Sociology Essay: The Culture Of Poverty

Are Africans Responsible for Their Own Poverty?



The culture of poverty, a social theory has its roots in the cycle of poverty. The great attention

to the notion was paid in 1960’s; it was thoroughly criticized and at the beginning of the 21st century returned [1]. The theory explains the existing of poverty despite programs created to fight it.

Critics of poverty theory (Goode and Eames, 1996; Bourgois, 2001; Small M.L., Harding D.J, Lamont M., 2010) insist that explanations of poverty must analyse structural factors and individual characteristics.

Keywords: culture, poverty, “culture of poverty” theory.

Before the phrase “culture of poverty” taken into consideration, logically terms “culture” and
“poverty” should get our first attention. So that, culture from the anthropological point of view is the sum of living ways the humans built up and transmit from one generation to another. [2] Poverty – is a state that one lacks a certain amount of material possessions or money. [6] Absolute poverty refers to the lack of basic human needs, which commonly includes food, water, sanitation, clothing, health care and education. Relative poverty is an economic inequality in the location or society in which people live. [4].

The theory of a “culture of poverty” was created by the anthropologist Oscar Lewis in 1959. Lewis claimed people living in the conditions of total poverty develop a culture adapted to these conditions. Children are unable to escape the underclass. [3]

Reaction to the theory “culture of poverty”

Oscar Lewis inflamed a debate about the nature of poverty that continues today. Lewis’ theory is not suitable to the real world situation (Goode and Eames, 1996).

Contemporary investigations reject the idea that individual values can influence person’s condition. (Small M.L., Harding D.J, Lamont M., 2010). [8]

Poverty in Africa

Poverty in Africa refers to the lack of basic human needs. [7]

One of three people living in sub-Saharan Africa is undernourished. This is the highest percentage of any region in the world. In addition, 37 present of 738 million people who do not have the possibility to obtain clean water live in Africa. More than one million people mostly children die every year from malaria and other diseases.

Moreover, Africa consistently remains among the top places for ongoing conflicts, consisting of both long standing civil wars and conflicts between countries. [5]

In conclusion

As it has been already pointed out, poverty has two forms: absolute poverty and relative poverty. Although Lewis’ theory has a lot of controversial moments and criticized by the majority of sociologists, I think it has the right to be applied to the community in relative poverty.  In situation of economic inequality in society, we can expect people to change their lives relying on their individual values. As for the Africans, living in absolute poverty; the main wish they have is to survive – the “culture of poverty” theory has not the right to be applied. It gives us the possibility to make a conclusion that Africans are not responsible for their own poverty.


1. Cohen Patricia, “Culture of Poverty” Make a Comeback,
2. Dictionary. com/ dictionary. reference. com/browse/culture
3. Lewis, Oscar (1996 (1966)). “The Culture of Poverty”. In G. Gmelch and W. Zenner, eds. Urban Life. Waveland Press.
4. “Measuring Inequality” The World Bank 2011,
5. Packtor, Jordana Top of Poverty in Africa facts,
6. Poverty Merriam – Webster. Retrieved 18 November 2013
7. Wikipedia – the free encyclopedia› Poverty in Africa
8. Wikipedia – the free encyclopedia›Culture of poverty

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