sociological readings. One is by Herbert J. Gans, and the other by Peter L. Berger. While the readings are interesting, they are also relevant, even though, in the case of Gans, the narrative goes back to 1971,
The Uses of Poverty: The Poor Pay All
By attempting to associate poverty with “positive functions” Gans is stepping out into a narrative that would seem at the outset to be risky. After all, the image that most people have of poor people, poor neighborhoods in urban areas, rural poverty and “low income” minorities, is not a positive one.
But Gans makes a somewhat cynical (though valid) point when he says the fact of poverty “makes possible” certain “respectable professions”; those professions include people working in prisons, those involved in criminology, social workers, and those in the public health field. Moreover, Gans points out that poor people do the “dirty work” of taking jobs that nobody else wants; and he asserts that certain economic activities that involve “dirty work” (menial jobs like washing garments in hospitals, working in the fields, etc.) need to be done by someone, and why not the poor?
By taking these jobs the poor are helping the rich, which, Gans explains somewhat cryptically, helps the economy. He points out that housekeepers (domestics) “subsidize the middle and upper classes” and by doing so they free up the middle and upper class women so those people can engage in “cultural” activities like partying and other “civic” activities. The poor also pay a higher percentage of their earnings in taxes which benefits government services. His third reason for saying the poor help the economy is that the poor buy heroin and “cheap wine and liquors” — and in addition, he lumps “prostitutes” with “Pentecostal ministers” when it comes to those who benefit from the poor.
Gans goes on to list reasons four, five, six, seven — through thirteen — and while there is not room on this paper to present all thirteen reasons, some of the most absurd and pessimistic will be mentioned, prior to presenting questions and answers. One of Gans’ points (number eight) is that “someone has to be at the bottom” in order for sociologists and the media to rank others in terms of where they stand on the ladder of financial and social success.
Number eleven is also sarcastic and even callus, as Gans notes that the poor do not resist when their neighborhoods are “displaced” to make room for universities, hospitals, and freeways (think urban renewal). Hence the “major costs of the industrialization of agriculture” are borne by those in poverty, because they are powerless to resist being “pushed off the land without recompense”; and also, the poor have helped the military because they were drafted to serve as the “foot soldiers” in the Vietnam War.
In his last two pages, Gans suggests “alternatives” to his previous thirteen points, but just as the reader thinks Gans is getting serious, he turns the tables again. Without the poor, he states, those professional (who are “badly trained or incompetent”) that serve the poor would need to find other roles, and Pentecostal religion “probably” would not survive without the poor (the suggestion is that the poor are dumb and are suckers for religious hacks). In short, Gans is saying that getting rid of poverty would cause the affluent to become “dysfunctional” by putting them out of work or making them take lower paying jobs.
Question #1: Is the use of “functional analysis” (cynicism) by Gans a constructive way to draw attention to the plight of the poor? Answer: Yes and no, because while it causes the reader to stop and think, it also belittles those at the bottom end of the socioeconomic ladder. Question #2: Is it fair to attack the Pentecostal (evangelical) faith by suggesting that only the poor are willing converts (because they assumed to be naive and gullible)? No, it is not fair, and while this essay is not supposed to be taken literally, attacking a particular religious faith is offensive and unnecessarily cruel. And it can be taken out of context very easily.
Peter L. Berger — Invitation to Sociology (A Humanistic Perspective)
Berger’s essay is nearly the opposite in tone and substance from Gans’ essay. Berger is quite serious although he is given to be a little exaggeration and time to time. He begins his essay…