The lot of the poor could be improved by

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the lot of the poor could be improved by compassionate, top-down, political reforms, the poor themselves would never be capable of directing their own liber- atory quest. Lewis thought otherwise: By providing Lewis with an explanation of the negative consequences of poverty, Lujain helped him, in turn, to explain the significance and uniqueness of poverty experienced in modern urban settings. Lewis used this interpreta- tion, all the while rejecting as nonscientific the psychoanalytic principles on which it was based. While Lujan wrote about individual personality, Lewis generalized about the universal social-psychological characteristics of the culture of poverty. Over the years Lujain criticized him for misapplying her interpretations, but Lewis claimed he had a right to use them in his own way, to rephrase them to fit the context of his research. He believed he had an obli- gation to protect his informants from prejudgment by readers and to spare his readers the burden of wading through clinical diagnoses and trying to make sense of psychoanalytic jargon. In addition, Lewis had his own interpretation to present: he wanted to emphasize the suffering, exploitation, and damage wrought by extreme poverty, but he did not want to make his informants appear beyond help or, for that matter, even beyond self-redemption. Herein lay one of the most difficult and sensitive differences with Lujan: whereas Lujain feared political action by the poor, Lewis thought it would be their salvation. (Rigdon 1988:67) The last few sentences sum up the differences between Lewis's approach and Lujain's purely psychological interpretation of poverty's subculture. For Lewis, This content downloaded from 146.163.252.46 on Sat, 13 Feb 2021 17:59:39 UTC All use subject to
482 SOCIOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES Volume 39, Number 4, 1996 informed as much by Brecht as by Freud, the poor were never simply a degraded lumpenproletariat. Demographically, socially, and intellectually they were much more complex. If not moral paragons, the poor still possessed an unshakable sense of justice and a cunning that allowed them to finesse their betters, and thereby survive the rigors of their harrowing life space. The poor had developed a collective, problem-solving style that, although disguised as "common sense," was a unique social construction which facilitated survival at the bottom. The poor lived poor because capital gave them little choice. Being politically power- less, they seldom had the wherewithal to alter the social relations that kept them poor. But, they survived on what they had, learned to adapt to poverty's uncer- tainty, and knew how to exploit their impoverished niche with amazing success. Hence, the poor did more than passively adapt to a pre-established social niche, they constructed collective responses to it and shaped poverty's life space so as to ease the pain of living poor. To this extent we can speak of the culture of poverty as a positive social construction-the result of a process by which the poor pragmatically winnow what

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