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Three Essays on Poverty, Social Services, and Advice-Giving

Plummer, Samantha (2019) Three Essays on Poverty, Social Services, and Advice-Giving. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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In this dissertation, I critique the ‘poverty knowledge’ generated by cultural sociology and examine how its disavowal of politics, preoccupation with behavior, commitment to appearing nonjudgmental, and understatement of structural causes manifest in social service organizations targeting different populations.
I begin by reviewing the past decade of cultural sociological research on poverty. I show that cultural sociologists draw boundaries between their ‘empirical’ questions and the ‘political’ demands of their critics and argue that they thereby obfuscate both research that challenges their agenda and their own ideological commitment to liberalism. This commitment is most evident in the behavioral focus of their research, which leads them to untenable conclusions that are also incompatible with their professed desire to avoid victim-blaming narratives.
I then examine an increasingly popular approach to raising public awareness about poverty and training people the state expects to work on the poor: The Poverty Simulation. The Poverty Simulation is an immersive experience in which middle-class individuals role-play limited aspects of the lives of poor and low-income family members as they navigate everyday life. I show that simulation facilitators trust in negative, arousing feelings to convince participants of the difficulty of living in poverty and to motivate them to adopt an empathetic interactional style. Yet, even as facilitators guide participants toward experiences of negative emotional states, they also deflect them from experiences of conflict and the political.
Finally, I compare how experts in two organizations that target different populations/problems—women in (economic) transition and chronically/intergenerationally poor people—give financial advice to their clients. I argue that personal finance experts’ claims that we are culturally silent about money provide them with an “advisor’s benefit,” i.e., the appearance of being able to free others from silence and ignorance and guide them toward financial wellness. I then show that experts’ enactment of the advisor’s benefit is conditioned by organizations’ temporal frames. I conclude that while it can be less depoliticizing than focusing on the future, emphasizing the habituality of (financial) thoughts and behaviors deemphasizes the importance of money and material resources, not to mention politics, in explanations of poverty and social change.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Plummer, Samanthassp19@pitt.edussp19
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairBrush, Lisalbrush@pitt.edulbrush
Committee MemberHughes, Melaniehughesm@pitt.eduhughesm
Committee MemberGoodkind, Sarasara.goodkind@pitt.edusara.goodkind
Committee MemberBanerjee, Taruntarunbanerjee@pitt.edutarunbanerjee
Date: 25 September 2019
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 26 July 2019
Approval Date: 25 September 2019
Submission Date: 5 August 2019
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 133
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Sociology
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Emotions
Date Deposited: 25 Sep 2019 19:30
Last Modified: 25 Sep 2019 19:30

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