Publication of Wilson’s The Truly Disadvantaged
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Publication of Wilson’s The Truly Disadvantaged
While sociologists have been concerned with urban residents and their neighbor- hoods since the birth of the discipline (e.g., DuBois  1996; Park and Burgess 1925; Shaw 1929), the publication of Wilson’s The Truly Disadvantaged (1987) and Massey and Denton’s American Apartheid (1993) sparked a renewed interest among scholars of urban inequality in the role of neighborhood context in the intergenerational transmission of pover- ty. These works directly linked urban sociolo- gy to stratif ication, mobility, and race. In theoretical terms, neighborhoods became an
important context for the social processes driv- ing stratif ication and racial inequality, and neighborhood context was viewed as a causal force in the lives of youth and adults. These works set off a sustained effort to understand the effects of neighborhood context on individual outcomes, particularly for youth. Although there is mounting evidence that neighborhood effects are real causal effects (see Harding  for a review and evidence on this issue), social sci- entists have only begun to uncover the mecha- nisms by which such effects operate.
Cultural Context, Sexual Behavior, and Romantic Relationships in Disadvantaged Neighborhoods
David J. Harding University of Michigan
When culture is invoked to understand the consequences of growing up in disadvantaged
neighborhoods, the isolation of ghetto residents from mainstream institutions and
mainstream culture is often emphasized. This article attempts to reorient current
theorizing about the cultural context of disadvantaged neighborhoods, particularly when
it comes to adolescent decision making and behavior. I argue that rather than being
characterized by the dominance of “oppositional” or “ghetto-specific” cultures,
disadvantaged neighborhoods are characterized by cultural heterogeneity: a wide array
of competing and conflicting cultural models. I apply this conception to sexual behavior
and romantic relationships among adolescents using survey data from Addhealth.
Analyses show that disadvantaged neighborhoods exhibit greater heterogeneity in
cultural frames and scripts and that, in more heterogeneous neighborhoods, adolescents’
frames and scripts are poorly predictive of their actual behavior.
AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICAL REVIEW, 2007, VOL. 72 (June:341–364)
Direct correspondence to David J. Harding, Population Studies Center, University of Michigan, 426 Thompson St., Ann Arbor, MI 48106-1248 (firstname.lastname@example.org). Funding for this research was provided by the National Science Foundation (SES-0326727), The William T. Grant Foundation, the American Educational Research Association, the MacArthur Foundation Network on Inequality and Economic Perfor mance, and by the Har vard Multidisciplinary Program on Inequality and Social Policy. An NICHD Post-Doctoral Fellowship at the University of Michigan Population Studies Center provided additional support. Katherine Newman,
Christopher Winship, Michèle Lamont, Robert Sampson, Christopher Jencks, Jal Mehta, Arland Thornton, and four ASR reviewers provided helpful comments on previous versions of this article. This research uses data from Add Health, a program proj- ect designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris, and funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 17 other agencies. Persons interested in obtaining data files from Add Health should contact Add Health, Carolina Population Center, 123 W. Franklin Street, Chapel Hill, NC 27516-2524 (email@example.com).
Culture has been largely ignored in the empir- ical effort to identify and understand the social processes underlying neighborhood effects. Indeed, scholars studying race and poverty have shied away from discussing culture since the early 1970s, after critics of scholars such as Frazier (1966), Moynihan (1965), and Lewis (1969) argued that cultural explanations of poverty ignore structural barriers and blame the victim (e.g., Valentine 1968; see Wilson 1987 for a review).
In the interim, however, cultural sociology has moved away from con- ceptions of culture as an internally coherent set of values and toward a view of culture as frag- mented and composed of “disparate bits of information and.|.|. schematic structures that organize that infor mation” (DiMaggio 1997:263). These ideas, however, have only slowly found their way into the sociology of dis- advantaged neighborhoods. As I discuss below, new concepts in cultural sociology such as frames, scripts, and repertoires have the poten- tial to illuminate the social processes at work in neighborhood effects.
When culture is invoked to help us to under- stand the consequences of growing up in dis- advantaged communities, emphasis is often placed on the isolation of ghetto residents from mainstream social networks and mainstream culture. Wilson (1987, 1996) argues that the out-migration of the black middle class and the decline of manufacturing lead to neighborhoods in which life is no longer organized around work. Social interaction in isolated neighbor- hoods leads to the development of cultural reper- toires that are “oppositional” or “ghetto specific,” adaptations to blocked opportunities in the labor market and society generally. Anderson (1999) invokes an alternative status system among adolescents from underclass neighborhoods to understand high rates of teenage pregnancy and single parenthood. Massey and Denton (1993) argue that racial segregation and the concentration of poverty lead to an “oppositional culture” in inner cities—an oppositional culture that upends con- ventional norms and values in response to blocked opportunities. “As intense racial isola- tion and acutely concentrated poverty have con- tinued, ghetto values, attitudes, and ideals have become progressively less connected to those prevailing elsewhere in the United States. More
and more, the culture of the ghetto has become an entity unto itself, remote from the rest of American society and its institutions, and drift- ing ever further afield” (Massey and Denton 1993:172).
This article aims to reorient current thinking about culture in disadvantaged neighborhoods and how it relates to adolescent decision making and behavior. I reintroduce an idea that was once a staple of theorizing about urban neigh- borhoods—disadvantaged neighborhoods are characterized by cultural heterogeneity (Shaw and McKay 1969).1 I apply these ideas, coupled with recent theoretical advances in cultural sociology, to the analysis of adolescent sexual behavior and romantic relationships. Using sur- vey data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Addhealth) on frames regarding teenage pregnancy and scripts for romantic relationships, I show that disadvantaged neighborhoods exhibit greater hetero- geneity in scripts and frames. I also investigate the consequences of cultural heterogeneity for two adolescent behaviors, premarital sexual activity and the sequencing of events in roman- tic relationships.
CULTURE, INEQUALITY, AND NEIGHBORHOOD EFFECTS
Most recent work at the nexus of inequality and cultural sociology has focused on the analysis of class, broadly speaking (e.g., Bourdieu and Passeron 1977; Bryson 1996; DiMaggio 1982; Erickson 1996; Lamont 1992, 2000). Increasingly, however, poverty scholars have also employed cultural analysis, particularly in documenting the cultural world of the urban poor, describing how they understand their options and make decisions with regard to work, welfare, schooling, parenthood, and marriage (Anderson 1999; Carter 2005; Edin and Kefalas 2005; Newman 1999; Young 2004). Recent lit- erature on the role of neighborhood context in the intergenerational transmission of poverty, however, has less explicitly incorporated culture.
342—–AMERICAN SOCIOLOGICAL REVIEW
1 Shaw and McKay did not use the term cultural heterogeneity but instead referred to “different sys- tems of values” and “different forms of organization.” As the term “different systems of values” suggests, they also employed a values conception of culture.
Two mutually compatible theories provide explanations of neighborhood effects on indi- viduals, and cultural concepts have been incor- porated into them to different degrees. Social organization theory argues that neighborhood disadvantage leads to difficulties establishing and maintaining order. Lack of resources, racial and ethnic heterogeneity, and population turnover result in fewer social ties and therefore diminished social control—communities lose the ability to regulate the behavior of their mem- bers (Park and Burgess 1925; Shaw 1929).
Communities with denser social networks are better able to articulate and enforce common norms and values. In addition, local formal and informal institutions affect the ability of neigh- bors to maintain social control by influencing norms and expectations and by providing con- texts within which social ties are created and strengthened. External institutions, such as police, city government, and markets affect the resources that are available for social control (Bursik and Grasmick 1993). Collective effi- cacy, defined as the “social cohesion among neighbors combined with their willingness to intervene on behalf of the common good,” (p. 918) mediates the relationship between con- centrated structural disadvantages (residential instability, ethnic or racial heterogeneity, and pover ty) and crime rates (Sampson, Raudenbush, and Earls 1997). Collective effi- cacy has been used almost exclusively to explain neighborhood differences in crime, violence, and delinquency outcomes (exceptions include Browning, Leventhal, and Brooks-Gunn  on neighborhood collective efficacy and sexu- al initiation).
Though social organization models are not usually thought of as cultural models, they do incorporate cultural elements. In the classical formulation, social organization matters because socially organized neighborhoods are better able to enforce common values. In addition, collective efficacy can be thought of as a cul- tural concept, insofar as it is measured as resi- dents’ commonly held expectations or beliefs about how others around them will behave when faced with nonnormative behavior. Finally, Small (2004) shows how cultural frames regard- ing a neighborhood and its origins can impact residents’ willingness to engage in the collec-
tive activity and institution building that lead to collective efficacy and social organization.
While social organization theory focuses pri- marily on processes internal to the neighbor- hood, social isolation theory emphasizes social and cultural disconnections between neighbor- hood residents and the outside world. Social isolation theory suggests that residents of con- centrated poverty neighborhoods are more like- ly to be isolated from middle-class or mainstream social groups, organizations, and institutions (Wilson 1987).
The joblessness endemic to high poverty areas means many res- idents are not connected to the mainstream labor market, an important tie to the culture of mid- dle-class life (Wilson 1996). The lack of resources in high poverty neighborhoods makes sustaining neighborhood institutions more dif- ficult, further isolating neighborhood residents from associated mainstream institutions. The result is that social interaction in isolated neigh- borhoods leads to the development of cultural repertoires that differ from the mainstream. Youth are socialized into a cultural environ- ment that promotes behaviors, such as early sexual behavior and dropping out of high school, that are viewed as detrimental in the outside world.
Most research grounded in social isolation theory investigates the social connections of neighborhood residents, finding that neighbor- hood poverty predicts organizational participa- tion and network ties to employed or college-educated individuals, net of individual characteristics (Fernandez and Harris 1992; Rankin and Quane 2000; Tigges, Browne, and Green 1998). Meanwhile, the cultural predic- tions of social isolation theory have been left largely uninvestigated. Social isolation theo- rists have relied heavily on the notion of “oppo- sitional culture” from ethnographic research on racial differences in educational performance (Fordham and Ogbu 1986), extending the con- cept to domains other than education (e.g., Massey and Denton 1993). Fordham and Ogbu (see also Ogbu 2004), for instance, argue that poor black students develop an oppositional culture in which behaviors that promote aca- demic achievement, such as speaking standard English, doing homework, and engaging in class discussion, become defined as “acting white,” as a response to inferior schools, discrimination,
NEIGHBORHOOD CULTURAL CONTEXT—–343
and blocked opportunities.2 However, survey research has rejected the claim that black stu- dents are disproportionately sanctioned by their peers for academic effort (Ainsworth-Darnell and Downey 1998; Cook and Ludwig 1998). Carter (2005) shows that behaviors unconnect- ed to school achievement are at the heart of notions of “acting white” among poor black and Latino youth. Moreover, cultural isolation and the development of a “ghetto-specific” or “oppositional culture” in poor neighborhoods is further challenged by both survey-based and ethnographic research on attitudes among the poor that finds very strong support for conven- tional or traditional views about education, work, welfare, and marriage (Carter 2005; Dohan 2003; Duneier 1992; Edin and Kefalas 2005; Goldenberg et al. 2001; Newman 1999; Solorzano 1992; Young 2004).
In short, there is little evidence that cultural isolation is an accurate description of the cul- tural context of poor neighborhoods. This arti- cle proposes a new conception of the cultural context of disadvantaged neighborhoods—a conception that emphasizes the cultural het- erogeneity of such neighborhoods and the con- sequences of that heterogeneity for adolescent decision making and outcomes.3
Cultural homogeneity/ heterogeneity in urban neighborhoods
The concept of neighborhood cultural hetero- geneity has roots in previous work in urban sociology and is consistent with much ethno- graphic research on urban poverty. However,
cultural heterogeneity has been the subject of only limited explicit theorizing, perhaps because much foundational work on urban neighbor- hoods rests largely on a view of neighborhoods as culturally homogeneous. For example, Park and Burgess (1925) and Gans (1962) viewed urban neighborhoods as immigrant receiving areas. Differences between neighborhoods were viewed largely as the consequence of cultural differences between immigrants’ home coun- tries. The culture that immigrant groups brought with them was the basis of local neighborhood cultures. These analyses, like those of many of their contemporaries, viewed culture as rela- tively homogenous within local contexts.
Not all urban sociologists, however, viewed neighborhoods as composed of homogenous subcultures. Shaw and McKay (1969) argued that socially disorganized slum neighborhoods present youth with a wide array of “competing and conflicting moral values,” both conven- tional and unconventional, creating a break- down of social control that leads to higher rates of delinquency in such neighborhoods. Urban ethnographers have also complicated the stark divisions of “ghetto culture” and “mainstream culture,” tending to see culture in disadvan- taged neighborhoods as derived from main- stream culture but modified or reinterpreted to serve local needs and in response to blocked opportunities (e.g., Anderson 1978; Bourgois 1995;
Duneier 1992; Liebow 1967). Nevertheless, because these works focused on particular groups within urban neighborhoods, there is little emphasis on cultural heterogene- ity beyond subjects’ attempts to distinguish themselves from culturally defined others lower in local status hierarchies. Suttles (1968), for instance, highlighted cultural differences with- in disadvantaged neighborhoods, but he focused on those between ethnic groups that use differ- ent communication devices and have different cultural practices.
Hannerz (1969) was one of the first to rec- ognize cultural heterogeneity not just across groups residing together in a single neighbor- hood but also in the actual use of culture by indi- viduals. Though he draws on classic cultural concepts such as norms and symbolic meanings, he also introduces the concept of “cultural reper- toire.” For Hannerz, there are multiple forms of culture: norms and values, meanings, and modes of action, and each individual has a repertoire.
Publication of Wilson’s The Truly Disadvantaged
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Publication of Wilson’s The Truly Disadvantaged
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