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Poverty and Poor People’s Agency in High-Tech Capitalism

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Part of the New Approaches to Religion and Power book series (NARP)

Abstract

Even if the Occupy Wall Street movement has, in an astonishingly short time span, disrupted the ideological landscape by highlighting the increasing divide between the 99 percent and the 1 percent, the perception that poverty is primarily caused by personal fate or bad individual choices still remains deeply anchored in common sense. Aren’t there numerous examples that demonstrate that dropping out of college, getting pregnant, getting divorced, ending up in one of the famous female-headed families that haunt the “moral” debates on poverty, or failing to adapt to the demands of the economy actually play a role? Isn’t there an overall and ever-recurring tendency (even among the poor) to draw a sharp line between “deserving” and “undeserving” poor? It was not long ago that the first wave of Tea Party mass events was kicked off by business reporter Rick Santelli’s TV rant on February 19, 2009. While standing on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade, he denounced the government’s attempt of “subsidizing the losers’ mortgages” with public money.

Keywords

Real Wage Class Formation Poor People Contingent Labor Occupy Wall Street 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Antonio Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci, ed. and trans. Qunitin Hoare and Geoffrey Nowell Smith (New York: International, 1971), 324, 328ff, 348;Google Scholar
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    See Poulantzas’ distinctions between class as “place” and as “position,” between the reproduction of class “places” and of “agents,” and the role of ideological apparatuses therein. Nicos Poulantzas, Classes in Contemporary Capitalism, trans. David Fernbach (London: Verso, 1978), 14–24.Google Scholar
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    See Thomas Frank’s analysis of the misguided working-class anger in Kansas. Thomas Frank, What’s the Matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2004), 5ff, 16–17, and on the right-wing populism of the Tea Party, which channeled the widespread public anger against the bank bailouts away from Wall Street to Washington: “an uprising against government and taxes and federal directives” and “in favor of the very conditions that had allowed Wall Street to loot the world”;Google Scholar
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    I have tried to reinterpret Bourdieu’s “destiny effect” as the dark flip side of the neoliberal interpellations to self-mobilization and creativity; see Jan Rehmann, Theories of Ideology: The Powers of Alienation and Subjection (Leiden, Boston: Brill, 2013), 13, 222, 317–318.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  33. 36.
    With barely concealed racism and classism, a delegate at an AFL-CIO convention warned his organization of winding up as “a movement of strawberry pickers and chicken pluckers.” This is quoted in Vanessa Tait, Poor Workers’ Unions: Rebuilding Labor from below (Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2005), 195.Google Scholar
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  35. 40.
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  38. 44.
    To name just a few studies, on Workers Centers, see Janice Fine, Worker Centers: Organizing Communities at the Edge of the Dream (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2006); on Poor Workers’ Unions, see Vanessa Tait, Poor Workers’ Unions: Rebuilding Labor from Below, on the struggles for water in postindustrial Detroit, see Chris Caruso, “A Case Study on Organizing: The Struggle for Water in Postindustrial Detroit,” in Baptist and Rehmann, Pedagogy of the Poor, 84–100.Google Scholar
  39. 45.
    For a Gramscian analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of Occupy Wall Street, see Jan Rehmann, “Occupy Wall Street and the Question of Hegemony—A Gramscian Analysis,” Socialism and Democracy 27.1 (March 2013): 1–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

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© Joerg Rieger 2013

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