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Looking at Poverty from Four Theoretical Perspectives
Poverty may be defined as the state of a person or a nation that is characterized by extremely low level of money or other material possessions. Poverty was considered as almost unavoidable for a long period of human history due to the undeveloped modes of production. As a result of industrialization and globalization, the problem of poverty became a little bit less threatening. However, poverty is still present in a large number of Asian and African countries.
Poverty has a variety of sociological components and consequences. Thus, it is possible to analyze it using four main theoretical perspectives.
1. Functionalist view. Functionalists typically emphasize the contribution of any aspect of society to overall social stability (Schaefer, 2011). Society is considered as more than the sum of its components; rather, each component of society is important for the stability of the whole society. These different parts are the existing institutions of society; furthermore, each of them is organized to satisfy specific needs, and each of them has unique consequences for the shape and form of society. All the components depend on each other. In relation to poverty, the functionalist perspective may be presented as follows:
a) Poverty and disorganization of the system lead to significant changes as different components must adjust in order to achieve stability.
b) The order and consensus that exist in society may be disturbed, as well as shared public values and social stability as a whole.
c) If one part of the system is dysfunctional or is not working properly due to poverty, consequently, it affects all other components and may create long-term social problems.
d) As poverty affects all the components of society, these components have to adapt in order to reestablish a new order, productivity and stability.
It seems that the functionalist view, though demonstrates the problem in relation to poverty, but at the same time, justifies the existing status quo and complacence on the part of societys citizens.
Functionalists do not encourage people to take active steps in order to change their social environment, even if such changes may be beneficial to them. Instead, functionalists see large social changes as undesirable because some groups of society may be compensated naturally for all possible problems. It seems to be inappropriate perspective in relation to poverty when people should also play an active role in changing their material state.
2. Conflict view. Conflict theorists suggest that the social order is mainly based on exploitation and coercion. This perspective is influenced by the works of Karl Marx, who considered society as being fragmented into classes that compete with each other for economic and social resources.
Social order can be maintained exclusively by domination, with power in the hands of those members of society who possess the largest fraction of economic, political, and social resources. If consensus exists, it is due to citizens being united around common economic interests, usually in opposition to other classes. In relation to poverty, the conflict perspective may be presented as follows:
a) Poverty exists due to the control of a disproportionately large share of societys resources by a small number of capitalists. They correspondingly actively defend their economic advantages.
b) The poor masses are not included in society due to their mutual values, but by compulsion at the hands of those in power.
c) Classes and individuals promote their own interests, struggling over total control of economic resources.
d) Those with the most power exercise their will over others; it results in poverty and power struggle.
There is much attention paid to gender, class, and race in this perspective since these factors are seen as the grounds of the most permanent and important struggles in history. However, the conflict theory presents very negative view of society. All civil rights and positive aspects of societal life are attributed mainly to capitalistic objectives to control the masses.
3. Feminist view. This perspective considers how poverty influences the roles that men and women play in the global society (Schaefer, 2011). Feminist theory has also started to question the differences between different women including their age, race, group, and ethnicity intersect with gender. Feminists are much concerned with giving a number of rights to women and explaining the various ways women have contributed to society. In relation to poverty, the feminist perspective may be presented as follows:
a) Poverty may exist due to gender differences or even gender discrimination.
b) Womens location and experience of social institutions are not only different, but unequal to mens; this inequality may generate poverty.
c) Some representatives of the theory argue that women are not only different from or unequal to men, but they are significantly subordinated, oppressed, or even abused by men.
d) Structural oppression is also possible due to patriarchy, capitalism, and racism; it is difficult to raise overall standards of living under such circumstances.
At the same time, not all women are influenced by oppression in the same way. In fact, some theorists seek to explain inequality and oppression across a number of variables, including ethnicity, class, race, gender, and age. However, there is a tendency of increasing of womens earnings all over the world.
4. Interactionist view. Interactionists are mainly interested in mutual understandings of everyday behavior in the process of studying the social order (Schaefer, 2011).
They focus on the specific details of what happens among people in everyday life. Interactionist perspective demonstrates how individuals interpret and use symbols not only for communicate with each other, but also in order to maintain and create impressions of themselves, to increase a sense of self esteem, and sustain and create what they experience as the essence of a specific social situation. From their point of view, social life consists primarily of complex interactions through which life acquires its meaning and shape.
In relation to poverty, the interactionist perspective may be presented as follows:
a) It is possible to analyze society by addressing the individual meanings that people impose on behaviors, objects, and events. Thus, poverty has not only objective, but subjective component as well.
b) Subjective meanings are very important because people behavior is based on what they feel and not just on what is objectively real. It is necessary to develop a common understanding of poverty.
c) Poverty directly influences everyday life of people and decreases their opportunities. Thus, people with the same level of skills and knowledge have considerably fewer possibilities to reach their goals.
d) Poverty may influence peoples social positions in a negative way. Due to financial difficulties, previously successful entrepreneurs and other citizens may become the net recipients of other peoples money as they are unable to earn sufficient amount of money for their living.
Society is considered to be socially constructed through individual interpretation. Moreover, different members of society are able to interpret one anothers behavior and these interpretations may influence the social structure.
This theory neglects the macro level of social and economic phenomena the big picture. Therefore, interactionists may understate the larger forces of society by focusing too closely on the individuals rather than their social environment. However, this theory seems to be well-developed and useful nowadays.
Thus, there are significant differences between functionalists, conflict theorists, feminists and interactionists in this respect. At the same time, all of them agree that poverty is an important problem that should be analyzed and solved as soon as possible.