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

Daphne Demetry, Jessica Thurk, Gary Alan Fine*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


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?

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)86-109
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Consumer Culture
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 16 2015


  • Consumption
  • cultural capital
  • culture
  • poverty
  • social capital
  • strategy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Social Psychology
  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Marketing


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