The Social Production of Altruism: Motivations for Caring Action in a Low-Income Urban Community

  • Jacqueline S. Mattis
  • Wizdom Powell Hammond
  • Nyasha Grayman
  • Meredith Bonacci
  • William Brennan
  • Sheri-Ann Cowie
  • Lina Ladyzhenskaya
  • Sara So
Original Paper

Abstract

Contemporary social science paints a bleak picture of inner-city relational life. Indeed, the relationships of low-income, urban-residing Americans are represented as rife with distress, violence and family disruption. At present, no body of social scientific work systematically examines the factors that promote loving or selfless interactions among low-income, inner-city American individuals, families and communities. In an effort to fill that gap, this ethnographic study examined the motivations for altruism among a sample of adults (n = 40) who reside in an economically distressed housing community (i.e., housing project) in New York City. Content analyses of interviews indicated that participants attributed altruism to an interplay between 14 motives that were then ordered into four overarching categories of motives: (1) needs-centered motives, (2) norm-based motives deriving from religious/spiritual ideology, relationships and personal factors, (3) abstract motives (e.g., humanism), and (4) sociopolitical factors. The implications of these findings are discussed.

Keywords

Positive psychology African Americans Urban Class Altruism Prosocial Social capital 

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jacqueline S. Mattis
    • 1
  • Wizdom Powell Hammond
    • 2
  • Nyasha Grayman
    • 3
  • Meredith Bonacci
    • 1
  • William Brennan
    • 4
  • Sheri-Ann Cowie
    • 1
  • Lina Ladyzhenskaya
    • 1
  • Sara So
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Applied PsychologyNew York UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Department of Health Behavior and Health Education, Gillings School of Global Public HealthUniversity of North Carolina at Chapel HillChapel HillUSA
  3. 3.University of DelawareNewarkDEUSA
  4. 4.Seattle UniversitySeattleUSA

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