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4 - Poverty

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 November 2020

Philippe Fontaine
École normale supérieure Paris–Saclay
Jefferson D. Pooley
Muhlenberg College, Pennsylvania
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Chapter 4, on poverty, describes the broad arc of twentieth-century poverty knowledge in terms of “disembedding.” Progressive era social research had cast poverty as a structural problem, one that would require structural solutions. When journalists and politicians thrust poverty back onto the social scientific agenda in the 1960s, the issue was framed-by economists and other social scientists-in narrow and absolute terms, to the explicit exclusion of inequality. Economists in the postwar policy firmament were decisive and notably aloof, but the behavioral science-orientation of their non-economist colleagues contributed to the War on Poverty's circumscribed ambitions too. By the time the political currents shifted in the 1970s, the stage was set for a further disembedding-a re-pauperization of the poverty problem that culminated in Bill Clinton's mid-1990s welfare rollback. The chapter foregrounds the often-determinate role played by politics and-in the case of the neoconservative think tank-mezzo-level policy discourse. But social scientists were not impotent bystanders in the disembedding process. They had, in the War on Poverty years, laid the groundwork for the dodging of inequality questions-and, ironically, for the personal-responsibility moralism that, in the Clinton era, marked a full retreat from liberal social provision.

Society on the Edge
Social Science and Public Policy in the Postwar United States
, pp. 137 - 172
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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