Social ties among the poor in a neoliberal capitalist society

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Rather than muddle through alone or piece together assistance from social service agencies, strategies doomed to failure because of their inadequacy to the task, the individuals he studied formed what he calls “disposable ties.” In some ways the ties take on the characteristics of kin relationships, due to their intimacy and cooperative exchange nature. Yet, in other ways, they are quite different, because the intimacy is formed in an accelerated way and, as Desmond shows, the relationships are fleeting-indeed, this is what makes them disposable ties. Such ties provide real support in moments of crisis, enabling Desmond’s informants to move forward from one day to the next. Yet when the fragile threads connecting people to their disposable ties break under the weight of heavy burdens, people move on to the next tenuous connections. Just as Desmond posits that existing literature has presented us with an apparent dichotomy of “embeddedness and isolation, " it seems that his addition to the spectrum, while it adds nuances to the meaning of support and social ties, still leaves a theoretical and practical gap between extremes. Existing literature documents two potential realities for poor people: they may have a dense network of closely connected and supportive kin in which members pool resources and help one another survive (though even in this scenario these networks can be fraught with complications due to obligations of reciprocity), or in the absence of a kin network, they establish fleeting relationships with virtual strangers, rife with potential problems arising from misunderstandings, limits on resources, arguments over money or lovers, or competing demands from other disposable ties. Desmond does note that disposable ties vary in their duration; sometimes they may last months or transform into weak ties to be activated later on, but typically they are much more fleeting.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Routledge Handbook of Poverty in the United States
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages7
ISBN (Electronic)9781317627401
ISBN (Print)9780415673440
StatePublished - Jan 1 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Social Sciences


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