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Intellectual inheritances: Cultural diagnostics and the state of poverty knowledge


What factors influence the scholarly field of vision, its illuminations and omissions? Reflexive interventions have typically addressed this question via analyses of knowledge producers and their institutional contexts. In contrast, this article foregrounds the inherited cultural infrastructures that enable and constrain knowledge production. I propose a ‘cultural diagnostics’ approach to identify and explain the persistence of what I label ‘ontological myopias’, a type of intellectual constriction rooted in assumptions about the content and composition of the social world. To illustrate the purchase of this analytic strategy, I examine the case of the emerging cultural sociology of poverty. Cultural diagnostics reveal that recent works have, with few exceptions, inherited an underlying presumption of earlier cultural approaches, namely that the ‘poor’ and their lifeworlds should constitute the principal empirical object of poverty research. This myopic focus hinders the creation of a comprehensive and relational approach to the cultural study of poverty and inequality. Ultimately, this article provides grounds to rethink the ontological foundations of contemporary poverty knowledge, and presents, more broadly, a reflexive cultural approach that can be profitably applied to other fields of scholarship.

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Rodríguez-Muñiz, M. Intellectual inheritances: Cultural diagnostics and the state of poverty knowledge. Am J Cult Sociol 3, 89–122 (2015).

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  • Knowledge cultures
  • ontology
  • cultural diagnostics
  • reflexivity
  • poverty and inequality