When Things Fall Apart: Qualitative Studies of Poverty in the Former Soviet Union

When Things Fall Apart: Qualitative Studies of Poverty in the Former Soviet Union

When Things Fall Apart: Qualitative Studies of Poverty in the Former Soviet Union

When Things Fall Apart: Qualitative Studies of Poverty in the Former Soviet Union


"Over the past decade, the World Bank has evolved its analysis and reporting on poverty to a multi-dimensional view which includes issues of vulnerability, social isolation, and powerlessness. This broader construct, which considers the concepts of social exclusion and social capital, suggests the need for augmenting quantitative research with qualitative research. Qualitative research provides a focus on understanding human behavior, perceptions and practices that can then be applied to policy development.

This report presents specific examples drawn from World Bank work completed in the countries of the former Soviet Union. Each of these examples illustrates the gains that can be derived from combining the use of quantitative and qualitative research methods."


There are three interrelated reasons why this book is to be welcomed: attitudinal, methodological, and political.

By attitudinal I mean that the book departs from the normal perspective of analysts in the international agencies and elsewhere, from seeing poverty in terms of dry statistics to seeing it in terms of human experience. Much of the analysis of poverty has been deeply technocratic in its orientation. There is nothing wrong with this, except when it becomes the exclusive focus. It is important to take a dispassionate view of the causes and consequences of poverty, and to gauge the broad trends through reliable statistics. But the motivation for attacking poverty has deeper wellsprings. It comes from the human connection to the experiences of others—from the instinctive feeling that, but for the grace of God, those experiences could be ours. Listening directly to the voices of the poor, unmediated by national statistical offices, is an important part of establishing this connection.

By methodological I mean that qualitative methods in poverty analysis complement the more standard quantitative techniques that international agencies have used to great effect. There is a misconception among quantitative analysts that qualitative analysis is “soft” and without rigor. Nothing could be further from the truth. As the papers in a forthcoming conference volume I am editing have established, quantitative analysis often has only the appearance of hardness. and as shown both there and in this book, anthropologists and sociologists have high methodological standards, too. Moreover, this is not an either-or issue. Poverty analysis needs both quantitative and qualitative methodologies if it is to be complete and comprehensive, and each can help the other. This book demonstrates convincingly the insights that qualitative analysis can bring to standard quantitative analysis.

By political I mean relevance to policy, and this encapsulates the methodological and the attitudinal. I have often found that policymakers' suspicions of technical analysts stem from a feeling that they, the policymakers, inhabit the real world whereas the analysts do their work in some other world, one without real people. Some of the policy prescriptions that we . . .

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