from The Open University
Alternatively you can skip the navigation by pressing 'Enter'.
Life: PlantsThursday, 30th July 2015 11:00 - EdenAs ingenious as any animal... Read more: Life: Plants
A History of Ideas: Psychotherapist Mark Vernon on FreudThursday, 30th July 2015 12:04 - BBC Radio 4
Life: PlantsThursday, 30th July 2015 17:00 - Eden
Life: PlantsThursday, 30th July 2015 23:00 - Eden
A History of Ideas: Theologian Giles Fraser on AltruismAvailable until Wednesday, 27th July 2016 00:00Giles Fraser explains why our genes determine our concern for others. Read more: A History of Ideas: Theologian Giles Fraser on Altruism
Great Ormond Street Hospital: Fix my genesAvailable until Saturday, 15th August 2015 00:20
The Bank: LendingAvailable until Saturday, 8th August 2015 00:50
OU on the BBC- Wanted: A Very Personal Assistant: Episode OneAvailable until Thursday, 27th August 2015 02:30
Taking cash in hand: Improving money's imageMoney gets a bad press. Nigel Dodd thinks it's time to take a stand. Read more: Taking cash in hand: Improving money's image
Take the photographic memory testCan you capture scenes just by looking at them? Find out with our photographic memory test. Launch now: Take the photographic memory test
Beginners’ Italian: food and drinkThis free course, Beginners’ Italian: food and drink, focuses on buying drinks and snacks in an... Try: Beginners’ Italian: food and drink now
English: skills for learningThis course is for anybody who is thinking of studying for a university degree and would like to... Try: English: skills for learning now
‘Problem’ populations, ‘problem’ places
This unit looks deeper into the entanglements of welfare, crime and society. It...
This unit looks deeper into the entanglements of welfare, crime and society. It encourages you to think through these entanglements through a focus on ‘problem populations and problem places’. It includes treatment of the victims of Hurricane Katrina that hit the US in 2007, and also of the governance of urban populations in the context of Britain (council estates) and France (banlieue).
By the end of this unit you should have been able to:
- develop knowledge and understanding of the complex and different ways in which questions of social justice and inequality come to be seen in terms of the deficient behaviour of different populations. In particular, how certain groups of people and places come to be identified as ‘problematic’ and how social welfare and crime concerns intersect in the management of these populations;
- develop knowledge and understanding of some of the enduring legacies of the past, both in terms of the language that is often mobilised to represent disadvantaged people and people living in poverty, and also the continuing presentation of certain groups as ‘problems’ to be managed.
- Current section: Introduction
- Learning outcomes
- 1 Aims of the unit
- 2 New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina: ‘shaming America’?
- 3 Worlds apart? The problem of problem places
- 4 Review: misrecognition, disrespect and the politics of fear
- 5 Further reading
Study this free course
Enrol to access the full course, get recognition for the skills you learn and track your progress. Make your learning visible!
‘Problem’ populations, ‘problem’ places
Some commentators argue that social justice as an idea and an ideal is interwoven with issues of inequality, poverty and social exclusion. It is a comparatively straightforward task in the era of World Wide Web access (though by no means everywhere or for everyone) to locate sources of information illustrating the extent of poverty and inequality, though much of the latter, particularly in relation to the ownership and distribution of wealth, or undocumented labour or unpaid care, remains considerably under-researched or ‘hidden’. While we may seek to take some comfort from assumptions that discussions of poverty and inequality should start from questions of social justice, this contrasts with long-standing ideas that the poor are a ‘problem’, at times a ‘dangerous’ population. Such populations are also often associated with particular places; for instance, with ghettos, deprived estates and slums. Hence the title of this unit, ‘“Problem” populations, “problem” places’.
It is important to understand that how poverty and inequality are perceived and how poor people are labelled say much about the policies that are likely to be developed in response. Viewing poor and disadvantaged groups as a ‘vulnerable’ section of society requiring social welfare and other forms of state support stands in sharp contrast to those representations of the poor as an ‘undeserving’ group, and to arguments that there is an ‘underclass’ of impoverished and ‘disorderly’ people, cut-off from the rest of society. In practice, as you will see as the discussion unfolds, such distinctions are rarely as clear-cut as this terminology implies. Furthermore, notions of disadvantaged or excluded groups as a ‘problem population’ do not arise in a vacuum but mirror the wider social relations of inequality. They carry with them particular associations of social class, ‘race’ and gender and ideas about how social life should be organised. Poverty is often viewed as a deficiency in the way that poor people conduct their family and personal lives, in their attitudes to work, and so on. Through such arguments poverty comes to be understood not as an outcome of the society in which we live, a product of state failure or of an inadequate welfare state, but as a consequence of ‘negative’ or ‘dysfunctional’ attitudes, behaviours and ways of life that necessitate control. People living in poverty may be those who are viewed as not having developed their capabilities. This raises key questions on social justice/injustice, in particular that which relates to the intersections between social welfare and crime control strategies.
While images of the feckless poor have been with us for a long time, since the 1980s there has been a marked shift in political attitudes towards poverty both in the UK and more widely. These tend to represent poverty, disadvantage and exclusion in terms of poor people contributing to their own precarious socio-economic situation. Examining some of the different forms that approaches to poverty take in different parts of the world allows us to draw out the important commonalities between them.
This unit is an adapted extract from the Open University course
Copyright & revisions
Originally published: Friday, 1st April 2011
- Creative-Commons: The Open University is proud to release this free course under a Creative Commons licence. However, any third-party materials featured within it are used with permission and are not ours to give away. These materials are not subject to the Creative Commons licence. See terms and conditions. Full details can be found in the Acknowledgements section.
- This site has Copy Reuse Tracking enabled - see our FAQs for more information.
If you enjoyed this, why not follow a feed to find out when we have new things like it? Choose an RSS feed from the list below. (Don't know what to do with RSS feeds?)
Remember, you can also make your own, personal feed by combining tags from around OpenLearn.