The Uses of Poverty: The Poor Pay All

Essay by euromix890College, UndergraduateA-, November 2009

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In the article entitled "The Uses of Poverty: The Poor Pay All," sociologist Herbert J. Gans discusses the strange alliance between the poor and the wealthy in American society. He states that the underprivileged in essence have kept several vocations in existence such as social work, criminology, and journalism. These vocations serve the double pretense of aiding the less fortunate and protecting society from these same individuals. He compares his analogy with that of Richard K. Merton. "Robert K. Merton applied the notion of the functional analysis to explain the continuing though maligned existence of the urban political machine: if it continues to exist, perhaps it fulfilled latent - unintended or unrecognized - positive function" (Gans 1). Mr. Merton's reasoning was that the political machine continued to exist because it served several positive functions in society.

Mr. Gans applies this same logic to the existence of poverty in a society that had so much material wealth and concluded that poverty had 13 functions in society that was beneficial to non-poor members.

"Merton defined functions as "those observed consequences [of a phenomenon] which make for the adaptation or adjustment of a given [social] system" (Gans 1). Though Gans and Marton have similar ideas about poverty their ideas also differ in how they view functions. "I shall use a slightly different definition; instead of identifying functions for an entire social system, I shall identify them for the interest groups, socio-economic classes, and other population aggregates with shared values that 'inhabit' a social system" (Gans 1). These functions include: making sure that the menial work tasks of society will be taken care of, the creation of jobs that provide aid for the poor, and the existence of the poor keeps the aristocracy busy with charitable works, thus demonstrating charity to the...