Academic journal article Social Development Issues

Poverty and Place through the Eyes of the Poor: Outlining Key Strands of a Conceptual Framework, D-SPACE

Academic journal article Social Development Issues

Poverty and Place through the Eyes of the Poor: Outlining Key Strands of a Conceptual Framework, D-SPACE

Article excerpt

Introduction

This study focuses on raising awareness of the urban poor in the Global South in general and in the Indian context in particular so that they begin to appreciate the relationship between poverty and place. Such an inquiry is particularly relevant in a rapidly urbanizing country such as India, where cities account for around 55 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP). More than a quarter of this urban population is struggling to obtain minimum nutritional levels for sustenance and is living in substandard housing, resulting in what Tipple and Speak (2009) refer to as the "rapid urbanisation of poverty" (p.1).

The authors argue that this awareness can be facilitated by re-conceptualizing poverty and by allowing the poor to chart pathways to well-being. However, the conceptualization of poverty remains essentially contested. In this regard, Wratten (1995) points to two key traditions. In the first, the approach is to de-contextualize and depoliticize poverty and to adopt standardized definitions of income, consumption, or social indicators based on which populations/groups are compared. For instance, in the post-war period, there was a prevalent notion that "social problems (such as poverty) were apolitical [and], such problems [were] to be solved by experts" (Gartrell & Gartrell, 2002; Ross, 1991, p. 404). These assumptions led to the emergence of the behavioralism school of thought and in different ways paved the way for the application of scientific methods in public policy (Chakrabarti 1976; Dahl, 1971). As a result, poverty was responded to through the provision of basic minimum needs such as safe and clean houses and access to water and sanitation. The scientific bias in looking at poverty continued (and still does) through the adoption of approaches such as rational choice theory (Lehtinen & Kuorikoski, 2007) in which, for instance, poor individuals are seen as autonomous entities capable of making intentional actions, and positivist methodology (Burris 2007; Riley, 2007), in which an understanding of the poor can be developed without paying attention to the context in which they are grounded.

In the other tradition, a set of approaches positioned within the interpretive tradition, with a focus on "a more politically engaged, contextually sensitive" political inquiry (Dietz 2002), marks a clear departure from what Madsen (1983) refers to as the "hypothesis testing mindset" of social scientists. Influenced by the work of rural anthropologists and social planners (Wratten 1995), these approaches facilitate the deconstruction of contextual interpretations of meanings and actions. Central to such a focus is the argument that poverty needs to be understood and responded to from the point of the view of the poor themselves (Francis, 1991; Mason & Beard, 2008; Rakodi & Lloyd Jones, 2002) and which thus "allows a local variation in the meaning of poverty" (Wratten, 1995, p. 12). And within that tradition, community-based participatory approaches are increasingly being regarded as an important if not a necessary element in conceiving and implementing pro-poor projects (Agrawal & Gibson, 2001; Fong, 1998; Manor, 1999; Mansuri & Rao, 2004). Such thinking is clearly not new and has informed development practice over the last few decades. For instance, participatory action research, underpinned by the Frierian school of thought, states that "poor and exploited people can and should be enabled to conduct their own analysis of their own reality" (Chambers, 1994, p. 954). Such ideas were influential in shaping techniques such as Rapid Rural Appraisal (in the 1970s) and later Participatory Rural Appraisal (in the 1980s). Drawing on these techniques, a range of community-based planning models have emerged, including state-led community planning initiatives and collaborative planning initiatives drawing on joint effort by state and society (Beard, 2002, 2003; Miraftab & Wills, 2005; Sandercock 1998). …

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