Department of Sociology, Yale University, P.O. Box 208265, New Haven, Connecticut 06511-8265; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Penny for Your Thoughts: Beggars and the Exercise of Morality in Daily Life1
Article first published online: 9 NOV 2012
© 2012 Eastern Sociological Society
Volume 27, Issue 4, pages 847–871, December 2012
How to Cite
Dromi, S. M. (2012), Penny for Your Thoughts: Beggars and the Exercise of Morality in Daily Life. Sociological Forum, 27: 847–871. doi: 10.1111/j.1573-7861.2012.01359.x
The author thanks Jeffrey C. Alexander, Eva Illouz, Philip Smith, and Vered Vinitzky-Seroussi for their valuable advice and comments. The author also thanks Annika Arnold, Kristian B. Karlson, and Matthew Lawrence, as well as the Yale University Center for Cultural Sociology Workshop participants, for their close reading and insightful comments on previous versions of this article. This research was made possible by the generous graduate student fellowship support of the United States-Israel Educational Foundation (the Fulbright Commission to Israel) and Yale University. The author is also indebted to the anonymous reviewers at Sociological Forum, whose comments have greatly improved the quality of this article.
- Issue published online: 9 NOV 2012
- Article first published online: 9 NOV 2012
- helping behavior;
- moral efficacy;
- public interaction;
- urban disorder
Urban sociology has tended to study interactions between passersby and “street persons” with an emphasis on the ways street persons become bothersome, harassing, or dangerous. This article moves away from the focus on the ways interactions in public go awry and focuses on how individuals account for the mundane, everyday exchanges they have with strangers who seek their help. Based on interview data (N = 31) and qualitative analysis of data from an Internet survey (N = 110), this article suggests that the presence of beggars does not inherently symbolize urban decay to passersby and does not necessarily elicit anxiety, but instead provides a valuable texture of urban life. Further, the article argues that individuals, when justifying their responses to requests for help from needy persons (beggars) in urban spaces, use a variety of cultural strategies to maintain their perception of themselves as moral persons, both when they choose to help and when they refuse. Drawing from these findings, the article suggests that urban sociology and the sociology of risk would benefit from sensitizing their studies of public interactions to the diverse meanings individuals assign to them, rather than presupposing annoyance, anxiety, or fear as their predominant characteristic.