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Posted: August 20th, 2023

SOCW 6060 Individual vs. Structural-Cultural Theories

SOCW 6060 Individual vs. Structural-Cultural Theories. Theories help frame more than presenting problems—they also frame social problems. and both types of problems can be linked in relation to client issues. For example. many scholars and social workers have attempted to understand the social problem of poverty. Turner and Lehning (2007) classified various psychological theories to explain poverty under two headings: (1) individual-related theories or (2) structural/cultural-related theories. In other words. think of these two headings as lenses in viewing poverty. In this Discussion, you apply lenses through which to understand a client’s problem in relation to social problems.
To prepare:
• Read this article listed in the Learning Resources: Turner. K.. & Lehning. A. J. (2007). Psychological theories of poverty. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment. 16(1/2). 57-72. doi:10.1300/J137v16n01-05
• Select a theory under the individual-related theories and a theory under the structural/cultural-related theories.
• Complete the handout “Comparing Individual-Related and Structural/Cultural-Related Theories” to help you craft your response. (Note: You do not need to upload the handout to the Discussion forum. The handout is intended to assist you in writing your Discussion post.)
By Day 3
• Describe how a social worker would conceptualize a presenting problem of poverty from the two theories you selected. • Explain how this conceptualization differs from an individual-related versus a structural/cultural-related theoretical lens. • Compare how the two theoretical lenses differ in terms of how the social worker would approach the client and the problem and how the social worker would intervene.

Individual-Related and Structural/Cultural-Related Theories in Understanding Poverty: A Social Worker’s Perspective

In the field of social work, theories play a crucial role in framing not only presenting problems but also social problems themselves. When it comes to understanding poverty, scholars and social workers have attempted to analyze this complex issue from different theoretical lenses. Turner and Lehning (2007) have categorized psychological theories of poverty into two main groups: individual-related theories and structural/cultural-related theories. By exploring these theories, social workers can gain valuable insights into the presenting problem of poverty and develop appropriate interventions for their clients. This discussion aims to conceptualize the problem of poverty using both individual-related and structural/cultural-related theories, highlighting the differences in conceptualization and approaches between the two theoretical lenses.

Conceptualizing Poverty from Individual-Related Theories

One theory under the individual-related theories umbrella that could be used to conceptualize the problem of poverty is the theory of self-efficacy. According to Bandura (1997), self-efficacy refers to an individual’s belief in their ability to successfully perform tasks and accomplish goals. From a social worker’s perspective, poverty may be conceptualized as a result of low self-efficacy, where individuals perceive limited control over their economic circumstances. In this lens, poverty is seen as a consequence of personal deficiencies and inadequate coping skills, leading individuals to struggle in achieving financial stability.

Conceptualizing Poverty from Structural/Cultural-Related Theories

Alternatively, social workers can analyze poverty through the lens of structural/cultural-related theories, such as the theory of social stratification. This theory posits that poverty is not solely a result of individual factors but is deeply rooted in societal structures and cultural norms. Social workers utilizing this lens would conceptualize poverty as a consequence of systemic inequalities, limited access to resources, and unequal distribution of power and wealth. In this perspective, poverty is seen as a product of structural barriers that perpetuate social and economic disadvantages.

Differences in Conceptualization and Approach

The conceptualization of poverty from an individual-related perspective emphasizes personal attributes and internal factors. Social workers adopting this lens would tend to focus on enhancing individuals’ skills, knowledge, and self-esteem to empower them to overcome poverty. Interventions might include providing financial literacy training, vocational skills development, and counseling to address underlying emotional issues and build self-efficacy.

On the other hand, conceptualizing poverty from a structural/cultural-related perspective shifts the focus to external factors and societal influences. Social workers using this lens recognize the need to address systemic barriers that contribute to poverty. Their approach would involve advocating for policy changes, challenging discriminatory practices, and promoting social justice initiatives. By addressing the root causes of poverty and advocating for systemic change, social workers can empower their clients and work towards reducing social inequalities.

Understanding the problem of poverty requires social workers to utilize different theoretical lenses, such as individual-related and structural/cultural-related theories. While individual-related theories emphasize personal attributes and internal factors, structural/cultural-related theories shed light on the systemic barriers and societal influences that contribute to poverty. By comprehensively conceptualizing the problem through both lenses, social workers can develop a holistic understanding of poverty and tailor their interventions to address both individual and structural/cultural aspects. Ultimately, this multifaceted approach enhances the effectiveness of social work practice in promoting social and economic well-being.


Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. W.H. Freeman.

Turner, K., & Lehning, A. J. (2007). Psychological theories of poverty. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 16(1/2), 57-72. doi:10.1300/J137v16n01-05


Bahr, H. M. (2016). Social learning theory and self-efficacy: Theoretical implications for workplace behavior change. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 29(3), 281-298. doi:10.1002/piq.21217

Roemer, J. E. (2016). What is social stratification? Class, race, and gender in sociological perspective. Wiley.

Walker, J. (2019). Poverty and social work. In R. L. Edwards & D. M. Hagedorn (Eds.), Handbook of social work theory and practice (pp. 171-188). Sage Publications.

Yun, H. (2018). Income inequality, socialization process, and racial disparities in poverty. Journal of Poverty, 22(1), 1-22. doi:10.1080/10875549.2017.1419363

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