Posts Tagged ‘poverty’


So long, Cabrini Green

April 11, 2011

by Sarah Michele Ford

It seems innocuous enough… an apartment complex just northwest of downtown Chicago, constructed between 1942 and 1962, and home to approximately 15,000 people.  But Cabrini Green wasn’t an ordinary apartment complex; to many, it represented everything that was wrong with public housing in American cities. Cabrini Green was the scene of countless acts of violence over the course of its decades as a predominantly poor, predominantly African American public housing complex.  Cabrini Green stood until last month, when the last of the high rise building was demolished.  During that time, Cabrini stood not just as public housing, but as a symbol of the problems of public housing in America’s cities.

The city, the plight and living conditions of the urban poor, has been a central focus of American sociology, and in fact Chicago itself has been the subject of more than its share of urban sociology, beginning in the early part of the twentieth century with the Chicago school.  So how would a sociologist approach the question of Cabrini Green?

A sociologist would look at Cabrini Green and see both symptom and problem.  Cabrini Green, and housing projects in general, concentrated poor people, concentrated minorities, into one place.  On the one hand, this made it more possible to deliver social services. On the other hand, because the urban poor are overwhelmingly African American, it effectively imposed racial segregation and exacerbated the very inner-city problems – gang violence, crushing poverty – that marred the lifetime of Cabrini Green.  These are the causes.  But it’s not that simple… because Cabrini Green was also a symptom. A symptom of racial prejudice, of fear of the poor and of urban violence.

What would be a better option? How can we better deal with the problems of the inner city?


Sociology of Lifestyle

March 20, 2010

Posted by: Chad M. Gesser

Twitter:  @profgesser


I’ve been fortunate to be involved locally in the performing arts heavily since 2005.  After all, Sociologists do make great “role models”. 😉

Just a few weeks ago the child friendly touring production of Beauty and the Beast was performing at our local performing arts center.  I was prepared to take my two young daughters to see the show, until I found out the cost for four was going to exceed $165.  Beauty and the Beast is fantastic show, I was lucky to see it in New York City about ten years ago.  But $165?  Was that type of cost really worth the show?

While the facility is one of the nicest in western Kentucky, perhaps these types of productions aren’t the most accessible for those in the middle or the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder.

In fact, there are many lifestyle patterns that can be determined by examining social class.  Take a look at this breakout of obesity by state.  Do you see any pattern? (click the pic to enlarge)

Now take a look at this national map of poverty.  See any additional patterns? (click the pic to enlarge)

Is there a connection between obesity and poverty?  A connection between obesity, poverty, and geography?  Sociologists are trained to look for patterns in explaining society and human behavior.  Considering lifestyle and entertainment, sociologists identify high culture and popular culture.  Do you think social class is a predictor of types of entertainment that people prefer?  Are there some types of entertainment that are generally exclusive to the upper class?  What types of entertainment do members of the lower social classes engage?  Are there patterns?  Why?


Haiti: poverty and disaster

January 14, 2010

Posted by: Chad M. Gesser

Twitter: @profgesser


Disasters, whether man made or natural, have a dramatic, everlasting impact on people and where they live. In the blink of an eye, a disaster turns everyday normalcy into chaos, survival, and despair.

Not only are property, buildings, and physical structures destroyed during a disaster, but the social relations of the people are too. People are creatures of habit, and when disasters strike, the cultural fabric is ripped apart, leading to panic, hysteria, and organized chaos.

The reason that the earthquake in Haiti (January 2010) is particularly significant is due to the lack of infrastructure. As documented in this report by the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting, Haiti appeared to have been making slow, but some progress prior to the earthquake.

Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. This translates into a substandard built environment. As a result of the earthquake, not only do we see buildings destroyed, but entire neighborhoods and communities. The availability of services such as medical care and emergency assistance were minimum prior to the earthquake, and we find now that they are virtually non-existent. Basic necessities such as food, water, and shelter prior to the earthquake were hard to come by: now victims are living in parks, on the streets, with no food or water. Transportation grids were haphazard at best prior to the earthquake given the lack of resources and equipment to build and sustain these networks. After the earthquake, with no equipment, the rescue operations were led simply by Haitians using their bare hands and makeshift tools to lift tons of concrete and debris in efforts of finding and freeing survivors.

Understanding the impacts of natural disasters on human populations allows us to better address more effectively and efficiently the needs of the victims. The study of collective behavior is about understanding and addressing the social and psychological dimensions of individuals and groups during times of crisis, when the social structure and normalcy are compromised.
The Haitian earthquake is what I call a complete disaster. Traditional services to meet the needs of the citizens were substandard. Because of the substandard nature, the natural disaster completed destroyed existing infrastructure, leaving survivors with no means to begin recovery.
In normal times, medical care is sought after, sometimes scarce; when the entire population all of sudden needs medical attention, it is very easy for medical services to be overwhelmed with the need of survivors. At current we are seeing medical camps being established to provide basic and emergency medical services. In cities and countries on the coast, we have seen organizations like the Coast Guard set up mobile hospitals due to the difficulty of travel and mobility in the area of devastation. In Haiti this is being done initially at the airport in Port-au-Prince, and likely will follow suit in some fashion in Bay of Port-au-Prince.

During times of normalcy law enforcement serves the purpose of keeping the peace and to provide public safety. During a complete disaster, establishing and/or assuring law and order is desirable. However, law enforcement is asked to meet a variety of community needs, and they too can become overwhelmed. In the days and weeks following a natural disaster, an increase in crime is a concern as survivors work to deal both psychologically and sociologically with the slowly improving situation.

How can emergency personnel address the needs of the families, the community, and the society that is stricken by disaster? What personal needs should be addressed? What group needs should be addressed? What has to be done to help survivors return to a sense of normalcy? Is the response of the international community quick enough? Does it last long enough?


Global Poverty Spreads

June 29, 2009

Poverty isn’t just a problem in America. When we look at poverty on a global level, poverty in the United States is relatively small by comparison. Almost half the population of our planet lives in poverty—that’s about three billion people! Most are children. The effects of poverty are more serious outside of the United States, as well.

Who lives in poverty  in America and why has changed over the years.

Who lives in poverty in America and why has changed over the years.

Globally, poverty claims more lives than crime, war, terrorism, cancer, or drugs. But it does it in a sneaky and indirect way—disease, hunger, dehydration, exposure, early births, and malnutrition. And the problem isn’t going away or getting better. According to the United Nations, over 70% of the third world’s, or developing world’s, city populations now live, not only in poverty, but slum areas.

Would you like to respond to this posting? If so select a topic below:

1. Many sociologists worry about the spread of poverty in underdeveloped nations because the social structure we take for granted (educational systems, property ownership, economic systems, legal systems, etc.) are absent. They argue this reduces opportunities for people to rise out of poverty. What do you think?

2. Are you familiar with an underdeveloped nation? If so, what problems do you think cause poverty there? Can any of these circumstances be applied to our society? What global or generalizable solutions does this suggest to you for addressing poverty in the world?

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The Relativity of Social Understandings

April 10, 2009

Much of the public understands that most social problems in our society have a long history. They view their understandings of the character of most social problems as being just as concrete and well understood. But, some research has shown that many Americans living in poverty today have better housing, food, and personal property compared to most of the middle class in American history. Robert E. Rector wrote that in 1998, if you adjust for inflation, the lowest 20% of the poor had incomes equal to that of the average American household in the early 1970s! This brings up the point of how relative our social judgments can be.

Would you like to respond to this topic? If so, please address one of the talking points below:

1. Were you aware of how dependent our understandings of what constitutes poverty are upon social context? What insights does this afford you about assessing your understandings of other social problems?

2. Since what constitutes poverty has changed dramatically in the last 40 years, do you think the underlying causes of poverty have also changed? Why?

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