The Social Landscape of Poverty

Thompson, M. (1980). The Social Landscape of Poverty. IIASA Working Paper. IIASA, Laxenburg, Austria: WP-80-174

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Are the poor all alike or are they different? Both, obviously. The similarities are handled by political economy -- a long-established and familiar approach; the differences are handled by political culture -- a newly-emerging and unfamiliar approach. Political culture looks, not at how people are differentiated by constraints -- by what they can't do -- but at how people are differentiated by capabilities -- by the different things they do with what they can do.

If poverty has to do with the absence of the chance to choose, then non-poverty has to do with the presence of the chance to choose. This leads to the consideration of the possibility of personal strategies for resource management and for need management. There are four logically possible management strategies and one coping strategy, and the cultural hypothesis is that an individual will be led to adopt one of these strategies and to reject the others by virtue of his social context and its associated cosmology.

Fieldwork in Britain and informal guided interviews in the United States support this hypothesis and reveal that less than half of those officially classified as "poor" conform to the official image of poverty.

Political culture has implications that go beyond the arena of poverty policy. In suggesting that the economist's category "land" is not a "given" but is created and destroyed by social processes, it offers a way of identifying the cultural bias of an institution and a way of compensating for that bias. For instance, if we assume that IIASA's bias is towards caste-ism (that is, towards a personal strategy in which needs are given and only resources are manageable) then we should not be surprised to discover that those who argue from a more sectist social context (a context in which the adopted strategy is to manage needs downwards) find credible a level of energy demand two-anda- half times lower than IIASA's minimum.

Item Type: Monograph (IIASA Working Paper)
Research Programs: System and Decision Sciences - Core (SDS)
Depositing User: IIASA Import
Date Deposited: 15 Jan 2016 01:47
Last Modified: 27 Aug 2021 17:09

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