MetaTOC stay on top of your field, easily

Strategic poverty: How social and cultural capital shapes low-income life

, ,

Journal of Consumer Culture

Published online on


We investigate how material poverty functions as a cultural space, specifically addressing when it becomes a strategy, that is, when an individual with cultural and social capital adopts a life of low income in order to form other social identities. We examine two groups that use low income to further other goals but differ in their temporal lens: (1) "transitional bourgeoisie," graduate students and artists who frame their economic deprivation as a temporary means to prospective identities, such as a professorship or success in art; (2) "embedded activists," committed adults rooted in political and religious organizations who see low income as a permanent strategy to bolster their anti-consumerist desires. Relying on 37 in-depth interviews with informants we ask, how do people in strategic poverty construct satisfying lives? What cultural tools and skill-sets do informants draw upon to negotiate their economic circumstances and middle-class backgrounds?