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The Uses Of Poverty: The Poor Pay All

1220 words - 5 pages

In the article entitled "The Uses of Poverty: The Poor Pay All," sociologist Herbert J. Gans discusses the strange alliance between the poor and the wealthy in American society. He states that the underprivileged in essence have kept several vocations in existence such as social work, criminology, and journalism. These vocations serve the double pretense of aiding the less fortunate and protecting society from these same individuals. He compares his analogy with that of Richard K. Merton. "Robert K. Merton applied the notion of the functional analysis to explain the continuing though maligned existence of the urban political machine: if it continues to exist, perhaps it fulfilled latent - unintended or unrecognized - positive function" (Gans 1). Mr. Merton's reasoning was that the political machine continued to exist because it served several positive functions in society.Mr. Gans applies this same logic to the existence of poverty in a society that had so much material wealth and concluded that poverty had 13 functions in society that was beneficial to non-poor members. "Merton defined functions as "those observed consequences [of a phenomenon] which make for the adaptation or adjustment of a given [social] system" (Gans 1). Though Gans and Marton have similar ideas about poverty their ideas also differ in how they view functions. "I shall use a slightly different definition; instead of identifying functions for an entire social system, I shall identify them for the interest groups, socio-economic classes, and other population aggregates with shared values that 'inhabit' a social system" (Gans 1). These functions include: making sure that the menial work tasks of society will be taken care of, the creation of jobs that provide aid for the poor, and the existence of the poor keeps the aristocracy busy with charitable works, thus demonstrating charity to the less fortunate and superiority over the elites who chose to spend their free time making more money. He also give several alternatives to poverty such as redistribution of the wealth in society, putting everyone on a more even playing field, but ultimately concluded that poverty will continue to exist because disturbing the unequal balance between the poor and the wealthy in society would prove to be dysfunctional for the affluent and that will not happen. "Associating poverty with positive functions seems at a first glance to be unimaginable. Of course, the slumlord and the loan shark are commonly known to profit from the existence of poverty, but they are viewed as evil men, so their activities are classified among the dysfunctions of poverty" (Gans 1). It seems, and it is less often recognized that poverty makes respectable professions and occupations possible. "The poor have provided jobs for professional and para-professional "poverty warriors", and for journalists and social scientists, who have supplied the information demanded by the revival of public interest in poverty" (Gans 1).In...

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