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The Positive Functions of Poverty

Herbert J. Gans
American Journal of Sociology
Vol. 78, No. 2 (Sep., 1972), pp. 275-289
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2776496
Page Count: 15
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The Positive Functions of Poverty
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Abstract

Mertonian functional analysis is applied to explain the persistence of poverty, and fifteen functions which poverty and the poor perform for the rest of American society, particularly the affluent, are identified and described. Functional alternatives which would substitute for these functions and make poverty unnecessary are suggested, but the most important alternatives are themselves dysfunctional for the affluent, since they require some redistribution of income and power. A functional analysis of poverty thus comes to many of the same conclusions as radical sociological analysis, demonstrating anew Merton's assertion that functionalism need not be conservative in ideological outlook or implication.

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