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Author Topic: Othering the Poor  (Read 7948 times)
bluezebracat
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« on: September 26, 2010, 11:06:09 am »

'Othering' a la Edward Said is a central theme in a class I'm teaching.  In an American classroom, the politics of race are immediately familiar to students; gender--less so.  Class/socio-economic issues are even further removed from their thinking.

I would like to provide a few examples or a few supplemental readings under the general theme of about how we think about the poor--how the construction of knowledge about the poor goes hand in hand with an exercise of power (their exploitation, oppression, etc.)  Basically, I'm looking for examples of 'othering' with the 'poor' or associated groups (welfare recipients, etc.).   These examples need to be easily related to their experience, so present day, US sources would be helpful.

Any suggestions are appreciated.
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wilbrish
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« Reply #1 on: September 26, 2010, 11:56:28 am »

Walter Mosley's esssy "Show Me the Money" might be helpful. 
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changinggears
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« Reply #2 on: September 26, 2010, 12:14:18 pm »

Jo Goodwin Parker's "What Is Poverty?" jumped immediately to mind.  It's not necessarily about othering the poor, but it's a very vivid and disturbing view of the realities of poverty.  It might be a good text to use to compare/contrast our stereotypes of poor people and their sources.
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duchess_of_malfi
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« Reply #3 on: September 26, 2010, 12:21:10 pm »

I don't have a particular reading to recommend because when I teach stratification, I approach the cultural and structural construction of poverty from a different angle.  I use Robert Merton's essay "The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy," the essay focusing on in-groups and out-groups, to discuss the way moral boundaries are built and maintained, and their functions--and the tendency of people to practice "moral alchemy" by characterizing the same quality as good or bad depending on group membership.  Stereotypes function positively to maintain both boundaries and moral comfort among in-group members who might otherwise question the pattern.  But that essay is more general than the type you are looking for.

I am posting to suggest that because basic knowledge is very low in this area, I would recommend beginning with a fact quiz (how is poverty defined in the U.S. vs. by international agencies, who is in poverty, how common is poverty, how long does poverty last for most people, who has the highest risk, life outcomes of poverty, is poverty an essential part of the economic system, etc.).  Poverty can not be discussed effectively until terms and measurement are defined and perception vs. reality issues are brought into the open.  Making the transition from thinking about "the poor" to thinking about "people who experience poverty" is one step.  Starting with facts shakes up stereotypes and takes some of the defensiveness in the class down a few notches. 

"Welfare" is another interesting concept to discuss (e.g., does it mean TANF, Social Security, the mortgage-interest deduction).

If you are looking for good reporting rather than academic articles, the New York Times is a helpful resource for its series "Class Matters" (social class as an entire structure, but includes the bottom; the section on health is the strongest) and the section on Hurricane Katrina including teaching resources.  Here is an article I've used:  "In Tale of Two Families, a Chasm Between Haves and Have-Nots."  It is interesting to see what students read in this and read into it (i.e., that isn't there, constructing the other in real time). 
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toothpaste
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« Reply #4 on: September 26, 2010, 12:22:21 pm »

Garth Brooks, The American Honky-Tonk Bar Association.

You don't even have to worry about whether the students will read it, because you can play it right in class.
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toothpaste
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« Reply #5 on: September 26, 2010, 12:23:21 pm »

Maybe also Jason DeParle's book about welfare reform in Wisconsin.
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tuxedo_cat
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« Reply #6 on: September 26, 2010, 12:26:32 pm »

Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed is becoming a sort of classic on this topic for teaching.  I've taught the introductory chapter to first-year students -- it's entirely accessible to them, but also invites students to critique her "going native" experiment in some useful ways.

This summary
http://www.bookjive.com/wiki/Book:Nickel_and_Dimed:_On_(Not)_Getting_By_in_America

. . . seems pretty accurate if you want to skim through what's in each chapter (just be aware that your students will find that site, too).
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zharkov
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« Reply #7 on: September 26, 2010, 12:27:19 pm »

The Field Guide to the US Economy has many good facts and is well referenced. 

fguide.org





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ufo_tofu
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« Reply #8 on: September 26, 2010, 12:31:45 pm »

There's a PBS documentary on class in America called People Like Us - it's long but really good.  My students always got into a lively discussion, especially on the last section, which is about class in a Texas high school.  Very interesting - I'd highly recommend it.
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duchess_of_malfi
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« Reply #9 on: September 26, 2010, 12:44:52 pm »

I've used Nickel and Dimed only once because of negative student reaction.  Students resented what they saw as Ehrenreich's thinking she knows best instead of interviewing people who live that life full-time and not by choice.  But whether students react this way or can get past it probably depends on your students.

I can't afford to buy People Like Us, but maybe you will be in luck and your library or video service will have it, or you have some instructional materials help.

The ABC entertainment/social experiment program "What Would You Do?" often contrasts would-you-help-a-stranger scenarios using markers of social class (Friday evenings + viewable online). 
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creamcity
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« Reply #10 on: September 26, 2010, 12:56:48 pm »

Quote
because basic knowledge is very low in this area, I would recommend beginning with a fact quiz (how is poverty defined in the U.S. vs. by international agencies, who is in poverty, how common is poverty, how long does poverty last for most people, who has the highest risk, life outcomes of poverty, is poverty an essential part of the economic system, etc.).  Poverty can not be discussed effectively until terms and measurement are defined and perception vs. reality issues are brought into the open. 

I have done something along these lines, including a quick self-quiz (not for a grade, not to be turned in, etc.) at the start to have students see that many students themselves are part of "the poor," "the other."  Many qualify for surplus cheese from the gummint.  And, of course, many also are accepting welfare -- some do go for food stamps, but most also take (add this into the quiz for them) tax support for public campuses, state and federal grants and loans, etc.

Once they face that they are "the other," then they can begin to see the nuances between being the hopeful poor -- those like most students for whom it is a temporary and transient status -- vs. the hopeless, permanent poor.  And then the hopeful poor can discuss the obstacles to hope, to a way out, for the permanent poor.

And please do use this opportunity to raise awareness of the gendering of poverty in this country, too.  I also include statistics on the typical (and only typical, of course) trajectory for men or women after divorce and what that has done to many women and children in this country.  Many of us are plunged back into the status of temporary poor, of being "the other" without the excuse of being young; many of us escape it by the same means that the students are taking, by being students again -- but many become part of the permanent poor because of the obstacles of single parenting, child care, etc., while in school.  We all have seen these students, but only briefly, as the obstacles overwhelm them. . . .
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mickeymantle
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« Reply #11 on: September 26, 2010, 1:16:42 pm »


I would also suggest Ehrenreich's book.  I find it somewhat amusing that students criticize her direct experiences.  I found her book refreshing, in part, because she did not adopt that all-too-common condescending attitude of some of her journalistic peers.  I think it's probably this country's equivalent of George Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier.

In addition, although it may be too esoteric for your students, I'd also suggest Frances Fox Piven's work.  She writes in a brisk, non-jargon style that students might find appealing.

Finally, I must commend the OP's searching for such books.  Class is often an issue we deny in this country, but which does exist.  Was it The New York Times that did a poll of all Americans about 10 years ago in which about 80 percent of the respondents put themselves in the middle class, when only about half were actually in that class?  This recent recession/depression may not only see the further destruction of that class, but also the sustaining of that myth since the end of World War II.
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creamcity
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« Reply #12 on: September 26, 2010, 1:34:33 pm »

Ditto on Ehrenreich's book -- and last year, I saw the play based upon it (same title) performed on campus.  The student reviews showed that it works, that it's a wake-up call; I recall student reviews pointing out that students may not be the working poor (or not for long, per my post above) but count on the working poor for many campus services, from foodworkers to custodians making minimum wage.   

Perhaps portions of the play also could be assigned, even performed in class?  There also are excerpts of play productions on Youtube, I see.
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spork
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« Reply #13 on: September 26, 2010, 1:35:47 pm »

Nickel and Dimed is garbage sociology.

Here are a few suggestions:

Walmart

cooking

Carolyn Chute
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duchess_of_malfi
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« Reply #14 on: September 26, 2010, 3:22:24 pm »

It's not sociology. 

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