The Culture Of Poverty, By Oscar Lewis, An American Anthropologist Essay

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In 1959, Oscar Lewis, an American anthropologist published his now well-known book titled, Five Families; Mexican Case Studies in the Culture of Poverty. This book sparked national interest, especially amongst educators, as they began consider the theory of the “culture of poverty” and its implications on their students. Many well-meaning individuals touted Lewis and his research because it provided what seemed like a reasonable explanation as to why poverty exists, despite anti-poverty programs. However, past the initial discourse that it precipitated, other researchers began to critically analyze the premises on which Lewis’ theory of the culture of poverty is founded. This research paper discusses Lewis’ original findings as well as more recent research regarding the culture of poverty; it looks at the consequences of defining poverty as a culture.
As suggested by its title, Lewis’ research is focused on what he claims to be the cultural context of poverty. According to Lewis, the state of being poor inherently causes one to adopt certain qualities that perpetuate one’s state of poorness. For example, Lewis asserts that poor people experience feelings of marginalization and dependency as a result of their socioeconomic state. Lewis states, “The individual who grows up in this culture has a strong feeling of fatalism, helplessness, dependence and inferiority (Lewis, 1960).” These feelings, largely associated with isolation resulting from poor socioeconomic status,

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