Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

What's Wrong with the Poor? Psychiatry, Race, and the War on Poverty

Academic journal article The Journal of Southern History

What's Wrong with the Poor? Psychiatry, Race, and the War on Poverty

Article excerpt

What's Wrong with the Poor? Psychiatry, Race, and the War on Poverty. By Mical Raz. Studies in Social Medicine. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013. Pp. [xvi], 242. $39.95, ISBN 978-1-4696-0887-7.)

Mical Raz's examination of the War on Poverty joins a growing historiography examining the development, implementation, and results of antipoverty efforts of the 1960s and 1970s. Raz focuses on the influence of psychological and sociological studies on social policies and programs designed to ameliorate the effects of poverty in the United States. According to Raz, in the 1960s "[t]heories of deprivation became the main currency for an exchange of ideas, fostering professional cooperation between mental health experts and liberal-minded policymakers" (p. 7).

Drawing on social science research reports and published articles, Raz shows that in the 1950s and 1960s, social scientists increasingly emphasized poor families' deprivation and recommended interventions that would reduce its effects. Through close reading of these studies, Raz effectively traces the widespread acceptance of a deprivation discourse that posited that poor families, and particularly children raised in poor families, were deficient in a number of areas, including language, maternal attention, and culture. In order to effectively ameliorate the effects of poverty, policy makers and social science experts crafted policies and programs "to provide [poor children] with what they were seen to be lacking" (p. 6). As a result, policy makers allocated federal funds for a range of intervention programs, including early childhood programs like Project Head Start, in-home intervention for low-income mothers, and school-based programs for children diagnosed with mental disabilities.

Raz presents a challenging assessment of the social science and liberal reforms that formed the foundation for War on Poverty programs, demonstrating that the focus on deprivation profoundly shaped antipoverty policy in the 1960s and "has had a long-lasting effect on American culture" (p. 7). According to Raz, because deprivation discourse in the 1960s emphasized the role of individuals and low-income communities, this discourse moved public debate away from the structural causes of poverty. …

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