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Disposable Ties and the Urban Poor

This research piece by Matthew Desmond, a Harvard professor of Sociology, focuses on how impoverished U.S citizens create networks of family and friends in order to cope with the challenges of poverty

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The work of Matthew Desmond focuses on poverty in urban areas, studying surivival strategies and how people interacted with resources and each other. For this study, he particularly foucssed on two poor neighborhoods in Milwuakee where people were being evicted. His findings state that people formed disposable ties to meet their most pressing needs, evicted tenants often relied more on disposable ties formed with new acquaintances than on a stable network of reliable kin. They established new ties quickly and accelerated their intimacy. Virtual strangers became roommates and “sisters.” Once a disposable tie was formed, all kinds of resources flowed through it. But these bonds often were brittle and fleeting, lasting only for short bursts. This strategy of forming, using, and burning disposable ties allowed families caught in a desperate situation to make it from one day to the next, but it also bred instability and fostered misgivings between peers. The findings of this study hold several implications for our understanding of survival strategies and network dynamics among the urban poor.

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