The following essay will examine various analyses on the concept of underclass, particularly in relation to American society. It will put forward the main definitions and characteristics of the theories that are attempting to define and understand underclass. A historical definition will be given introducing the concept, followed by factors that help identify underclass. Unfortunately these defining and identifying characteristics are plagued by different perceptual viewpoints. These viewpoints, in the debate on the subject of underclass, are the foundational divisions between the two main theoretical opinions of the Structuralists and Cultural Determinists. The claims of both the Structuralists and Cultural Determinists as to the conception and development of the underclass will therefore be highlighted. The Structuralist views and theoretical contributions of in particular W.J. Wilson, Van Haitsma and Auletta will be dealt with as to provide a more congruent understanding of the origin and persistence of the underclass.
In the past the concept of underclass has been characterised by four primary factors: A continuous lack of basic human resources; Financial earnings and family structure that are below society’s standards; A concentrated area characterised by extreme lack of socio-economic resources; And transference of conduct, that is deemed inappropriate by society, across different age groups (Van Haitsma, 1989:27). Identifying the underclass can also be understood in terms of: A physical location of people living in close-proximity to each other with certain tr...
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...underclass, it is important to take into account that each group’s analysis of the factors determining underclass is based on different classification of topics, such as ethnic background, occupation and family unit, and even the perceptions in the community are to be taken into consideration (Marks, 1991:446). Therefore since the reasons and explanations have not been quite clear-cut or black-and-white, theorists have in recent times begun to review the archaic concept of underclass in both Cultural Determinist and Structural explanations, and combine the relevant parts of both theories upon which a stronger, more coherent theoretical explanation could be built. This holistic approach, will then provide better and increasingly relevant information for policymakers responsible for devising effective plans that will benefit society as a whole, subcultures included.
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