological progress, however, arguing that progress is but an illusion of the difficulties of the historical cycles. Many modern sociologists and theorists, among them, have criticized the classical approach. INTERVENTIONS FOR THE FIGHT AGAINST POVERTY
Working as a Community Development Worker can be challenging and satisfying. One needs to have the skills and knowledge that befit the work and that which can bring about change in the community. A Community Development Worker is an agent of change in that he or she looks at development as a better and improved life. Working in this field requires patience and understanding of the community one is working with. Work becomes easier and satisfying when all the tools of work are there and resources are readily available.
To realize social and economic development, the approaches used in this process should be those that are workable and applicable. Community development attempts to mobilize people affected by the problem into a group and take action. Community development is simply a process of social action and people’s involvement in planning and resource utilization. People organize themselves for action and they define their own goals. As a Community Development Worker, I would suggest the following ways to fight poverty amongst the rural population (Mainza 43). 1. Poverty is also related to dependency.
2. Poverty declines with an increase in average income and education. 3. The size of the poor population in a rural area is strongly related to the size the urban rich population. Overall, poverty reduction programs that are designed and implemented in Zambia must have a Zambian test and avoid as much as possible adopting foreign policies and strategies in trying to fight the Zambian poverty in rural areas. Every Zambian must have access to the wealth of the country.
In addition, the following strategies may help fight poverty as well. 1. Awareness/education workshops, trainings, and serminars – there is great and urgent need to conduct series of trainings, workshops and serminars targeting specific categories of community members in order to help change the mind-set of many and create a positive attitude and self-image. Information is power and so it must be shared, imparted, and exchanged periodically.
2. Health Care – there can never be meaningful poverty reduction without addressing the critical issue of health care amongst the rural population. A healthy mind and body is a strong, active, and productive one.
The government needs to go further in upgrading the existing health facilities as well as establishing some more in order to get the health services closer to many homes as possible. Emergency health care is what is missing in most third world countries and the government can demonstrate this ability, which will not only help and educate the medical fratenity but save many lives as well. 3. Education – educate a child, you have served a nation from poverty and oppression.
Many of our children in the rural communities are unable to get proper real academic education because there are far too many children in one class (on average 50) in most public schools and the Teacher is unable to concentrate on each child, as it should be. Besides, we tend to have many children in rural Zambia than the number of schools. We need more public schools run by the government and various churches and the private sector at various levels to respond to the increasing demand of school places and proper education. 4. Reserves – the country needs to learn from the woodpecker, which stores enough food for the times ahead.
We need to create reserves at all levels (not only the national treasury), which money will help when we are really in need and we will not have to start writing grant proposals to donors to help us fund some projects. We will have stored enough food, imputs, moneys, clothing, and other necessary materials, which can improve the lives of people. 5. Employment creation (industry, skills center, agriculture, etc) – the communities need to come out of the shell of inactivity.
There is urgent need to create food-processing industries, skills training centers, farm blocks, and other income generating ventures, which not only produce but also create employment opportunities for our young people. The kind of policies, programs, and strategies that govenrment, the private sector, and other stakeholders create will determine the levels to which poverty will be reduced and fought. Conclusion
In his book, The Matrix of Survival, Mainza emphasize, “Man’s greatest task in life is to find him/herself. Thousands have gone through life without ever discovering who they are. Imagination rules the world. All things we see are a brainchild of someone somewhere. We owe our comfort to human resourcefulness. We give credit for our peace and fair world life to some human brains that thought up rules and regulations to govern the world. Such men had extra eyes, extended ears, pure vision, and moral stamina to plant a plant that takes 70 years to mature and bear fruit, even when they are above 80 years of age.
Men who build schools when they have no children, men who put up bridges across big rivers when as yet they have all the enemies on the other side of the river. These are not only men or women but also rather human beings of high quality and they are beyond measurable value. The talent base must be tapped at the maximum whilst it is at our disposal” (Mainza 39, 41). Moreso, Poverty reduction programs must be user-friendly and accessible by all citizens.
Bourgois, Phillipe (2001). “Culture of Poverty”. International Encyclopedia of the Social & Behavioral Sciences. Waveland Press. http://www.cato.org. 1st October 2012
Lewis, Oscar (January 1998). “The culture of poverty”. Society 35 (2): 7. Lewis, Oscar. (1996 (1966)). “The Culture of Poverty”. In G. Gmelch and W. Zenner, eds. Urban Life. Waveland Press. Mainza, E.H. (2008). Study on trends of Poverty, A case Study of Monze Urban. Mainza, E.H. (2010). The Matrix of Survival. Monze: Health Help International Press. Mainza, E.H. (Unpublished). Social Work Insights, A book for Everyone to Read. The Cato journal vol 16 no. 1st October 2012
www.cultureofpoverty.com 1st October 2012