File spoon-archives/marxism-international.archive/marxism-international_1997/marxism-international.9710, message 541

Date: Mon, 27 Oct 1997 21:22:16 -0500
Subject: Re: M-I: Re: Welfare queens (fwd from moderator)

Rakesh wrote:
>Yoshie, no one really peddles that Oscar Lewis' culture of poverty ideas,
>which are really fairly benign. It is much more insidious than that
>nowadays.  I think the discourse is really about primitive culture and
>outright barbarism--the recycling of the most racist anthropological
>frameworks in the study of the ghetto. I was trying to suggest that this
>discourse structures how ethnographers structure or even choose the object
>of the ghetto and the underclass; for example what may be implied in the
>transition from ghetto to hyperghettoization is regression from primitive,
>relatively undifferentiated society occasioned by the flight of the black
>middle class bearers of those institutions to barbarism, most manifest in
>hyper-sexual, wild black male behavior. The path out of barbarism of course
>is the emergence of the patriarchal family, so the argument is made to cut
>AFDC to force women to be dependent on men whose responsibilities will thus
>set them on the the road to civilisation. I would suggest that this most
>insidiously racist framework is at the basis of America's most famed and
>massively funded underclass researcher William Julius Wilson; even his best
>students can't find it in themselves to engage with the critiques of it
>offered by Adolph Reed, Jr. and others.

I generally agree with both of your points: 1) the invention of the concept
of the "underclass" serves the interests of social scientists in search of
"new savages"; and 2) the analyses and solutions proposed by researchers
such as W. J. Wilson try to rejuvenate the nuclear patriarchal family. The
latter point has been also emphasized by your discussion of Promise
Keepers. (I haven't had the time to post for the last couple of months, but
I have kept track of some threads.) I might add that the discourse on
"postindustrial society" supposedly populated by "knowledge workers" also
gets interwoven with the "underclass" and "feminization of poverty"
discourses in a way that deflects our attention from structural features of
capitalism, racism, and sexism. All of these deserve to be discussed on
M-Fem as well. Are you on that list?


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