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Social theory and the concept 'underclass'

Gesellschaftstheorie und das Konzept der "Unterklasse"
[conference paper]

Wilson, William Julius

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Corporate Editor Deutsche Gesellschaft für Soziologie (DGS)
Abstract "The use of the concept 'underclass' has been the subject of considerable debate among scholars of urban poverty. Many question the meaning of the term and its value as a social category, and react critically to the way the term has been appropriated by those intellectuals and journalists whose ideological views and orientations strongly influence their perceptions of the urban poor (Hughes 1989; Aponte 1990; Katz 1993; Gans 1995; O'Connor 2001). However, in their critical commentary the scholars of urban poverty do not address, in theoretical terms, the scientific import of the concept 'underclass;' that is, its role in the description, explanation and prediction of social behavior. Rather they object to the way the term is used to label a subgroup of the urban poor whose cultural traits are thought to be different from those of the larger society. In this paper, the author considers whether a theoretically defined concept of underclass - as opposed to the nonsystematic and atheoretical usages - can be helpful in social scientific discourse. But first, by way of background, let him examine briefly the various ways the term 'underclass' has been used in published writings down through the years." (excerpt)
Keywords society; social structure; class society; lower class; social stratification; theory formation; poverty; town; segregation; cultural factors; sociology; research status; social inequality
Classification General Concepts, Major Hypotheses and Major Theories in the Social Sciences; General Sociology, Basic Research, General Concepts and History of Sociology, Sociological Theories; Macrosociology, Analysis of Whole Societies
Method descriptive study; basic research
Collection Title Soziale Ungleichheit, kulturelle Unterschiede: Verhandlungen des 32. Kongresses der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Soziologie in München. Teilbd. 1 und 2
Editor Rehberg, Karl-Siegbert
Conference 32. Kongress der Deutschen Gesellschaft für Soziologie "Soziale Ungleichheit - kulturelle Unterschiede". München, 2004
Document language English
Publication Year 2006
Publisher Campus Verl.
City Frankfurt am Main
Page/Pages p. 90-104
ISBN 3-593-37887-6
Status Published Version; reviewed
Licence Deposit Licence - No Redistribution, No Modifications