Parsing out the influences of cultural and structural factors leading to differential behaviors among the poor and nonpoor is a difficult challenge for sociologists concerned with stratification and inequality. This is largely due to the fact that they appear to be so heavily intertwined. Structural and cultural factors reinforce each other in complex ways. Pervasive cultural elements such as ideologies and values are used to frame and interpret existing socio-economic structures and their effects on individuals. Structural forces such as access to resources such as information, education and employment shape cultural views and attitudes as well.
STRUCTURAL AND CULTURAL FORCES
Structural factors include the organizational and institutional forces in society that determine relative social position such as the prestige level of associations, roles and jobs, economic and labor market forces, technology and laws (Wilson 2009). Structural factors also affect access to resources such as housing and education. Cultural factors include pervasive narratives and interpretations as well as common understandings and applied meanings, within groups of people (Wilson 2009). Culture can be shared amongst varying size groups ranging from families to nations. Cultural sharing is generally limited to those who share a common physical space (Wilson 1996:66). Social interaction on the individual level leads to the sharing of cultural values, understandings and interpretations (Wilson 2009). Both structural and cultural factors have profound and complex effects on society, the individual and each other.
The Relationship Between Structure and Culture
The relationship between structure and culture is essentially reciprocal. Cultural changes can occur as a reaction to structural changes. This is evidenced by the labor market restructuring due to deindustrializaton and automation leading to massive and long-term unemployment among many African Americans and thus joblessness became a cultural norm (Wilson 1996). Cultural forces can have two possible effects on structure. They can be used to justify existing structures and reify them. Examples of this include the culture of racism being used to justify unequal treatment towards African Americans and the cultural value of individualism being used to justify the lack of social safety nets in the U.S. Cultural changes such as access to new information or the emergence of new interpretations or conceptual frameworks can also lead to the demand for structural change. For instance, the de-exoticization of the “underclass” experience and rejection of ethnocentric theories such as oppositional values amongst the poor allowed for policies such as affirmative action to become more politically viable in the 1990's.
STRUCTURAL FORCES AND BEHAVIOR
Disproportional Affects of Public Policy
Access to resources has been historically constrained in the U.S. on the basis of ethnicity, race and most recently class. This...