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International Social Science Journal
June 1996
No. 148


Also available in French

Copyright © UNESCO 1996


John Friedmann Rethinking poverty: empowerment and citizen rights
Pierre Strobel From poverty to exclusion: a wage-earning society or a society of human rights?
Ponna Wignaraja Poverty eradication: lessons from China and South Korea in the 1950s and 1960s
Shaikh Maqsood Ali and Susil Sirivardana Towards a new paradigm for poverty eradication in South Asia
Nandini Azad Gender and equity: experience of the Working Women's Forum, India
Adolfo Figueroa The distributive issue in Latin America
Julio Boltvinik Poverty in Latin America: a critical analysis of three studies
  Continuing Debate
Ma Jisen 1.2 billion: retrospect and prospect of population in China
  The Social Science Sphere
Péter Tamási The role of social sciences in the Central and Eastern European transformation process
  Open Forum
Anne Baer Not enough water to go round?


Despite all the technological advances of the century and a gradual increase in the average level of current indices of well-being, poverty has remained an extremely serious problem, and is growing in many parts of the world, including some of the industrialized countries. Gradually, it has forced itself upon the attention of the international community.

Already, at the 'Earth Summit' in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, it was recognized that man's environment cannot be preserved in the presence of a continuing mass of poor people with no resources other than those that they can gather from the scant offerings of nature around them. At the 1994 UN Conference on Population and Development, in Cairo, poverty was considered a major obstacle to solving population problems. At the World Summit for Social Development in 1995, it was recognized that poverty along with its twin, social exclusion, are central issues for the decades to come. And at the UN's Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing in September 1995, poverty was placed at the head of the list of issues that are of particular gravity for women.

The United Nations has declared 1996 the 'International Year for the Eradication of Poverty', and has established the 'First United Nations decade for the Eradication of Poverty, 1997-2006'. The intention is to create awareness and draw attention to the urgency of the situation, study seriously the possible strategies for escaping from it, and act decisively over a decade to diminish its extent.

UNESCO is involved in the International Year for the Eradication of Poverty in a number of ways. One example is a Memorandum of Understanding between UNESCO and the Grameen Bank signed in 1995 to synergize the resources of the two institutions in a global strategy for the eradication of poverty. Another example is the support given by the Management of Social Transformations (MOST) programme for a major project on poverty eradication in South Asia, based on the Report of the Independent South Asian Commission on Poverty Alleviation.

This issue of the International Social Science Journal is devoted to the theme of poverty. Given the complexity of the subject, a single issue can focus only on certain selected aspects. Certain of the articles in this number deal with problems of the conceptualization and measurement of poverty; its manifestations in countries of the developing world and in particular in Latin America and in Asia; its interconnections with exclusions in the post-industrial countries of Western Europe; and the particular experience and resources of women faced with poverty. Other articles examine recent attempts to grapple with poverty in specific countries of Asia with a variety of social systems and political regimes.



Rethinking poverty: empowerment and citizen rights

John Friedmann

This paper is an attempt to reconfigure our thinking about 'structural' poverty, both North and South. After an excursion into the semantics of poverty - how we talk about it and what these ways of talking reveal about underlying assumptions and ideologies - the paper presents an empowerment model. The model focuses attention on the household economy and the resources required by households for the production of their livelihood. Household economies are conceived as integrating the moral economy of social relations with the exchange economy based on money transactions. Eight bases of social power, or livelihood resources, are identified. But massive poverty cannot be addressed by households acting on their own. In addition to local, community-based efforts, a major involvement by the state is essential to meet the massive resource needs of all those who are shut out from processes of global accumulation. In the final section, a social contract is proposed that would codify a new set of relations between state and society. But such a contract, intended to replace the moribund Keynesian welfare state, will only come about as a result of political action originating within civil society itself.

From poverty to exclusion: a wage-earning society or a society of human rights?

Pierre Strobel

Poverty is spreading again in Europe despite the generally high level of protection provided by the welfare state. As a result, social cohesion has weakened and this may affect the construction of the Community.

In political speeches and in the conclusions of experts, the many different processes involved in pauperization, the severing of social ties, the marginalization of social groups and the denial of rights have gradually come to be referred to by a single term that is at once comprehensive and reductive - exclusion. Initially centred on issues concerning the distribution of resources and goods, discussion of poverty in Europe has increasingly focused on the breakdown of social relationships and the question of citizens' rights. We have thus moved from the theme of equality of conditions to that of equality of opportunity. This general movement should not, however, mask the great diversity of current approaches to poverty, which correspond to different representations of social cohesion and refer to competing models of the welfare state.

The uncontrolled rise of poverty in Europe raises two pressing issues: the search for an alternative to a disintegrating wage-earning society, bearing in mind the chronic instability of a society no longer based on work but on the distribution of civil, political and social rights alone; and, as a corollary, the future of the welfare state.

Poverty eradication: lessons from China and South Korea in the 1950s and 1960s

Ponna Wignaraja

This article traces the search for development alternatives which go beyond conventional neo-classical and Marxist theory and practice. It examines case profiles of social transition in South Korea to capitalism under non-classical conditions and in China to socialism under non-classical conditions, in the 1950s and 1960s, which differed from attempts in Latin America and Eastern Europe respectively, and lessons drawn for poverty eradication strategies. The lessons show that in both cases a transformation of considerable depth was undertaken and culturally relevant development paradigms were evolved. The state played a strategic role and provided sensitive support to the release of the creative energies of the people. A new accumulation process at the base of the economies, with asset re-distribution, savings, a new man/nature/technology mix and an effort to keep the rural peoples' surplus in their hands through organizations of the poor, contributed to the eradication of the worst forms of poverty within a reasonable time frame. Both cases showed that the objectives of growth, human development and greater equity could be part of a complementary process, and need not be trade-offs.

Towards a new paradigm for poverty eradication in South Asia

Shaikh Maqsood Ali and Susil Sirivardana

This article takes as its point of departure the Report and Recommendations of the Independent South Asian Commission on Poverty Alleviation and the historic consensus on Poverty Eradication by the Heads of State of SAARC Countries, when they unanimously endorsed the recommendations at their Summit in 1993. The authors elaborate the underlying development paradigm, evolved from the lessons on the ground, which is based on pro poor values and the concept that the poor are efficient.

Two case profiles are presented of attempts at strategic thinking and action, which can help to reinforce pro poor planning and social mobilization in a transitional strategy for poverty eradication. The first is an experiment called Janasaviya pioneered in 1989-1993 in Sri Lanka. It contained several elements of pro poor planning and social mobilization initiatives. The process was politically led. It derived from an authentic process of internal unlearning and relearning about the capacities of the poor. The second profile relates to an attempt in Bangladesh to institutionalize pro poor planning and social mobilization as a complementary second leg to the Open Economy Strategy.

Gender and equity: experience of the Working Women's Forum, India

Nandini Azad

This article illustrates how poor women were able to move out of poverty and dehumanization through a process of mobilization, conscientization and organization. They also overcame the ill effects of patriarchy and asserted their rights to resources to which they were entitled. The process was catalysed by the intervention of an NGO, the Working Women's Forum. Elements in a new accumulation process at the base of the informal economy are identified. The process shows how organizations of poor women helped them move from below the poverty line and bare survival to sustainable levels of economic and human development. Through a holistic approach, poor women saved even with their low level of income, invested, created assets, repaid loans, put technological and managerial capability into their economic activities and incorporated social dimensions like primary health care, family welfare and literacy into their lives. From their savings, they created their own bank, the Working Women's Forum Credit Society. The process is now being duplicated with an internally generated momentum in other poor areas around the country.

The distributive issue in Latin America

Adolfo Figueroa

Inequality is usually regarded as an ethical issue. This article attempts to show that inequality also has a central role to play in the workings of the economy. Economic theories have not given sufficient attention to this view of the problem, and this is why they cannot account for situations of social instability. Economic equilibrium has been identified as being the same thing as social equilibrium. This article presents the central features of an economic theory of social equilibrium based on the theory of distributive equilibrium. The situation in Latin America in the 1980s and 1990s is used to test the validity of such a theory. The observed decline in private investment, combined with a drastic fall in real wages in an environment of social violence in the region, is consistent with the predictions stemming from this theory. A society in which there is excessive inequality is an unstable society. It cannot experience sustained growth or aspire to being fully democratic.

Poverty in Latin America: a critical analysis of three studies

Julio Boltvinik

This article is a critical evaluation of the methods used in three recent studies on poverty in Latin America, by ECLAC (Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean) - UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), the World Bank and the UNDP Regional Project for Overcoming Poverty. The first two cases show the inconsistencies and limitations of the variant of the poverty line used and conclude that the ECLAC-UNDP poverty line measures relative nutritional poverty, while the World Bank poverty line can be interpreted as a measure of malnutrition or physical survival. This line is only 28.5 per cent of a poverty line widely used in Mexico and lower than the ECLAC-UNDP extreme poverty line. The extreme poverty line established by the World Bank has very little meaning. Attention is also drawn to some of the limitations of the method used by the UNDP Regional Project (this combines the poverty line (PL) and the unsatisfied basic needs (UBN) methods): for example, the mechanical nature of the combination of the two methods, which involves some overlapping; the dependence of poverty levels found by employing the UBN method on the number of indicators used; and the method's inability to quantify the intensity of poverty. Finally, there is a comparative analysis of the results obtained by the three studies.

1.2 billion: retrospect and prospect of population in China

Ma Jisen

This article reviews how the largest population of any country in the world passed from unchecked growth to planned control. Mao Zedong needed a large population to fulfil his political ambitions, and this led to criticism of Ma Yinchu, who advocated that China practise birth control. The Great Leap Forward resulted in three difficult years during which China lost more than 40 million lives. The subsequent unchecked growth of the population to over 900 million prompted China to implement family planning seriously from the 1970s. China has now included the population issue in its socio-economic development project, calling on the people to give 'fewer births for more rapid improvement of welfare'. The article points out that radical measures are needed to achieve the goal of keeping the Chinese population below 1.6 billion in the year 2050.

The role of social sciences in the Central and Eastern European transformation process

Péter Tamási

Although social science literature on the transformation is vast, we know very little about the degree of utilization of social science results and the circumstances in which the social sciences operate. In this article, the following topics are discussed: (1) What can the social sciences do to promote the transformation process? The social sciences have three functions: to reveal real processes; to help understanding them and diagnose problems; and to foresee future tendencies and work out options for policy makers. (2) Tensions between social scientists and politicians. The main reasons for this are: claims on the part of the politicians to apologetic functions; the critical attitude of scientists and the hierarchical attitude of politicians; longer-term thinking of scientists as opposed to the shorter-term thinking of politicians; and problems in understanding the language of science. (3) The situation of the social sciences. They are neglected, the importance of their results is not recognized or acknowledged. There has been a radical decrease in the number of scientific personnel and also in the financing of research. The decline in funding is leading to a crisis situation. The still living values should be preserved, or the loss will be so big that it will take decades to rebuild a proper intellectual capacity, and without the help of the social sciences the transformation is doomed to failure.

Not enough water to go round?

Anne Baer

Fresh water is an irreplaceable, vital resource, but, owing to population pressure, its per capita availability is in constant decline. Thirty or so countries are already experiencing severe shortages, and another thirty are set to join them in the next fifty years. The countries concerned are among the world's poorest, where overpopulation, underdevelopment and aridity form an implacable alliance. The progress achieved in drinking water supplies in the course of the last three development decades is being jeopardized by the over-exploitation and pollution of aquifers and rivers and also by large-scale urbanization and the overcrowding that goes with it. The increasing scarcity of water in certain critical regions of the world is likely to bring out into the open conflicts which are at present latent.

If a doomsday scenario is to be avoided, the local, regional and global management of water resources will need to be reoriented towards preservation of these long-term assets. What is required is a twofold strategy, combining an adjustment of birth rates with the development of new sources of water for the needs of agriculture, industry and domestic consumption. This blue 'revolution' will necessarily imply the desalination of seawater on a larger scale.

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