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date: 20 February 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the sociocognitive dimensions of cultural categorizations of deservingness. The social issue of poverty has been a persistent source of debate in the American system of policy development, influenced by conceptual distinctions between the “haves” and “have-nots,” “working moms” and “unemployed dads,” and the “deserving poor” and the “undeserving poor.” Although there is a wealth of literature discussing the ideological underpinnings of stratification systems, these discussions often focus on categorical distinctions between the poor and the nonpoor, with much less discussion of distinctions made among the poor. Moreover, while scholars of culture and policy have long referenced the importance of cultural categories of worthiness in policy development, the theoretical significance of these distinctions has been largely understudied. I expand the discourse on the relationship between cultural representations of worth and social welfare policy by exploring how these categories are conceptualized. Drawing on analytical tools from a sociology of perception framework, I create a model that examines deservingness along continuums of morality and eligibility to highlight the taken-for-granted cultural subtleties that shape perceptions of the poor. I focus on social filters created by norms of poverty, welfare, and the family to explore how the deserving are differentiated from the undeserving.

Keywords: deservingness, worthiness, welfare, social policy, policy development, poverty

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