2. Defining poverty

  • Carsten Jensen: I Have Seen the World Begin. Travels Through China, Cambodia and Vietnam: New York: Harcourt Inc. 2000 pp 130-131:

    “In the West, poverty implies exclusion from so much life has to offer: education, good health, social welfare – and on which the future depends. The poor have no time for anything but the immediate questions of naked survival. The fist indication that poverty is lifting comes when people can start to plan for the future.”

    “The concept of the future is also what eventually makes poverty intolerable, and indeed causes it to be felt as poverty at all, and not merely as a god-given state, a prime condition in which it is simply a question of endurance. Poverty means exclusion not just from wealth, but also, in the most fundamental way, from the potential for change, from the future. They have no future, we say of those in direst need, not because they are going to die tomorrow, but because their lives are static.”

  • Poverty as a “wicked problem

    Drawn from Horst  W.J. Rittel and Melvin M. Webber: “Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning.” Policy Science, 4 (1973), 155-169.

    Consider, for example, what would be necessary in identifying the nature of the Poverty problem: Does poverty mean low income? Yes, in part. But what are the determinants of low income? Is it deficiency of the national and regional economies, or is it deficiencies of cognitive and occupational skills within the labor force? If the latter, the problem statement and the problem “solution” must encompass the educational processes.  But then, where within the educational system does the real problem lie? What then might it mean “to improve the educational system? Or does the poverty problem reside in deficient physical and mental health? If so, we must ad to our information package, and search inside the health services for a plausible cause. Does it include cultural deprivation? spatial dislocation? problems of ego identity? deficient political and social skills? – and so on. If we can formulate the problem by tracing it to some sort of sources – such that we can say, “Aha! That’s the locus of the difficulty.” … then we have thereby also formulated a solution. To find the problem is thus the same thing as finding the solution; the problem can’t be defined until the solution has been found.”

    “The formulation of a wicked problem is the solution.”
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