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Sociology – the Underclass

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Introduction

SOCIOLOGY - The Underclass QUESTION 1: In her article, How welfare helped us get going' (The Age), Janet M'Calman puts emphasis on the welfare state and how it has helped families get back on their feet. At the close of her article, M'Calman mentions the term 'nanny state.' This expression suggests that the government must look after less fortunate people as a nanny looks after a dependant child, effectively branding those who make legitimate use of welfare benefits incompetent and futile. 'Nanny state' implies that the government is too lenient towards people who claim welfare benefits and that the apron stings must be cut in order to force impoverished people to alter their behaviour and survive in the world on their own. The phrase 'the welfare state is the nanny state' would be inaccurate in M'Calman's view, as she regards welfare as an important aid to underprivileged people who are finding it difficult to survive in current social and economic conditions. M'Calman states that 'the welfare state has been derided as the nanny state.'1 She is saying that 'nanny state' is intended as a derogatory term used to ridicule the welfare state, whose job is to assist people who genuinely require financial assistance in order to better the quality of life for themselves and their children. QUESTION 2: The given readings put forward opposed points of view on the relationship between the 'underclass' and welfare. ...read more.

Middle

It is much more complex and imprecise.'16 Hope is concerned that the equivocal term is simply a way of 'writ[ing] off chunks of Australia as locked permanently into poverty...'17 Hogg and Brown (1998) also find the term 'underclass' to be elusive. They believe that there is in fact no group in Australia that the term 'underclass' would be suited to, however, the term 'might seem (at least superficially) appropriate [for] Aboriginal Australians.'18 The authors contend that the 'underclass' debate is only useful for 'direct[ing] our attention to...the dimensions of concentration and permanency in relation to disadvantage,'19 but refuse to accept any value the term itself may have. ii) Lawrence Mead (1989) used the term 'underclass' in the title of his journal article to point to the unemployed. His article focuses on a workfare program which will give this unemployed underclass an opportunity to earn their welfare benefits. Throughout his article, Mead never clearly defines the 'underclass,' but strongly associates the sub-culture with the unemployed and welfare mothers and fathers. Therefore, he must find the term to have only one legitimate meaning and finds it useful in representing the unemployed. Bessant et. al. find the term unequivocal based on the understanding that 'the underclass can be known by what is demonstrated descriptively about it.'20 In their article, Bessant et. al. find the term 'underclass' to be a practical way to refer to those people who have been marginalised or been subject to 'involuntary exclusion from the labour market.'21 iii) ...read more.

Conclusion

A number of the authors in the given reading material are critical of the media's use of the term because it is used to 'turn poverty into something more interesting and adds the spice of shock-horror expos´┐Ż.'34 It is believed that 'journalistic excess and academic hype [have] played a role in building the underclass mythology.'35 The media use the word too often to provoke debate, and put an image of total deprivation and destitution into the public eye. Presenting the public with the image of a permanent underclass gives those legitimate people finding it difficult to survive in modern economic conditions, a bad reputation. b) The comments made in a) about the media's use of the term 'underclass' is relevant to this print article in that Pilita Clark uses the word to provoke a stereotypical view of people who have 'slipped out of mainstream society.'36 Clark's article in Australia's The Age newspaper, makes reference to an 'underclass' on several occasions. The author uses the term in a way intended distress readers and make them aware that the creation of an inferior group of people is well on its way, 'thanks to a 'disgraceful' economy.'37 The underclass is a 'group of people who have no stake in our country.'38 While Clarke may sympathise with the government, agreeing that the concept of an underclass is 'worrying for the governments trying to grapple with it'39 by comparing the images of an American underclass to Australia, Clarke is indeed attempting to shock the public into imagining Australia as having ghettos resembling some American films. ...read more.

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