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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Migrants and urban poverty issues in Latin America Brecher, Thomas Franklin


This thesis treats a wide variety of sociological issues within the context of urban Latin America. The selected and utilized urbanization-migration materials converge around a common denominator, popularly known as poverty. The chapters are designed to provide renewed examinations and interpretations of discussions relating to poor urbanites. Opening passages reveal several widely shared empirical generalizations about urbanization. Throughout the thesis, it is essential to keep in mind that urban populations in Latin America are increasing rapidly, that the poor component to urban populations is extremely large and continues to expand, and that the tenement slums, shack slums and progressive squatter settlements are swelling. Because it contributes heavily to the growth of urban populations in general and urban poverty segments in particular, the process of internal migration holds an important position for topical analyses in this study. Crucial points to grasp are the not-so-rural origins of migrants, the typical step-wise pattern of city-ward movement, the reliance on a mixture of former and newly acquired experiences and interactions for suitable urban existence, the variable motives for migration, and the heterogeneous residence patterns of recent and established migrants. Theoretical and conceptual examinations portray and contrast two sides of a debate over poverty perspectives. A look at the "psycho-cultural" perspective, as clearly applied in Oscar Lewis' "culture of poverty" model, reveals the need to critically question value-laden claims such as poverty-culture inferiority and distinctiveness, psychosocial breakdown, personal unworthiness and resistance to change which are supposedly preventing the elimination of poverty. The "situational-structural" perspective represents an attempt to understand many poor urbanites' attitudes, actions and reactions in terms of adaptive responses to constraining situations imposed on them by total social and economic structures. The effective elimination of poverty relies on an extensive modification of structural flaws and an immediate introduction of socio-economic improvements to the deserving poor. Empirical re-analyses of posited "culture of poverty" traits and of recent and established migrant political destabi1ization cast serious doubts on the validity, exclusiveness and explanatory potential of such notorious poverty images. "Situational-structural" considerations of existing data furnish more realistic explanations of specific urban poverty conditions, as well as social, economic and political attitudes and behaviours displayed by poor urbanites. Lastly, a careful investigation of various kinds of public housing schemes which intend to cater to lower-income families discloses an elaborate assortment of unnecessary problems being levied on both poor urbanites and urban society as a whole. When considered objectively, there are remarkably valuable lessons to be learned from the practical and sensible housing approaches being favoured and employed by so many Latin American urban squatters.

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