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Sociological Perspectives on Poverty

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

It can be said that there is no greater threat to the world population than that of poverty.  Poverty is the lack of basic human needs such as clean water, healthcare, nutrition education clothing and shelter because of an inability to afford them.  This is also known as absolute poverty. According to Jean Zeigler, mortality due to malnutrition accounted for 58% of all deaths in 2006.  One in twelve people in the world today are malnourished.  We live in a time when a nation can fly a man to the moon but can’t feed, cloth, and shelter its own people much less it’s neighbors; all the while producing more food and resources than it needs.  So if the money is there and the food is there why do people still go hungry?  Conflict theory is a great explanation for this phenomenon.  Conflict theory gives us a perspective that emphasizes the social, political, and material inequality of a group.  Various conflict theories point out power differences like class conflict and usually go against a lot of widely believed ideologies. 


The problem of poverty is a classic case of a struggle of groups of people for limited recourses.  Carl Marx referred to these groups as the bourgeoisie and the proletariat.  The bourgeoisie is the group that controls the means of production. C. Wright Mills described this social class as the power elite.  The power elite are a small group of people that have the power of business, government, and the military at their disposal.  There are those such as William Domhoff that go so far as to say that this is the group that actually determines both the foreign and domestic policy of a nation.  The other group is the proletariat or the working class. These are the people that give their work in exchange for a wage or even because of force.   Although some would go further in the social stratification of these groups for the purposes of this essay the basic struggle has always been between those that have and those that have not.


 Those that have power, property, and prestige use those things to exploit those that lack those things and take what little they did have; namely labor and raw materials.  This has taken many forms throughout the years. Feudalism, colonialism, neocolonialism and capitalism are some of the more well known.


In some of these examples the “have nots” were slaves; other times they were stuck at the bottom of a caste system.  They may even be at the bottom of our modern social class system.  Once colonialism robed the people of their resources with its brute force, neocolonialism took over wielding capitalism along with its multinational corporations as its weapon to keep them in their place.  Once governments of these poor people lack the raw materials to produce things for themselves they become debtors to world banks and other corporations to keep their people alive. This arrangement along with the interest that is attached forces governments of poor nations to increase taxes on its people and further deplete their natural resources to pay off these debts further reducing their wealth and driving them deeper into poverty.  This can also be described by the Dependency Theory which theorizes that resources flow from a "periphery" of poor and underdeveloped states (those that have not) to a "core" of wealthy states (those that have), enriching the latter at the expense of the former.  The central argument of this theory is that poverty exists not because people are less integrated in the world economic system but because of how they already are integrated into that system.  In other words, they are impoverished because of their involvement in the world system not because of they are not yet fully involved because of their poverty. 


It is my opinion that until we find a new world system the rich will continue to become richer and the poor will continue to become poorer.  This new system will not come about by military might, new business models, or better government.  It will come about when people refuse to exploit others for their own gain.  It will come about when people truly deal with others in the same manner they would themselves like to be dealt with.  It will come about when people finally decide to love their neighbor as themselves. 




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