Impoverishment, criminalization, and the culture of poverty

Suzanne M. Spencer-Wood, Christopher N. Matthews

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

16 Scopus citations


This introduction summarizes major new themes raised by articles in this special issue on the archaeology of poverty and processes of impoverishment. First, definitions of poverty are discussed, progressing from simple dictionary definitions to the more complex considerations in articles analyzing the cultural construction of poverty through discourse on impoverishment as a relational process involving fluid power dynamics at the intersections of classes, races, ethnic groups, and genders. Impoverishment is a complex process involving the interaction of capitalism, patriarchy, and racism to produce structurally a set of economic, social, and political positions defined by terms with different meanings. Poverty is culturally constructed through ideological discourse as an individual failing and a stigmatized identity. The historical criminalization of poverty is traced as an important context for the articles. This introduction discusses key ideas brought out in these studies and also offers some historical perspective on the Western construction of poverty and its study by historical archaeologists.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalHistorical Archaeology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2011


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