A month or so ago the New York Times published a piece on the comeback of the “Culture of Poverty” in research, and latently, in popular social imagination.
A month or so ago, I really wanted to write about this; my anger and frustration with the limiting perspectives in the discipline I “belong” to or am “trained” in and my fear about this rhetoric prevailing over years of other good studies of culture in sociology that have over again rebuked this strain.
And then, of course, busy ate me up.
When I posted this on my FaceBook, my comment that accompanied it was something to the effect of–“How predictable. Just when an economic crisis is settling in and aggravating lives, the idea of blaming people whose backs bear the burden of unemployment, retreat of the state and social services comes up.”
A colleague replied that he believed in studying cultural sociology to elucidate the different ways inequality outside of economic strategies.
I’ve been simmering on that comment, and the implications of this article for a month. Here are some questions that I have in a bulleted list because god forbid I write any coherent paragraphs:
- I think studying culture in sociology is extremely important. But I can’t help but think about how culture and economy constrain each other, among other things that constrain those. I wonder why people keep separating these categories that are core in the rubric of neoliberalism. In sociology, why do we think when someone is studying economy, we’re not studying culture?
- Neoliberalism circulates in culture. If and when sociologists study culture, in a perspective of just showing how people live, and deriving theory inductively from the data, then are we not reproducing that neoliberal culture and bottling/booking it up for secondary consumption? And more importantly, who gets to consume it?
- When did the culture of poverty ever stop as the way governance shapes how marginalized people are treated?
- In what way is sociology in service, intentional or unintentionally, to neoliberalism?
- Why do sociologists, both critical and mainstream, feel like they are not?
Sometimes, the culture of sociology upsets me. But other times, most times, I feel like the potential in scholarship and education is limitless. And, yes, I’m ending on an optimistic point so that I don’t feel like I’m wasting my time in graduate school.