CAIRN-INT.INFO : International Edition

How do the urban poor survive? Sociologists have traditionally observed that to get by, destitute families rely on kinship networks. And yet, a number of recent studies have questioned the saliency of kin support today. If conditions have become worse for the urban poor since midcentury, how do they endure conditions of severe economic deprivation if doing so single-handedly is virtually impossible and if their kin are no longer a sufficient source of support? Drawing from the data gathered during a yearlong ethnographic study conducted in two low-income Milwaukee neighborhoods, Mathew Desmond shows that evicted tenants often rely on “disposable ties” to survive. Disposable ties are characterized by accelerated and simulated intimacy between two acquaintances who face complementary needs. Although all kinds of resources flow though these ties, they usually last only for short bursts. By developing the new concept of disposable ties, which does not fit comfortably within the strong/weak tie framework, the findings of this study hold several implications for our understanding of survival strategies and network dynamics among the poor.

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