Moving Out Of Poverty: Cross-Disciplinary Perspectives on Mobility

Narayan, Deepa and Patti Patesch
Washington, DC: World Bank, 2007, ISBN 978-0-8213-6991-3, 368 pp.
Reviewed by or other comment: 

Ndwakhulu Tshishonga

Lecturer in Community Development,

University of KwaZulu-Natal,

South Africa

Moving Out Of Poverty is a topical and ground-breaking book in a world polarised by chronic poverty, underdevelopment, and inequalities. As the product of interdisciplinary empirical research, the book is a radical departure from conventional approaches to conceptualising the vulnerability and plight of the poor. The richness of this undertaking lies precisely in its employment of multi- and cross-disciplinary perspectives, drawing in various actors in its endeavour to understand poverty from the basis of poor people’s experiences and their social realities.

The authors acknowledge the persistence of poverty and inequality that enslave and undermine the potential of the poor to pursue a decent and fulfilling life; but they also describe the building blocks by which the poor can gain in self-confidence if they are treated as experts on poverty and agents of development, respecting their capability to redefine and understand the multifaceted nature of poverty through the lens of their own experiences.

Although poverty has been virtually exhausted as a research subject, the authors bring a fresh look at the subject by exploring it from a different perspective. While other writers focus on the instrumental causes of poverty and offer prescriptive methods of researching it, Moving Out Of Poverty goes a step further by interrogating poverty from a holistic perspective which includes social, economic, and political factors. Readers are led to an understanding of how local factors condition people’s movements in and out of poverty. Unlike other books on poverty that subscribe to hard-core economic models, this one adopts an empowerment model which provides agency and opportunity structures through which poverty-mobility is feasible for the poor.

The book unites the voices of development scholars such as Amartya Sen and Robert Chambers in advocating an asset-capability approach as a new basis from which the poor can carve pathways to escape poverty. It is compelling in that it uses case studies from a range of countries to explore and explain factors which determine why and how some people can manage to move out of poverty, while others move into it or remain in absolute poverty. The authors lay bare the shortcomings of the dominant neo-liberal economic policies that widen inequalities and exacerbate poverty. In addition they consider the dynamic qualities of poverty and vulnerability, by examining forms of social and economic mobility that are shaped not only by monolithic factors but also by ‘intragenerational income mobility’. The reader is given a clear picture of the many ways in which powerless people are subjected to persistent poverty by dominant elements in society which conspire to limit their access to resources and thus frustrate their potential for escaping poverty. One such example is the caste system in India, which tends to favour the upper caste as opposed to the so-called Untouchables.

Although the book gives an honest portrayal of the barriers to upward mobility that confront economically and socially excluded communities, particularly slum dwellers, it is also explicit about the strategies that can be adopted to move away from poverty. Drawing on a range of methodologies and varied disciplines, it will be invaluable to students of development studies and community development, anthropology, sociology, and economics, as well as practitioners and policy makers, with its rich and honest overview of poverty, including new ways of researching the topic.