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The Biological Inferiority of the Undeserving Poor
Social Work & Society (2013)
  • Michael B. Katz, University of Pennsylvania

This article excavates the definition of poor people as biologically inferior. It not only documents its persistence over time but emphasizes three themes. First, the concept rises and falls in prominence in response to institutional and programmatic failure. It offers a convenient explanation for why the optimism of reformers proved illusory or why social problems remained refractory despite efforts to eliminate them. Second, its initial formulation and reformulation rely on bridging concepts that try to parse the distance between heredity and environment through a kind of neo-Lamarkianism. These early bridges invariably crumble. Third, hereditarian ideas always have been supported by the best science of the day. This was the case with the ideas that ranked “races”; underpinned immigration restrictions; and encouraged compulsory sterilization – as well as those that have written off the intellectual potential of poor children.

  • poverty,
  • undeserving poor,
  • biology,
  • eugenics,
  • epigenetics
Publication Date
Citation Information
Michael B. Katz. "The Biological Inferiority of the Undeserving Poor" Social Work & Society Vol. 11 Iss. 1 (2013)
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