Re-conceptualising poverty
Ruth Lister
Emeritus Professor of Social Policy,
Loughborough University
Outline
 Framework: concepts, definitions &
measurements
 Structure & agency
 Discourses
 Politics & policy
Concepts, definitions & measures
Conceptualisation of poverty
 Importance of conceptual level.
 Relational as well as material.
 Grounded in experience: learning from
participatory poverty research
 Wider social scientific framework
including recognition theory.
Structure & agency
 Structural constraints on agency.
 Structural inequalities & social divisions.
 Gender: causes, effects & experience all
gendered.
 Focus on individual rather than household:
hidden poverty.
 Acknowledge agency without blaming or
romanticising.
Forms of agency
Getting by
 Livelihoods framework: unequally
distributed resources or assets.
 Active process of juggling & piecing
together.
 Women carry the main strain.
 Can be used to deny reality of poverty.
 Importance of social
resources/networks.
Getting: back at & out of poverty
 Getting back at: ‘everyday resistance’
(Scott). Social security fraud?
 Getting out: poverty dynamics.
 Macro quantitative research needs to be
complemented with micro qualitative.
 Role of children’s agency in supporting
parents working to get out of poverty.
 Role of ‘gendered moral rationalities’ (Duncan
& Edwards).
Getting organised
 The significance of identity: ontological &
categorical (Taylor).
 Lack of identification with ‘poor’ label is
barrier to collective action.
 Alternative categorical identities as basis for
collective action.
 Material constraints on getting organised.
Discourses
 ‘Othering’: dualistic process of differentiation




& demarcation, through which social distance
established & maintained.
A discursive practice, which shapes how the
non-poor think, talk about & act towards ‘the
poor’.
Stigmatising language including the ‘p’ word.
‘Sympathetic Othering’.
Stigma, shame & humiliation.
Discourses of resistance
 The need for respect.
 Human rights & citizenship: respect for
human dignity + interdependence of
civil, political, socio-economic & cultural
rights.
 Voice & power: genuine participation.
Politics & policy
 A politics of recognition&respect as well as
redistribution.
 The ‘what’ of policy: an income sufficient to
live in a manner compatible with human
dignity.
 The ‘how’ of policy: respect for dignity of
people in poverty in delivery of public
services + voice with influence.