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There are many ways in how human society could be understood and examined, and the application of a sociological theory is one of the available options. This approach allows analyzing social processes, explaining behaviors, and discussing social order and change within a particular context. Different concepts and ideas can be applied to social reality. It is not enough to give one particular definition to social theory and make sure it meets all its criteria and characteristics. The sociological theory promotes the implementation of various theories and paradigms that show how social relationships are organized.
In this paper, the analysis of Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond will be developed through the prism of sociological theory and its paradigms. The chosen book is not about poverty only but about people who contribute to and suffer from this social condition. Therefore, the evaluation of social class differences seems to be an appropriate concept to enhance the discussion. The eviction crisis has already challenged the United States, and the examples introduced by Desmond in Evicted prove the role sociological theory and social class play in its understanding.
The Worth of Evicted in Modern American Society
In 2016, Desmond introduced his book Evicted with a provocative plot about poverty in American society and its relation to housing policies and economic changes. The results of the author’s ethnographic research help to discover the essence of low-income housing. Desmond uses his observations in the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and introduces eight different families with similar housing problems. The point is that there are no positive or negative characters in this fiction story because all of them are related to specific social events in the United States. It
is not necessary to blame a particular group of people for promoting eviction but the system that has already been established. According to Desmond, “eviction is a cause, not just a condition, of poverty”, and poverty is inherent to Americans not because of lack of resources (299). The interconnection between all these concepts is impressive, and different sociological theories should be identified to understand these ties.
Inequality and Structural Functionalism
What makes Evicted an interesting source of information is the author’s possibility not to follow the already accepted standards and canons. For example, when people say about poverty and the inability to pay rents, many Americans think about black citizens and their racial diversities in society instead of identifying their social statuses and classes. Desmond underlines that eviction is a problem that could touch white and black populations the same way as it is an outcome of social inequality. However, there are also several governmental decisions that discuss the theme of inequality in terms of racial and social differences (e.g., the 1968 Civil Rights Act).
To avoid the promotion of racial biases and understand the worth of social class inequalities, structural functionalism as one of the sociological theories may be applied. According to Babbie, this paradigm explains that any social entity is an organism that can be successful only when it functions well. It means that, on the one hand, society is a social system that meets certain standards and norms to exist and develop.
On the other hand, regarding the basics of structural functionalism, any system consists of parts that make a contribution to their overall progress. Therefore, the main assumption of sociological theory is that “all elements of society serve some function for operation of the whole, even negative elements” (Babbie 38). Desmond proves this position by saying that “equal treatment in an unequal society could still foster inequality” (252). Despite the intentions of ordinary people to behave fairly and well, there are many outside factors that influence and determine the results of their actions. Eviction is not the question of skin color, origin, or ethnicity. It is a problem of social class inequality and dependence on society.
Importance of Home
Another important theme that is raised by Desmond in his book is the importance of home as a place of living. The author compares it with hope because it is “the center of life” where people can be themselves and remove their masks (Desmond 293). For many people, home is a means to earn money, satisfy their needs, either financial or personal, and do whatever they want. For Desmond, it is “the wellspring of personhood” that motivates and supports every individual, regardless of their past or present (293).
If there is no such place in the life of a person, there are usually fewer opportunities to succeed in education, employment, or family relationships. The conflict paradigm developed by Marx can be a strong element in the analysis of the theme of home in the book. Its idea is the intention to avoid control and gain domination over other people (Babbie 35). If no conflict is observed within a family, there are more chances to resist domination in society. Therefore, it is crucial to find the way and have home, not just a shelter, but a womb.
Single Families and Housing Obligations
The problems of housing are also deeply rooted in family types’ differences and their social classes. According to Desmond, women from low-income families turn out to be the main victims of eviction, including 1 in 5 black women, 1 in 12 Hispanic women, and 1 in 15 white women (299). The feminist paradigm, as a part of sociological theory, reveals unfair treatment to women, especially if their incomes are low (Babbie 38). Single parenting is another factor of encountering poverty, and the government does not demonstrate its economic and political attempts to provide enough opportunities for such risk groups (Rank 19).
In the book, there are several examples of how single mothers are challenged by the existing system. They cannot earn good money because they may do the similar to men’s job but be paid less anyway. In addition to their working obligations, they have to take care of their children, keep house, and deal with other unexpected burdens. Although it is expected that the government supports single mothers and creates affordable living conditions, the situations of Arleen and Doreen prove the contrary – no help usually comes.
Voucher Program for Social Classes
In his intention to find out a solution for the problem of housing poverty in the United States, Desmond analyzes current theories and available options, like voucher programs for low-income families. Not to be gender-biased in his discussion, the author introduces several families where fathers with low incomes have to take care of their children and deal with housing burdens. In addition to social class differences, men could have chronic diseases (the case of Lamar) or lose their certificates with an inability to earn more (the case of Scott). Due to their problems, they are not able to solve their financial problems and act rationally as it is supposed to be according to the positivist social scientists (Babbie 40).
The government develops a universal voucher program to change the face of poverty, but does not oblige landowners to accept families on this basis (Desmond 310). The book shows that the government does not have a clear plan of how to eradicate poverty in the country. As a result, eviction does not disappear but continues influencing American society and its low-income social classes.
In general, the book written by Desmond in 2016 perfectly explains the current situation in the country. Poverty has always been a serious problem for Americans, and not many effective and working solutions have been recently offered. People understand that social class differences determine the quality of life. However, even the most famous sociological theories cannot create stable and favorable standards.
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Eviction cannot be ignored any longer because home is the only place where a person can feel safety and protection. While Americans are searching for affordable housing and dealing with their landowners, many other countries continue their development and growth. The internal problems of the state could result in the external weakness of the nation, and the work by Desmond is a serious call to action. America is a rich land from a variety of perspectives, but the existing amount of pain because of eviction, poverty, and social instability questions the worthiness of the system and visions millions of Americans are ready to share.
Babbie, Earl R. The Basics of Social Research. Cengage Learning, 2013.
Desmond, Matthew. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City. Penguin Random House, 2017.
Rank, Mark R. “Rethinking American Poverty.” Contexts, vol. 10, no. 2, 2011, pp. 16-21.