Monday, February 06, 2012

John Harriss on poverty research

Building on the earlier work of Chambers and Jodha Poverty in India: concepts measurement and reality John Harriss argues in Bringing politics back into poverty analysis: Why understanding social relations matters more for policy on chronic poverty than measurement :
"If only – the implicit reasoning runs – ‘we’ can build a good scientific understanding of poverty, then ‘we’ will be able to solve the problem. But the reality is that poverty knowledge is profoundly political, as the contemporary debates over poverty trends in India in the 1990s so clearly show (Deaton and Kozel 2004). The problem is that even in the most sophisticated poverty measurements, long chains of assumptions are necessarily made so that these are always open to question. And the assumptions specialists most readily accept depend on value judgements. As O’Connor argues, poverty research, dominated in the case of international development by people educated in a small number of mainly American universities, is an exercise in power. This has been recognized in recent years at the centre of poverty knowledge, the World Bank, in its celebrated study, Voices of the Poor. But that study, which argues for a different model of knowledge as the basis for poverty action, has been ignored. Poverty research seems to indicate that the social sciences should not try to emulate the natural sciences (Flyvberg 2001). They are more effective in generating the kind of knowledge that develops from familiarity with practice in particular contexts, helping people to question relationships of knowledge and power, such as those giving rise to poverty, and subsequently to work to produce change. Such a view has quite profound implications for the design of poverty research."

Similar questions have arisen in the micro-finance debates In Which I Am Exposed As a Double Agent

P.S. N.S Jodha's article referred to above has appeared in EPW under the title "Poverty Debate in India A Minority View", vol.23,no. 45, November 1988. There iaalso anther article "Poverty Debate in India" vol.34, no.31. 1999 respondind to comments to a working paper from the Institute of Development Studies.

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