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The Underclass Debate Neil Reardon – Brynteg Comprehensive School Who are the underclass? • Historically, the underclass are people who were seen as below the working class, people with low morals and no skills. • Karl Marx called these people the „lumpenproletariat‟ and referred to them as „scum‟ The modern underclass • There is no agreed definition of who this group are. • Most definitions seem to share the following characteristics: – Joblessness by choice – Social exclusion – Benefit dependency – Criminality and fecklessness Saunders (1990) „… a stratum of people who are generally poor, unqualified and irregularly or never employed. This underclass is disproportionately recruited today from among Afro-Caribbeans, people living in the north, those who are trapped in run- down council estates or in single parent families‟ Runciman 1990 „…those members of British society whose roles place them more or less permanently at the economic level where benefits are paid by the state to those unable to participate in the labour market at all … they are „the poor‟ of today…‟ The modern debate • In modern Britain, there are many areas of high unemployment, criminality and poverty. These are associated with people dependent on benefits to survive. • Murray, an American sociologist says that the underclass exist because people have become dependent on benefits and have no incentive to work. • Is this analysis a true reflection of British society? Views of the underclass • Cultural explanations • Structured views of suggest that it is the underclass the failure of suggest that society individuals or whole itself is flawed. The groups in society government has not that creates an provided adequate underclass in society work. • Murray • Wilson Cultural Explanations: It is the fault of the individuals/groups “By the time slum children are 6 or 7 they have usually absorbed the basic values and attitudes of their subculture and are psychologically geared to take full advantage of any opportunities which may occur in their lifetime” Oscar Lewis “The underclass is characterised by family instability, violent crime, drug abuse, dropping out of employment and „scrounging‟ off the state”. Charles Murray Structured Underclass • Different from the cultural underclass perspective because it blames the inequalities in society, rather than the cultural values of the poor. • The underclass exists because the material resources needed to succeed in society are distributed unequally. • Field (1989) supports this idea because he argues that in times of economic recession and failure, there is more evidence of an underclass emerging, an example being the end of the Thatcher government. Relevant studies to consider and quote These ideas provide you with evidence to support your analysis of the underclass debate Golding and Middleton • Newspaper reporting gives rise to the notion of underclass. • Most reports view benefit recipients as scroungers who enjoy comfortable life styles at the expense of tax-payers. • This is far from reality for most people but is a powerful myth. Howard Williamson (1990) • Studied a group of 16-17 year olds not involved in formal employment or education. • WHY? Unhappy childhood, history of abuse, drug misuse and law breaking. EVALUATION • Not a fixed cultural group as different people had differing experiences. Some were entrepreneurial and not all offended regularly. • Most still subscribed to the dominant set of values but simply could not get there. David Marsland • Welfare benefits mean people do not need to look after themselves. • People choose to stay unemployed. • High benefits result in high taxation and takes money away from investment in business. • People want handouts from the state but they should not get them, they should be encouraged by poverty to go to work for a living. Rex and Tomlinson (1979). The Structural Break. • The material disadvantage of the ethnic minorities is so great that it actually cuts them off from the White working class group. • In terms of ethnic minorities, this separation occurred either as a result of direct racism or due to the fact ethnic minorities have the most poorly paid, low status jobs. • Highlights the point that in capitalist society, the underclass are the ultimate victims. EVALUATION. • Westergaard (1996) has argued that its misleading to see the underclass as a distinct group outside of the working class because they face and share many of the same problems. • Britain as a society guarantees certain benefits to each member, NHS, Education, so it is very difficult to accept the concept of a total structural break Oscar Lewis (1958) • People who are poor feel marginalised. • They develop a value system that enables them to survive poverty: fatalism, short-term thinking, immediate gratification, dishonesty, limited participation in social and political life. • The value system they develop helps them to survive poverty, but it keeps them poor because they do not develop the social and educational skills to escape from their poverty. Dahrendorf (1987) • Identifies structural factors such as employment and recession but adapts his structural explanation to take cultural factors into account. • He argues that the longer that people remain in the underclass the more likely it is that they will assimilate into its cultural values. • They will become more dependant on state benefits and handouts and slowly lose any discipline or motivation. Tom Hall (2003) • Spent a year studying homeless groups in Southerton to gain an insight into their existence. • On the surface they resembled typical members of the underclass. • Tom Hall argues its misleading to just view these youngsters as having the typical cultural values of the underclass because they faced many structural constraints such as poor backgrounds and lack of confidence. • They eventually tailor their behaviour to fit their difficult circumstances. Andy Pilkington (2000) • Many face racial discrimination which forces them into the underclass but the idea of an ethnic underclass fails to take into account the level of diversity amongst ethnic minorities. • Pilkington (2003) argues that there is no convincing evidence that ethnic minorities possess the cultural values of the underclass. Some often have a great deal of cultural capital • The economic position of most ethnic minorities is improving. • Only some Pakistanis and Bangladeshis have members of their community thought to be possible members of the working class. William Wilson (1996) • The government has failed to generate enough jobs for people. • This leads to social isolation in bad neighbourhoods • Joblessness is a way of life • This undermines the nuclear family and destroys the social fabric of poor people. Assessing and evaluating underclass debates • Why are some sociologists reluctant to accept the term? • Is it better to talk of excluded groups rather than an „underclass‟? • Are the underclass different from the ordinary working class? Outline and assess sociological theories of the underclass A Cultural Problem A Structural Problem Lewis: Culture of poverty Tom Hall: Homeless in Southerton Murray: Culturally distinct Williamson: SZY Marsland: Dependency on benefits Field: Not one category Rex and Tomlinson: Structural Break Conclusion: Is there an underclass? If so, which theories account for it best?
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