By SocProf.

Needless to say, the three of us Cranky Sociologists are not the first cranky sociologists. Sociology has a long tradition of crankyness. Cranky is not a matter of mood. It is a matter of having always the tendency, when faced with social behavior, actions and events, to pull back the curtain and look behind to find out the mechanisms of power and structure that explain them. One’s critical spidey sense is always at the ready.

So, I thought it would be a cool feature of this blog to have a cartoon gallery of cranky sociologists. But I can’t draw for doggie poop, not even XKCD-style stick figures. Thankfully, the talented Kevin Moore agreed to lend his skills to this feature.

And so, behold, our first cranky sociologist: Herbert Gans.

[Please don’t copy or download image without permission. Links welcome.]

Why Gans? Well, just because I am a big fan of the functions of poverty (pdf):

  • Poverty ensures that society’s ‘dirty work’ will get done. Poverty provides a low-wage labor pool that is willing–or rather, unable to be unwilling–to preform dirty work at low cost.
  • Because the poor are required to work at low wage, they subsidize a variety of economic activities that benefit the affluent. The poor pay a larger share of their income in property and sales taxes.
  • Poverty creates jobs for many occupations that serve the poor: police, social services, etc.
  • The poor buy goods others do not want and thereby prolong their economic usefulness.
  • The poor can be identified and punished as alleged or real deviants to uphold the legitimacy of conventional norms. To justify the desirability of hard work and thrift, for example, the defender of these norms must be able to find persons they can accuse of being lazy and spendthrifts.
  • The poor offer vicarious participation in deviant activities in which they are alleged to participate.
  • The poor serve as culture heroes and as cultural artifacts.
  • Poverty helps to guarantee the status of those who are not poor. In every hierarchical society, there has to be someone at the bottom to hold up the rest of the population.
  • The poor aid the upward mobility of groups just above them in the class hierarchy. Many persons have entered the middle class by providing goods and services to the poor. (The “Teach for America” gimmick)
  • The poor help to keep the aristocracy busy as providers of charity.
  • The poor, being powerless, can be made to absorb the costs of change and growth in American society (e.g., ‘urban renewal’ vs. ‘poor removal’).
  • The poor facilitate and stabilize the American political process because they vote and participate less than other groups.
  • Not only does the alleged moral deviancy of the poor reduce the moral pressure on the political economy to reduce poverty, but socialist alternatives can be made to look unattractive if those who will benefit most from them can be described as lazy, spendthrift, dishonest, and promiscuous.

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