SOCIOL 4EE3 Lecture Notes - Lecture 8: Frances Fox Piven, The Affluent Society, Resource Mobilization

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13 Oct 2015
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Week 8 Summary
Ehrenreich- Introduction
This piece introduces a study into poverty that Ehrenreich embarked on in Key West in
order to see whether it was possible to earn low wages and still be able to manage expenses. This
experiment was aimed at providing a glimpse into the struggle of low-wage earners working
unskilled jobs, however the author admits it is not an accurate depiction of every person living in
poverty because she had several advantages. She digresses that her ethnicity as a white person,
the car she possessed, the fact that she was just a temporary visitor in that situation, and her good
health all gave her an upper hand in the experiment, benefits that real low-wage workers do not
always experience. She simulated the low-wage earner life in order to more accurately calculate
the possible discrepancies between wage and expenses, and attempted to find any surprises along
the way. The author set a number of standards for her study: she would not allow herself to get
jobs that encompassed her skills or past experience, she would take the highest paid job offered,
and she would stay in the cheapest place she could find. What is interesting about the study is
that Ehrenreich says that when she “came out” to a few co-workers about her experiment at the
end, the responses were not outrage or disbelief as she has thought they might be.
Frances Fox Piven Article
This article attempts to draw parallels between Piven and Cloward’s book Poor People’s
Movements from 1977 and the contemporary cases of sudden mass protests such as Occupy Wall
Street and the Arab Spring. It argues that these quick spurts of protest propel political debate
quickly because of the chaos they cause, the mass media attention they receive, and the
disruption to institutions and daily life they cause. The author argues Poor People’s Movements
provide unmatched insight into social movements and the effects mass protesters can have on
social and political change. Piven argues that these citizens engage in disruptive power
techniques in order to pressure institutions and government to hear problems and quickly
brainstorm policy to fix them, which long-term organizational bodies do not achieve. Piven also
argues that the poor use these tactics because they do not have many resources or political
influence, but they can still be very effective in instigating change. Prior to the 1970s, such
movement participation was regarded as useless, abnormal, and mindless, but after this time
period, mass protest in the pursuit of civil rights, pacifism, and women’s liberation was seen in a
different light. Out of this tie came resource mobilization theory, where long-term movements
required organization, leadership, structure, resources, and incentives for participating. Piven
went against this in her book which represented change resulting from mass outbreak without
formal organization. Organization in her view was more of a hindrance to the cause because
leaders were so preoccupied with maintaining structure that the problem at hand was
subordinated and not given all the attention. Quick, sometimes short, breakdowns of institutional
routines and daily governed life, which Piven called “Big Bang” moments, were effective in
dramatically receiving attention and forcing leaders to discuss possible change. Although the
book received some negative reviews from people who believed organizational structure was
more effective in bringing change, it is still recognized as a landmark in social movement
studies. The author of the article contends that the book provides an opportunity for long-term
mobilization and explosive short-term mobilization to potentially fuse and work together for
their causes.
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