A Global Vision of Local Poverty


Debating the merits of various definitions has driven the field of Poverty Studies for the last half-century. Over a half century of scholarship has demonstrated that the definition of poverty is immaterial to awareness of poverty’s existence. People know that poverty exists even if they do not know how to precisely identify its specific features. As a result, several scholars have concluded that any definition of poverty must conform to lay understandings to be accepted and, therefore, considered ‘socially relevant’. This article demonstrates that ‘socially relevant’ is a loaded term because defining it necessitates an act of boundary setting. It requires determining those whose opinions about relevance are counted and those who are ignored. Since social inclusion is costly, the poor are often unable to participate meaningfully in the process of defining poverty. Yet it is precisely this group that the field of Poverty Studies seeks to understand. Since communities of the poor have their own unique definitions of social necessity, scholars must disentangle the preferences of from the limitations on the poor when defining poverty.



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