Office Hours recently chatted with  Shai Dromi about his recent article, Penny for your Thoughts: Beggars and the Exercise of Morality in Daily Life. The article focuses on how people experience and understand interactions with needy people begging for money on the street.

This article (or interview only) would be great for use in a sociology course because it skillfully addresses how the concept of morality is constructed when we are faced with people that need help. Dromi finds that passersby–whether they decided to help the beggars or not–represented their own behavior as being appropriate and moral. Use the following questions to help students better understand this concept and to facilitate a classroom discussion on this topic:


1. How is this research different than past research on beggars?  How has past research framed the beggar-passerby relationship?

2. Where was this research conducted? In your own city, how often do you see people begging for money on the street?

3. Was there a common interaction among the people Dromi interviewed and the beggars? Did this surprise you at all?

4. How did the people Dromi interviewed describe their choices to help or not help the beggars in terms of their moral character? How did these strategies help them to maintain their perception of themselves as moral persons? What does this tell us about the concept of morality?

5. How did the passersby attempt to identify the “authenticity” of the beggars? What type of clues did they look for? How did these markers of “authenticity” influence whether they helped the person or not?