Rethinking Urban Poverty
RETHINKING URBAN POVERTY: Philadelphia Field Project
Rethinking Urban Poverty: Philadelphia Field Project is an interdisciplinary service learning course offered through the Department of Geography at Penn State. The objectives of the course are to understand why existing poverty policies in the US have failed, and to develop an alternative framework for action in cooperation with residents in a poor neighborhood of West Philadelphia. Each year we select about 10 students to participate in a yearlong course of 3 to 6 hours of credit offered in three parts.
Part 1: Spring Semester (1-3 credits) – Social theories of poverty.
Readings in conservative, liberal, and radical theories of poverty. An introduction to postmodern thinking. Using postmodern thinking to seek new answers to urban poverty. Social movements of the poor. Theories of community empowerment. Foucault’s theory of non sovereign power. In addition to the readings all the participants will be given a rapid introduction to interview methods, basic data processing, Geographical Information Systems, and working with the US Census
Grenz, S. J. A Primer on Postmodernism. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 1996.
Kretmann, J.P. and McKnight, J. Building Communities from the Inside Out: A Path Toward Finding and Mobilizing A Community’s Assets. Chicago, 11: ACTA Publications, 1993.
McKnight, J. The Careless Society: Community and Its Counterfeits. New York, N.Y: Basic Books, 1995.
Poverty: Opposing Viewpoints. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press, 1994
Schram, S.F. Words of Welfare: The poverty of social science and the social science of poverty. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1995
West, C. Race Matters. New York, N.Y.: Vintage Books, 1994.
Yapa, L. “How the Discipline of Geography Exacerbates Poverty in the Third World.” Futures: the Journal of Forecasting and Planning, Vol. 32, 2001.
Yapa, L. “How Social Science Perpetuates Poverty and What the University Can Do About It.” Bulletin of Science, Technology, and Society. Vol. 19, 1999, 544 546. Guest editorial.
Yapa, L. “What Causes Poverty? A Postmodern View.” Annals of the Association of American Geographers. Vol. 86, 1996, pp. 707 728.
During the Spring Semester we will do two weekend field trips to West Philadelphia. This is to acquaint the participants with Penn State Cooperative Extension Services in West Philadelphia, the Belmont Mantua neighborhood, and to conduct preliminary discussions with community residents and representatives of neighborhood organizations.
Part 2: Summer Field Project from May 10 to June 10 (1 to 2 credits)
This is a 1-2 credit unit on the fieldwork component of the course. Participants will stay in residence in a row house for four weeks researching for their project while working at a neighborhood organization and doing some volunteer work. Participants are encouraged to look at the community within the framework developed in class during the spring semester. That implies working in partnership with the residents to study, uncover, and harness community assets that already exist. In the past students have looked at issues of nutrition, urban gardening, transport options, different models of schooling, learning to access health information on the web, children’s poetry, use of vacant lots, electronic marketing of inner city products, access to credit and the role of credit cooperatives, the use of Geographical Information Systems for community development, and so on.
Part 3: Fall Semester Writing Seminar (1 to 2 credits)
Most of the substantial writing of the thesis or report will be done in the fall semester. Despite the sponsorship provided by the Geography Department, the idea is for each student to work closely with thesis advisors in their respective departments. It is our hope that the research will reflect the substantive knowledge of the subjects in which the students are majoring. When appropriate, students will return to West Philadelphia to present their findings in a community setting. I also encourage the students to consider writing a publishable quality paper based on their research.
Advantages to students
1. A research and cultural experience in an inner city urban setting
2. An exposure to a range of social theories of urban poverty.
3. An opportunity to participate in a field experience, facilitating their entry into a job upon graduation
4. Training in the practical application of statistical methods and GIS.
5. A formal structure to pace the research and writing of their theses.
6. An opportunity to publish a paper in a professional journal.
7. A learning community of students from a variety of disciplines
Professor: Lakshman Yapa
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