A Poverty Resource Hub of Focus on the Global South Philippines

Poverty Today

Poverty Today

Dec 14, 2011

Today— it is often heard from development authorities— half the world lives on less than $2 a day. A billion of these persons, meanwhile, live on less than $1. Thus, we are often told that the eradication of mass poverty comprises the greatest challenge of our time; that addressing the regressing social divides between the global rich and the global poor is not only ethically obligated, but politically desirable. This forms the basis of a whole gamut of poverty-alleviation initiatives, spanning from the ferocious pursuit of foreign investment, the global redistribution of wealth, to the wholesale overhaul of international institutions.

But even as the dire fact of poverty is clearly as entrenched as ever, what realities being in poverty encompasses continue to be far more elusive. It is widely acknowledged, of course, that poverty is never only a matter of income— elements of poor health, poor education, poor shelter and hunger are at once both the cause and consequence of deteriorating socioeconomic conditions. Poverty, many mainstream advocates and analysts claim, is always a multidimensional affair. As such, it demands multi-pronged solutions.

Yet in spite of this, a large number of other socio-political realities remain unplumbed in conventional analyses. How do power and cultural dynamics, for example, influence how poverty is sustained or exacerbated? In what ways do class relations prevent inequalities and structures of destitution from being addressed? How are the poor themselves socially and politically misrepresented? Do they display novelty and creativity in the ways that they surmount their immediate socioeconomic situation, or in the kinds of political endeavours that they undertake?

Over the past decade, Focus-Philippines has had extensive engagement with poverty and marginalization. In the process, we have come to realize that beyond discussions of the “multiple dimensions” of poverty, there is equally a need to speak about different fundamental ways in which poverty is framed as a social, economic and political phenomenon. It is not only the case that poverty is expressed through different aspects. More than this, the general character of poverty itself— how it is essentially experienced, how it is said to be a “problem”— can be made subject to a variety of conceptualizations. Is poverty primarily experienced as a plain reality of deprivation? Or are there other ways of framing poverty that highlight other, no less significant facets of what “being poor” is a reality of?

Reflecting on our thematic work and campaigning, Focus has come up with 7 “poverty framings”, each of which accentuates a different way in how poverty is made real to the poor and the marginalized. From deprivation to dispossession, domination to disempowerment, we have explored these different fundamental perspectives on what poverty means, and what they can mean for those pressing for socio-political transformation.

  • Poverty as Deprivation— poverty as the lack of some perceived good or resource, below what is deemed to be humanely acceptable
  • Poverty as Domination— poverty as the result of the predominance of powerful groups over other social strata
  • Poverty as Dispossession— poverty as the result of actively stripping individuals and groups of vital goods with which they sustain their communities, lifestyles and livelihoods
  • Poverty as Vulnerability— poverty as the increased exposure of the poor to excesses of violence, risks, stresses, shocks and other dangers
  • Poverty as Disempowerment— poverty as the powerlessness of the poor to shape their own destinies, to participate in broader institutions and mechanisms, and to communicate their own voices, demands and representations
  • The Poor Peoples’ Economy— poverty as a seedbed for social, economic and political practices, institutions, models and arrangements envisioning alternative forms of collective life
  • The Poor Peoples’ Actions— poverty as riven with resistance and contestations of the formal socio-political order, whether for reactionary ends, or for broader progressive movements

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