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up and their responses to the same environmental stimuli (Hampton, 2006,
p. 1756). As Thomas Insel of the US National Institute of Mental Health
justiļ¬es the convergence of genetic and resilience research: ā€˜To not exploit
the power of modern genomics would really be a mistake in a ļ¬eld in which
we start by saying that this is about individual variationā€™ (ibid.). A 2006 con-
ference sponsored by the New York Academy of Sciences and Brown Medical
School that focused on Resilience in Children advertised the potential of the
ā€˜new biologyā€™ of resilience as offering ā€˜an unprecedented understanding of
processes of development in atypically and typically developing children and
will have profound implications for preventive intervention programsā€™ (New
York Academy of Sciences, 2006).
Some progress has been reported in studying the combined effects of genetic
variants and environmental factors. For example, a study of maltreated chil-
dren with a particular variation of a speciļ¬c gene found that these children
were more likely to develop antisocial problems than those without this vari-
ation and similarly that depression after childhood maltreatment was more
common among individuals with the same type of variation of a different
gene than individuals without this variation (Hampton, 2006, referencing
Caspi et al., 2002). Research into how genetic and environmental factors inter-
act and how these interactions can affect individuals has also been recognized
as providing new plausible interpretations. For instance, a team at the US



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Jo Boyden and Elizabeth Cooper

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development that studied the
different behavioural tendencies (high and low levels of aggression) of mon-
keys found that monkeys with the same genetic variation both experienced
different genetic effects (in serotonin metabolism rates) and demonstrated
different behavioural tendencies (in aggression levels) according to whether
they were mother- or peer-reared. These ļ¬ndings can be interpreted in two
different ways: either an environmental inļ¬‚uence (ā€˜goodā€™ mothering) buffers
the potential deleterious effect of a certain genetic variation; or, a particular
genetic variation can protect an individual in a potentially deleterious envi-
ronment (absence of ā€˜goodā€™ mothering). As the studyā€™s lead scientist Stephen
Suomi reļ¬‚ects on the implications of the latter interpretation: ā€˜If you use the
argument that good genes are protecting against bad environments, thatā€™s
nice if you have good genes, but itā€™s a little tough to change your genetic
backgroundā€™ (Hampton, 2006, p. 1759).
Thus we see different branches of resilience research extending in different
directions according to disciplinary interests: those scientists propounding
the potential of the ā€˜new biologyā€™ are attempting to become more precise in
understanding how genetic and environmental inļ¬‚uences interact, whereas
social scientists focus their attention at the complexities of how individuals
socially engage with the world as part of their survival. These are both valu-
able pursuits, particularly for their recognition of dynamic and interactive
processes in peopleā€™s lives. Yet, it is at the convergence of these different
levels of analysis that the most promising new insights may be located.
Recent ļ¬ndings from biological research indicate that social and psychological
experiences exert actions on the brain which can modify gene expression
and brain structure, function and organization, which in turn can lead to
the initiation and continuation of behavioural changes (Curtis and Cicchetti,
2003; Hampton, 2006). As such, all stages of feedback loops, i.e. the cyclical
interaction of social experiences and biological effects, require integrated
analysis. The work of those few people who seek to translate ļ¬ndings from
each domain of research so that they might converge to inform more holistic
and long-term deļ¬nitions of problems, risk and protective factors, and ulti-
mately the potential for positive adaptation at the locus of the individual
who is negotiating her or his environment may prove supremely valuable for
informing what can be contributed to support people in adversity.


13.3. Some Problems with Applying Resilience
in Poverty Research

The vast majority of the popular and scholarly literature on resilience repre-
sents the phenomenon as though it embodied scientiļ¬cally proven principles
that can be applied to positive effect in the lives of those living in adversity.



294
Questioning the Power of Resilience

Yet, in spite of the appeal of resilience as a tool in the struggle to ā€˜inoculateā€™
children against hazards of many kinds and prevent the transmission of sus-
ceptibilities across generations, research in this area is beset with conceptual
and analytical problems. Here we examine a few of the major difļ¬culties.
One of the more fundamental limitations of the resilience research has
to do with its origin in particular domains of psychology, social work, and
other human sciences. This disciplinary legacy has led to an inordinate focus
ļ¬rst on the individual as the unit of observation and second on intra-psychic
functioning and individual behaviour as the object of analysis. Such foci are
sustained at the expense of broader structural and collective considerations
that make a crucial difference to human experiences of adversity. The distor-
tion in perspective becomes apparent when one considers the extent to which
chronic poverty and intergenerational poverty transmission are in fact shaped
by overwhelming structural forces, as in the cases of institutionalized labour
and property market discrimination against people of a particular caste or
ethnic status. While the agentive role of the individual cannot be denied, such
structural forces can become deeply embedded within society, entrenching
poverty and related distress in many generations of a population.
At a more practical level, the emphasis on individual functioning and the
harnessing of individual resources to overcome adversity depoliticizes the
project of poverty reduction. Attention is diverted away from the state and
other actors with the power and moral responsibility to intervene and bring
about change, with populations living in poverty being charged with using
their own resources to support themselves through crisis. Hence we ļ¬nd major
players in the ļ¬eld of poverty reduction adopting a default position which
individualizes that which should, in fact, involve structural or collective effort
for change in most circumstances. Thus, even the World Bank can be found
promoting the resilience concept, as evidenced by a paper it produced on early
childhood development: ā€˜Parents and other caregivers can promote resilience
in their children by positively responding to situations and by teaching chil-
dren how to respondā€™ (World Bank, n.d.). Resilience researcher Michael Ungar
articulates the reasons for concern: ā€˜The discourse of resilience can be (has
been?) co-opted by proponents of a neo-conservative agenda that argues if one
person can survive and thrive, then shouldnā€™t the responsibility for success be
on all individuals within populations at risk to do likewise?ā€™ (2005b, p. xvi;
bracketed content in original). 1
The multi- and interdisciplinary nature of resilience research is another
major challenge to this ļ¬eld and is one that undermines the achievement
of a coherent conceptual and theoretical framework that can be applied to


1
The concerns outlined above resonate in important ways with the long-standing debate
in which the concept of ā€˜the culture of povertyā€™ as a predisposition to fatalism or laziness was
proposed in explanations of the causes of and solutions to poverty.




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Jo Boyden and Elizabeth Cooper

practice. Scholarly debates have yet to produce clarity on the deļ¬nition,
locus, determinants, mediating, and moderating factors and outcomes of
resilience. The lack of conceptual and theoretical coherence is evident even
with the core constructs of this ļ¬eld. We have stated that in psychological and
social theories, the effects of resilience are revealed only in their interaction
with risk, and it is therefore apparent that the concept cannot have mean-
ing without a pre-existing understanding of risk. Clearly, then, the starting
point for deļ¬ning and identifying resilience is knowledge of the ā€˜problemā€™.
But in practice deļ¬ning a problem for an individual or a society incurs
normative judgements; what is ā€˜badā€™ is predicated on values, interests, and
assumptions.
Indeed, the ā€˜problemā€™ of poverty itself continues to be redeļ¬ned according
to paradigmatic shifts and methodological innovations, especially as the long-
cherished premise that poverty can be ascertained according to unidimen-
sional measures is increasingly contested and countered. Multidimensional
deļ¬nitions of poverty are now being advocated and accepted, thereby gradu-
ally moving away from deļ¬nitions resting solely on income or consumption
shortfall (e.g. the World Bankā€™s demarcation of US$1/day for the poverty line,
which still dominates much poverty-related policy). Development researchers
and practitioners have encouraged the employment of more contextually
speciļ¬c deļ¬nitions of poverty in which the social and political rather than, or
as well as, the economic dimensions of the phenomenon are stressed. These
analyses commonly give prominence to emic perspectives, which are often
divergent and which emphasize that even if consensus on the deļ¬nition of
poverty is reached it is not always characterized or experienced as a problem
(Graham and Pettinato, 2005; Hulme and McKay, 2005). Certainly, childrenā€™s
poverty has a long and contentious history of problem deļ¬nition (Feeny and
Boyden, 2003; Gordon et al., 2005).
Such mutations in the course of problem conceptualization obviously
complicate the establishment of a baseline of risk, from which to evaluate
what resilience to that problem may look like. If resilience manifests positive
adaptation despite exposure to a problem then what constitutes positive
adaptation also requires deļ¬nition. This clearly implicates the same challenges
as problem deļ¬nition, given that positive adaptation is difļ¬cult to claim as
universally and objectively knowable. The proliferation of research and theory
concerning well-being deļ¬nitions is testament to the difļ¬culties in validating
factors associated with both objective and subjective perceptions of quality of
life across contexts (Camļ¬eld and McGregor, 2005). Most current resilience
researchers justify presenting only very general indicators of positive adapta-
tion as sensitivity to contextual speciļ¬city. For instance, Luthar posits that the
concept of resilience is most salient with the concept of social competence, or
the effective performance in developmental tasks appropriate for people ā€˜of a
given age, society or context, and historical timeā€™ (Luthar, 2006, p. 751).



296
Questioning the Power of Resilience

Even if the general domains of well-being turn out to be broadly universal,
speciļ¬c factors and speciļ¬c competencies will inevitably prevail in different
contexts according to socio-cultural patterning. Scholars in psychology and
anthropology (for example, Goodnow, 1990; Rogoff, 1990; Cole, 1996) who
follow the socio-cultural approach to human development ļ¬rst expounded
by Lev Vygotsky (Vygotsky, 1978) would have no difļ¬culty with such a
proposition for they maintain that all psychological phenomena, including
perceptions of risk and resilience, are highly dependent on context. It is
their contention (Rogoff, 1990) that, consciously or not, caregivers and other
mentors structure childrenā€™s learning to support the acquisition of the knowl-
edge, skills, and experience needed to function successfully in their particular
environment. Since each environment contains unique socio-cultural and
material features and challenges, this is an enduring source of cognitive,
psychological and social diversity in the young, with clear implications for
variation in ā€˜positiveā€™ or ā€˜resilientā€™ behaviour.
Since values, interests, and perspectives inļ¬‚uence judgements of what is
ā€˜goodā€™, this raises the possibility that outside researchers may not share
that same understanding about positive adaptation as the individuals whose
behaviour they are analysing. To add further to this complexity, responses
may function as positive adaptations in immediate circumstances but gener-
ate other negative outcomes in different circumstances (in the future, in other
environments). Research among children of depressed mothers in the United
States, for instance, showed that boys and girls who adopt a caretaker role at
ļ¬rst appeared to be responding well. However, susceptibility to problems such
as depression and anxiety were later observed (Luthar, 2006, citing Hammen,
2003; and Hetherington and Elmore, 2003). Indeed, the response in such cases
has been characterized as ā€˜false maturityā€™, hinting at the masking of problems
beneath the surface of outward behaviours. In relation to poverty or other
experiences of marginalization, the theory of false consciousness, if valid,
suggests that peopleā€™s perceptions of how they are doing ā€˜can easily be swayed
by mental conditioning or adaptive expectationsā€™ (Sen, 1999, p. 62). Hence,
it is important to appreciate that even while resilience traits imply the ability
to overcome adversity, such traits need not necessarily manifest in behaviours
that are generally understood as positive adaptation. For example, resilience
against the adversities of war may entail responses such as emotional numbing
or hyper-vigilance which can have the effect of reducing the capability of
affected individuals to empathize and interact positively with others (Dawes,
2000).
Only after ideas of the problem and the resilient response are established is
it possible to begin identiļ¬cation of associated risk and protective factors, a
task which Luthar describes as ā€˜the central objective of resilience researchersā€™
(Luthar, 2006, p. 743). Thus, risk and protective factors are deļ¬ned in relation
to problem or positive adaptation deļ¬nitions. Findings from a study of child



297
Jo Boyden and Elizabeth Cooper

labour in Vietnam illustrate this point. Child labour is prevalent among those
Vietnamese households likely to have higher borrowing costs, that are further
from schools, and whose adult members experienced negative returns to their
own education (Beegle, Dehejia, and Gatti, 2005). Five years subsequent to
child labour experiences, researchers ļ¬nd signiļ¬cant negative impacts on
educational enrolment and attainment, but also substantially higher earnings
for those (young) adults who worked as children. The study also showed no
signiļ¬cant effects of child labour on individualsā€™ health. Forecast estimates of
earnings from the age of 30 onward, however, indicate that forgone earnings
attributable to lost schooling exceed any earnings gain associated with child
labour, and that the net present discounted value of child labour is positive for
discount rates of 11.5 per cent or higher. The researchers interpret their results
to show that in the medium run (i.e. over a ļ¬ve- to ten-year horizon) there are
important economic beneļ¬ts to child labour that offset its opportunity cost
(lower school attainment) for households. However, over a longer horizon the
returns to education increase, with more-educated individuals experiencing
increased wage growth, and the returns to work experience decrease. As this
studyā€™s ļ¬ndings demonstrate, if the problem is deļ¬ned as household earnings
in the next ļ¬ve to ten years then child labour could be regarded as a protective
factor against poverty (particularly since no health problems were noted).
On the other hand, if the problem is deļ¬ned as the earning potential of
individuals twenty to thirty years hence, child labour may be a vulnerability
factor for future poverty.
In studies of poverty, the power of subjective valuation in confounding
interpretations of ill-being and well-being, risk and resilience, is often illus-
trated through comparison of the social and psychological effects of relative
versus absolute poverty (Camļ¬eld and McGregor, 2005). Surprisingly perhaps,
subjective perceptions of life satisfaction or happiness are seldom found to
correlate in an obvious way with ā€˜objectiveā€™ assessments of peopleā€™s mate-
rial circumstances. Subjective interpretations of adversity by those affected,
however, make a signiļ¬cant difference to resilience and well-being since the
meaning of experience is a crucial moderator of its effect. Thus, relative
poverty commonly has far more deleterious effect on psychological, emo-
tional, and social well-being than does absolute poverty. Such ļ¬ndings are
likely to reļ¬‚ect the fact that material lack is perceived as far more debilitating
when associated with stigma, social exclusion, and denigration. 2 Therefore,
it follows that judging whether a phenomenon such as child labour is a

2
In rural Bolivia, for example, despite knowing full well that chronic shortages of water
have a signiļ¬cant effect on livelihoods and on the survival and health of humans and live-
stock, children highlighted above all the humiliation of being unable to wash and therefore
being labelled smelly, dirty, and poor (Boyden et al., 2003). These children acknowledged that
one of the worst consequences of being thought of as ā€˜poorā€™ is the associated shame, social
exclusion, and humiliation by peers.




298
Questioning the Power of Resilience

risk or protective factor remains contentious and the debate is probably only
resolvable according to careful attention to speciļ¬c contextsā€™ local values in
relation to this activity and perhaps even individualsā€™ particular situations.
This kind of complexity points to the danger of approaches to well-being and
resilience that ā€˜fragment peopleā€™s accounts of their experience or reduce them
to a single indicatorā€™ (Camļ¬eld and McGregor, 2005, p. 197).


13.4. Assessing the Role of Childrenā€™s Resilience in Preventing
Poverty Transmission

Researchers have often sought to investigate life course and intergenerational
aspects of transmission as a means of explaining how poverty becomes
a chronic condition within families and communities (Harper, Marcus,
and Moore, 2003; Hulme and Shepherd, 2003; Smith and Moore, 2006; Bird,
2007). In assessing the potential of resilient individuals to disrupt poverty
transmission, the question remains as to how deterministic these transmis-
sions are.
In making a case about a potential relationship between childrenā€™s resilience
and the obstruction of poverty transmission, the ļ¬rst step would need to
be acknowledgement that children inherit rather than create their poverty.
The understanding that children do not of their own making cause their
poverty implies the intergenerational transmission of poverty from parents
to children, which in turn reļ¬‚ects a view of poverty as dynamic (Green and
Hulme, 2005). Insofar as inheritance of poverty is the concern, this highlights
the mediated nature of childhood experience, in which poverty (and other
adversities) may impact both directly on the child, but also indirectly through
stress or disruption to care arrangements, family networks, community, and
other environmental support systems. This emphasis on the inseparability of
the well-being of boys and girls from the settings, systems of relationships,
and cultural processes within which they are raised resonates strongly with
the key tenets of resilience research.
Such a conceptualization brings to the fore the capital of households,
parents, carers, and other adults with a signiļ¬cant role in childrenā€™s lives. In
accordance with this paradigm, Hulme and Shepherd (2003) present a list of
poverty-related capital that can be transmitted from ā€˜parentā€™ to ā€˜childā€™ through
various means. They include items of ļ¬nancial, material, and environmental
capital (e.g. land, physical assets, debt), human capital (e.g. survival strategies,
disease), and social, cultural, and political capital (e.g. norms of entitlement,
value systems, access to key decision makers). Different modes of transmission
are recognized for the different forms of capital, such as inheritance (both the
physical inheritance of goods and genetic inheritance), investment (of time
and capital in care, education, and health), and socialization (ibid.). One of



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Jo Boyden and Elizabeth Cooper

the more robust correlations to emerge in research of this nature is between
motherā€™s education attainment, child survival, and childrenā€™s eventual edu-
cation attainment, with implications for opportunity and well-being (Harper,
2004).
But, while it would seem to make a lot of sense to think about poverty as
being inherited by children through deprivations of various forms of capital
that are conveyed via different means, pinning down the mechanisms of
intergenerational transfer of non-material forms of capital is not so straight-
forward. For example, in the case of resilience in individuals, we are not
necessarily talking about observable goods in the way of ļ¬nancial, material,
and environmental capital but, as deļ¬ned by Hulme and Shepherd (2003),
various forms of human, social, cultural, and political capital; these manifest
in far more intangible variables such as traits, competencies, values, self-
perceptions, and the like. It is hard to imagine precisely how these kinds of
variables can be measured concretely as acting against poverty transmission
across generations. Further, whereas it is possible to conceive of highly devel-
oped skills in problem solving and lateral thinking as encouraging entrepre-
neurial actions that lead in turn to capital accumulation, some other compe-
tencies, even whilst manifesting signiļ¬cant positive adaptation to adversity,
may appear to have only tenuous connection with poverty eradication.
In emphasizing the motherā€“child dyad, or systems of relationships based in
the nuclear family or household, as the locus of transmission of non-material
forms of capital, poverty research shares with much of the resilience research
some signiļ¬cant assumptions that may not in practice be valid. Thus, for
such transfers to work they must somehow be embedded in a mix of genetic
heritability and environmental inļ¬‚uences related to physical proximity and
underpinned by ties of affect, mentoring, and role modelling. This kind of
thinking seems to take for granted the family structures and relationships
through which transmission occurs, as well as the care arrangements made
for young children. As it happens, family structures and relationshipsā€”
especially nuclear family structures and relationshipsā€”may well be quite
marginal to intergenerational transmissions of non-material forms of capital
and resilience traits in the many parts of the world where alternative family
forms and care arrangements prevail. Practices like child labour migration,
exchange, and fosterage, or shared caretaking by extended kin and neighbours
and sibling caretaking including in child-headed households, would seem
likely to result in multiple and diffuse emotional and social attachments
across a range of relationships and reduced interaction and allegiance between
parents and children (Mann, 2001). Hence, the power of intergenerational
transmission between parent(s) or household and child may be much diluted
in such situations. Indeed, current research is challenging assumptions about
the foundational role of family in childrenā€™s development (Harris, 1998),
highlighting the inļ¬‚uence of peers, school, neighbourhood networks, and the



300
Questioning the Power of Resilience

like as well as the development of domain-speciļ¬c behaviours. This research
raises important questions concerning the efļ¬cacy of the concept of intergen-
erational transfers of non-material forms of capital.
Turning to lifespan or life course transmission of poverty, we ļ¬nd a different
set of research challenges. The thinking in this area rests on extensive evidence
provided by health sciences and developmental psychology that childhood
experience and childrenā€™s development and well-being are foundational in
shaping individual life trajectories. In other words, how children respond to
their poverty will probably have major ramiļ¬cations for adaptation and func-
tioning in adulthood; such transmission being expressed in diverse domains,
including physical health, social skills, emotions, values, and conduct. In scru-
tinizing the health and developmental psychology literature, then, we ļ¬nd a
proclivity for emphasizing the timeliness of childrenā€™s resilience which is what
distinguishes the resilience of the young from that of adults. This timeliness
boils down to the idea that children have developmental pathways or, in
other words, behaviours that manifest in a systematic or orderly fashion, with
behaviours at later stages in the sequence characterizing those in the earlier
stages but progressing to more exaggerated forms. Early childhood is theorized
as especially critical in building lifelong attributes, including resilience com-
petencies and/or vulnerability traits (Compas, Gerhardt, and Hinden, 1995;
Kelley et al., 1997). This is both because developmental patterns established
at this stage will probably be reproduced later on in the lifespan and also
because this early phase of life is characterized by accelerated processes of
developmental change that are in turn associated with heightened receptive-
ness to environmental stimuli.
Certainly the concept of developmental pathways is attractive for those
interested in studying the possibility of building and sustaining in children
resilience against poverty, the most obvious convergence of ideas and under-
standing in this respect being around time sensitivity. This notion builds on
the evidence that there are important ā€˜sensitive periodsā€™ for some develop-
mental processes and potentials (Yaqub, 2002; Dawes and Donald, 2005) dur-
ing which the stimulation that a child receives has a lasting effect on speciļ¬c
domains of development. Resilience theorists also predicate their approach on
recognition of time sensitivity: ā€˜there is broad consensus that in working with
at-risk groups, it is far more prudent to promote the development of resilient
functioning early in the course of development rather than to implement
treatments to repair disorders once they have been crystallizedā€™ (Luthar, 2006,
p. 739).
In poverty research, deprivation during sensitive periods has been cor-
related with later poverty in life and linked to intergenerational trans-
missions of poverty (Harper, 2004). Studies concerning various aspects of
foetal, neonatal, infant, and child development have indicated the likelihood
that different human motor and mental developments have time-sensitive



301
Jo Boyden and Elizabeth Cooper

receptivity to environmental factors. For instance, correlations have been
observed between maternal malnutrition during pregnancy (for example iron
deļ¬ciency anaemia) and low birth weight in infants, lowered resistance to
infection, inhibited growth and cognitive development, and chronic diseases
in later life (WHO, 2006). And prenatal and infant protein-energy under-
nutrition has been causally linked to later impairment of intellectual function-
ing (Alderman, Hoddinott, and Kinsey, 2001). Findings on nutrition, physical
health, and education in particular make a compelling case for time-sensitive
or age-appropriate strategies and interventions to assist children in mastering
key developmental tasks and thereby prevent potentially irreversible harm to
their future well-being, for once these developmental ā€˜sensitive periodsā€™ have
passed, opportunities to avoid permanent damage can diminish and even
disappear (Moore, 2004, citing Gordon et al., 2003).
Even if the idea of developmental pathways has some practical signiļ¬-
cance for understanding how to bolster children against adversity, the con-
cept does require further interrogation. The obvious question arising from
a hypothesized connection between childrenā€™s resilience and pathways is:
how accessible are these pathways? First, are there universal pathways, for
example in terms of self-esteem, self-efļ¬cacy, or emotional stability? Or are
pathways more effectively conceptualized according to speciļ¬c contexts (as
with Senā€™s freedoms to realize competencies, for example, or with Rogoffā€™s and
anthropological views of socialization as training in cultural competencies)?
And second, on a more methodological line of enquiry, does resilience create
pathways or are the foundations of pathways required before children can
mobilize their resilient potential to embark on their transformative journeys?
On a more critical note, the concept conjures up a rather static model of
human development in which the life course for adults seems to be largely
predetermined according to patterns laid down in childhood. Proponents of
transactional theory on the other hand have elaborated a far more dynamic
perspective in which child-context interactions are seen to contribute dif-
ferently to development at different points in the life cycle, such trans-
actions leading to a continuous modiļ¬cation of developmental trajectories
(Sameroff, 1975; Dawes and Donald, 2005). As Dawes and Donald highlight,
this view ā€˜challenges the idea that what is established early in development
always has lasting or permanent effectsā€™ (2005, p. 14), and recognizes ā€˜the
complex interplay between genetic endowment and contextual inļ¬‚uences
across the lifespanā€™ (ibid. 15).
Time sensitivity is obviously a concern for addressing many potential effects
and causations of poverty (especially malnutrition), and this can necessarily
mean targeting children who experience poverty, or may be susceptible to
poverty given environmental factors. Nevertheless, recognition of the hetero-
geneity of both contexts and children is crucial, as is retaining an understand-
ing of poverty that does not reduce its characterization to biological effects



302
Questioning the Power of Resilience

(Hastrup, 1993; Green and Hulme, 2005). As we have indicated, psycholog-
ical, emotional, and social well-being are more complex states to ascertain
than biological health and are far less likely to be subject to mechanistic
cause and effect relations. Even while biological causal mechanisms are better
understood, or at least more easily empirically veriļ¬able, than social causal
mechanisms, it is important to notice that these biological relationships
are based on environmental inļ¬‚uences rather than genetic inļ¬‚uences. Thus
our cognitive map of intergenerational transmission is at the present time
extremely restricted to the site of the individualā€™s body and does not stretch
very far either internally into her or his genetic make-up or externally out to
her or his roles and relationships in the social world.
The impossibility of observing resilience directly or of identifying precise
causal relations and the complexity of identifying contributory effects of
interacting and cumulative factors means that it makes most sense to speak in
probabilities. Incertitude of causal relationships in human development and
conduct remains, since the correlation between various inputs (for example,
motherā€™s education) and outputs (for instance, childā€™s health or education
attainment) are derived from large sets of socio-economic variables that cover
many different parental and community characteristics (Yaqub, 2001). Thus,
direct pathways are not identiļ¬able (nor assumed to exist) and understanding
of how different inputs and conditions interact remains complicated. And
herein lies one of the most profound problems for resilience research, as
Barton observes:

The sheer multiplicity of potential risk and protective factors and the possible rela-
tionships among them (reciprocal, conditional, etc) places strains on the most complex
multivariate, quantitative models. When one introduces time as a variableā€”that is, that
certain processes may apply only at certain times, have lagged effects, or bothā€”another
layer of complexity emerges. (Barton, 2005, p. 142)



13.5. Conclusion

At the outset of this chapter we assigned ourselves the task of questioning
whether studies of resilience are useful for research and practice concerning
childrenā€™s poverty and the life course and intergenerational transmission of
poverty. Based on our review of the increasing exercise of the resilience con-
cept in various ļ¬elds of research, we conclude that it has not yet been demon-
strated as a valid analytical tool for poverty research. In short, we ļ¬nd that
so far resilience has achieved neither a sufļ¬ciently functional deļ¬nition nor a
credible theory by which to identify its existence. Conļ¬dent of unearthing
direct cause and effect relations, much of the resilience research has been
framed in positivist and mechanistic modes. But this kind of reasoning has
been confounded by reality, leading some scholars to argue that we are in



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Jo Boyden and Elizabeth Cooper

practice dealing with a multivariate phenomenon that is subject to highly
complex moderating forces which in each individual combine uniquely to
inļ¬‚uence the outcomes and impacts of adversity in countless ways. To insist
upon recognizing this multivariate phenomenon as ā€˜resilienceā€™ runs the risk of
generating a concept that by attempting to mean everything ends up meaning
nothing of analytical value.
Efforts to improve understanding of the causes and effects of childrenā€™s
poverty and the intergenerational transmission of poverty would be better
served by relinquishing the metaphor of resilience while retaining the focus
on particular factors that moderate and mediate poverty experiences and
outcomes. It seems supremely naive to expect that any absolute ā€˜resilience
processā€™ could be identiļ¬ed given the inļ¬nite contingencies of the interplay
between multiple factors. A more fruitful approach is to explicitly value and
investigate these contingencies and how they play out in human develop-
ment (broadly conceptualized). To do so means to invest in research that
attends to the interactions of genetic and environmental inļ¬‚uences as well
as to how structural inļ¬‚uences translate in peopleā€™s everyday lives. The key
challenge will be to retain the understanding that despite the empirical ļ¬nd-
ings of chronic and intergenerational poverty, poverty is always experienced
as dynamic. This dynamism is the challenge that spurs us on.




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308
14
The Social Distribution
of Sanctioned Harm
Thinking through Chronic Poverty, Durable
Poverty, and Destitution
Maia Green




14.1. Introduction

This chapter presents an anthropological take on the concept of chronic
poverty. An anthropological approach places social construction at the centre
of enquiry, considering how concepts come to inform the practice of those
who are the subjects of study and the classiļ¬catory practices through which
analysis is conducted. This reļ¬‚exivity differentiates anthropology from other
social sciences. Anthropological perspectives on the constitution of develop-
ment categories not only provide a qualitative understanding of the social
processes through which such classiļ¬catory systems come to have salience
(Green, 2007). In exposing how the social is constituted as a category of
organization and analysis, anthropology sheds light on the delineations of the
social in other social sciences and hence on the explanatory limits of what is
represented as social analysis (Green, 2006).
Chronic poverty is deļ¬ned in the development literature as a state of depri-
vation of income, consumption, or capacities lasting more than ļ¬ve years.
Economistic conceptions of chronic poverty, whether based on income or
consumption measures, are based on normative theories about growth and
market engagement as the means through which escape from poverty is pos-
sible, except for the chronically poor. The paradigm attempts to identify the
exceptions to the growth rule, that is to isolate and explain why some agents
fail to escape poverty. As such when framed in terms of economics the chronic
poverty concept relies ultimately on neo-liberal characterizations of agency




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Maia Green

and markets. Apparently alternative propositions of what chronic poverty
entails from the human development perspective are similarly removed from
actual social situations. Such approaches do not describe the effects of con-
temporary institutional constellations on social outcomes but instead infer
the social impacts of a range of assumed deprivations on abstract potentiali-
ties. Neither approach has the capacity to apprehend the social constitution
of poverty; that is, not merely as an effect of deprivation of income or
entitlements but as the outcome of a system of social relationships.
The limitations of the chronic poverty concept are explained by its origins
in confronting core assumptions about the relation between economic devel-
opment and poverty reduction as conjoined temporal outcomes along the
depth versus duration axis. Perhaps paradoxically, although chronic poverty
theorists have opted for time as a key analytical tool, their approach has
focused on duration rather than process (cf. Bevan, 2003). This has impli-
cations for analytical reach. Approaches to chronic poverty have tended
to be classiļ¬catory, rather than dynamic, concentrating on attributes asso-
ciated with poverty as a state or, where based on panel data, comparing
states across time periods. Focus on attributes rather than process creates the
chronically poor as a category of analysis. But, because this category is not
one through which societies and economies are organized on the ground, it
cannot enhance social analysis, that is, our understanding of how societies,
inequalities, and economies are made to work together in various places and
times. Chronic poverty as a category may correspond to some local condi-
tions, but it is not a local category of organization.
The concept of poverty from which chronic poverty derives is, however,
an important category in the conceptual ordering of international develop-
ment and of the wider global social imaginary in which this is embedded.
Current constitutions of poverty which rest on implicit arguments about eco-
nomic growth and the agency of households as maximizing actors in market-
oriented economies are constitutive of modern social imaginaries, depending
as they do on its categories of orderingā€”the economy as abstracted from polit-
ical order, the public sphere, and the disembedding of the person as an indi-
vidual property holder from wider structures of kinship and society (Haber-
mas, 1989, p. 29; Taylor, 2004, p. 17). Much of the change which development
seeks to achieve is ultimately concerned with effecting the alignment between
social order and social imaginary, between social institutions and social forms
(cf. Rabinow, 1995). Policy work, in government and development, is an
explicit instance of institutional reordering. Policy makers and analysts use
concepts and categories to represent the worlds which they seek to change,
and resource transfers to effect the institutional transitions through which
these may be realized (Green, 2007). The importance of signiļ¬cant categories
and key words in policy discourses derives not only from the condensation
of meanings and associations which they embody, but from their situation



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Social Distribution of Sanctioned Harm

as nodes in the social orders which those policies seek to effect. Although
policy constructs claim to be empirically grounded and evidence based, they
are also fundamentally theoretical. Consequently, how poverty is theorized,
that is imagined and represented, matters because it can inform how social
relations are envisioned and the kinds of social orders which are thinkable
and potentially brought into being through policy (cf. Fraser, 1993, pp. 8ā€“9).
The concept of chronic poverty can pose challenging questions if informed
by social analysis which interrogates the social processes through which
some people stay poor. Insights from theories of destitution are useful here
because they highlight the institutional nexus of social relations which ensure
that certain people, rather than others, are likely to experience the effects
of poverty for an extended time. The concept of destitution corresponds
closely to indigenous and local understandings of extreme deprivation, which
emphasize depth and duration combined. Second, destitution understood
as an outcome of social exclusion acknowledges its social basis as a moral
shift in the performance of categorical entitlements within a social system.
Finally, apprehending destitution as a social status rather than an economic
condition frees us from implicit assumptions about the necessity of economic
engagement as the means to escape poverty traps. Combining ļ¬ndings from
analyses of destitution with the problematic of chronic poverty leads to a
proposed emphasis on durable poverty as the effect of particular constellations
of unequal social relations, that is as an outcome of the ways in which
societies are organized (after Tilly, 1998, pp. 5ā€“6).


14.2. Time and Traps

Chronic poverty is as yet a rather unspeciļ¬ed concept within the emerging
ļ¬eld of poverty studies. Intentionally conceived to confront development rep-
resentations of poverty as a temporary state which people move in and out of,
chronic poverty is deļ¬ned as the condition of poverty persisting for more than
ļ¬ve years, but which is commonly associated with far longer deprivations
across multiple indicators. Chronic poverty affects those individuals and their
families who will remain below a certain threshold from year to year, and
generation to generation (Hulme and Shepherd, 2003; Hulme and McKay,
2006; Shepherd, 2006). This ļ¬nding is critically important for development
thinking about how the problem of poverty is to be addressed. The resilience
of poverty, its immovability, provides concrete evidence that arguments about
economic growth automatically beneļ¬ting the poor are deeply ļ¬‚awed.
The tenacity of poverty raises difļ¬cult questions about its durability: the
extent to which social institutions perpetuate the relations of exclusion and
allocation which ensure that certain individuals and their families will remain
poor (Green and Hulme, 2005; Harriss, 2006). Because the concept of chronic



311
Maia Green

poverty is so recent these questions are yet to be adequately addressed within
the chronic poverty paradigm. Although implicit theory is embedded within
the concept, namely its situation in relation to theories about the effects of
growth, the main utility of chronic poverty is to capture those individuals
and households with similar attributes in order to aggregate them into a
development category as a potential object of policy. In practice, chronic
poverty as a conceptual instrument in development studies is restricted at
present to framing. Chronic poverty as a frame which captures the individuals
and households whose conditions remain unchanged for ļ¬ve years or longer
applies duration to poverty descriptors. In selecting duration over depth of
poverty, that is the intensity and extent of deprivation, chronic poverty claims
not to be so much concerned with differentiating between categories of the
poor as to identify those most at risk of remaining poor across generations. 1
The durable poor are in any case often severely poor (Hulme and McKay,
2006). The longer individuals or households remain in poverty the less chance
they have of getting out of it. The durability of poverty affects individuals
whether poverty is conceptualized in terms of income/consumption axes or
across human development criteria. Absence of assets, resources, capitals, or
entitlements impacts on income, consumption, and potentialities over time.
Absence of growth or stasis does not challenge dominant poverty paradigms
but reinforces them, necessitating the creation of a sub-paradigm to account
for the phenomenon of households and economies which are seemingly
impervious to growth. The chronic poverty paradigm, as an adjunct to main-
stream theories of poverty, reiterates rather than replaces the theories about
society and economy which structure poverty thinking. Chronic poverty as a
concept is situated within this paradigm in which growth is assumed to inhere
in the human condition as economic man (the gendering is intentional given
assumptions about household headship and the enduring problematic of
female-headed households) strives to achieve ā€˜developmentā€™. Associated with
the negative effects of poverty but without the escape route offered through
growth, chronic poverty, like some inherited disorder, is intergenerationally
transmitted (Moore, 2001; Hulme and Shepherd, 2003). From this perspec-
tive, persistent poverty becomes a pathological condition to be isolated and
exposed. Biological metaphors are applied to the multitude affected, who
become a mass, a demographic (cf. Fanon, 1967, p. 19; Hardt and Negri,
2000). The children of chronically poor parents are likely to be chronically
poor themselves, conļ¬ned within a transgenerational poverty trap that runs
vertically and horizontally, across time and space (Harper, Marcus, and Moore,
2003; Green and Hulme, 2005).
The ultimate effects of transgenerational or long-term poverty traps are
empirically uncertain. If the notion of trajectories of growth lifting all boats

1
See Devereux on chronic poverty and destitution for an account of why depth matters.




312
Social Distribution of Sanctioned Harm

is as much a fallacy as that of hard work being rewarded or of ā€˜sustainable
rural livelihoodsā€™, the opposite equally applies. Just as ā€˜getting out of povertyā€™
does not necessarily mean that one gets very far from the poverty line, stay-
ing poor does not necessarily mean that the poor become poorer, although
some people will progressively lose assets to the point where they struggle to
subsist. Of these, however, only a small minority risk sliding into absolute
impoverishment and destitution. If poverty here appears as a relatively static
condition in both directions this perhaps tells us less about the trajectories of
people so classiļ¬ed than about the representational effects of poverty within
development studies and within economics, that is as a state and a condition
not so much of relative differentiation but of positionality in relation to
an analytical boundary, the conceptual barrier separating the poor from the
non-poor. Poverty thinking has prioritized this boundary and the means of
traversing it over the subdivisions on either side. This is because poverty
discourse has consistently situated itself within normative arguments about
ā€˜getting out ofā€™ poverty and because poverty reduction as a boundary shifted
provides a visible object of public intervention (Sen, 1981, p. 157; Oā€™Connor,
2001, p. 14; Devereux, 2003, p. 5). Poverty represented as deprivation below a
common level, whether of income or consumption, focuses attention on the
possibility of crossing the line and hence of the range of policy prescriptions
which can facilitate this movement.
Where poverty is understood in income and consumption terms, the pre-
scriptions logically focus on increasing income, not necessarily directly but
through assumed relationships between increase in the overall economy and
the incomes of individuals and households (Escobar, 1995, pp. 63ā€“75). Where
poverty is understood in human development terms to connote a state in
which social agents are deprived of their potentiality to achieve a series of
moral conditions and abstract freedoms, the emphasis is on the unspeciļ¬ed
range of social and regulative regimes which could ensure that individuals
achieve their capabilities. 2 If the former conceptualization of poverty rests on
implicit assumptions about market engagement and increases in productivity
as much as value as the means through which growth can be achieved, the
latter depends on implicit assumptions about the latency of enabling insti-
tutions through which individual capabilities could be realized (Gore, 1993).
As such, although both conceptualizations of poverty claim to be empirically
grounded in research ļ¬ndings and so on, what is actually accessed through
such conceptual tools is simply that which can be quantiļ¬ed and hence
captured within their respective frames. Both rest on social theories about
the normative possibilities of economy on the one hand and, on the other,
entitlements to self-realization. Moreover, such externally imposed evaluative

2
On entitlements approaches to poverty and well-being, see for example Sen (1999); Saith
(2001); and Nussbaum (2003).




313
Maia Green

criteria do not necessarily correspond to local social categorizations of dif-
ference and deprivation, which generally make different kinds of distinctions
and which impose boundaries in different places corresponding to the systems
of social organization in which such boundaries come to have salience and
are put to work. Chronic poverty as a concept has only limited resonance
with the kinds of deprivation classiļ¬cations invoked by members of poor
communities, who are more likely to comment on the extreme poor where
they have suffered other deprivations or where their status borders on the
marginal (Hulme and McKay, 2006). Chronicity in itself or persistent poverty
may indeed be too commonplace to be remarked upon in many communities
at the periphery of world economies.
The lack of ļ¬t between chronic poverty as a category and the kinds of dif-
ferentiations amongst the poor which people in poor communities consider
meaningful stems from current policy orientations which aim to keep people
out of poverty, and hence to focus representational energies on policing
the analytical line between poor and non-poor. The result is a reliance on
social analytical models which either make the boundary visible or facilitate
its maintenance: hence for example vulnerability is deļ¬ned in development
social thought not as a state in which negative outcomes are likely, as in
the common meaning of the term in English, but as the risk of becoming
poor. In this actuarial categorization based on shared vulnerability to risk
(Ewald, 1991, p. 199), rather than shared attributes, the attributes of those
so categorized are rarely differentiated (Hastrup, 1993, p. 720). This lumping
together has the paradoxical effect of equating the social and biological effects
of extreme deprivation with the effects of assetlessness for the poor, who are
nevertheless assumed to be situated on the margins of potential economic self-
reliance. Such conceptual elisions are exempliļ¬ed in the theoretical arguments
of the economist Dasgupta, linking poverty to destitution, and destitution not
merely to hunger but to human capacity for labour and hence to income and
wealth (Dasgupta, 1993, 1997; Devereux, 2003; Fogel, 2004). This approach
not only takes economies too literally, in assuming that the natural extension
of human capacity to labour equates to the production of exchange value,
after Ricardo and Marx (Gudeman, 2001, p. 101). It reduces humanity to
biology, and biology to the reproduction of labour power (cf. Fanon, 1967).
Human beings become simply machines within production systems.
In actuality, the causes and effects of extreme deprivation, poverty, and
assetlessness must be differentiated. Extreme deprivation associated with des-
titution is qualitatively and experientially distinct from poverty, even of the
chronic or apparently long-lasting kind (cf. Nandy, 2002, p. 115; Devereux,
2003). The important question is not whether assetlessness leads to depri-
vation, but under what conditions assets become the mediating factor in
accessing support entitlements. Access to support may be mediated though
exchange frameworks and markets, hence Senā€™s insight that the Great Bengal



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Social Distribution of Sanctioned Harm

Famine resulted not from an absence of food which was widely available in
markets, but from what he termed a ā€˜failureā€™ in ā€˜exchange entitlementsā€™ (1981,
p. 47). It may also be mediated through a range of social statuses commonly
associated with, and often prior to, asset portfolios. The most common of
these is gender, in which gender status determines not only oneā€™s entitlement
to hold various assets, but often the extent to which one can enter into other
statuses which have implications for autonomy over oneā€™s own capabilities.
Other examples where status is prior to asset holding include feudalism or
caste-based land holding in village India.



14.3. Unnatural Assets

Assetlessness in the formal sense of absence of personal property and formal
land holding were characteristic of foraging societies of southern Africa during
the twentieth century, exempliļ¬ed in the case of the San of Botswana and
Namibia. Absence of assets, or rather a social system which did not construe
relations between people as mediated by access to things (Strathern, 1985,
p. 197), did not entail conditions of poverty (Good, 1999; see also Woodburn,
1982). As long as the San could access their main economic resource, their
hunting and gathering territories, and as long as they could obtain additional
cash through wage labour for neighbouring cattle herders, they seem to have
enjoyed relatively good standards of living. They had considerable autonomy,
the freedom to work as they chose, excellent nutrition (Lee, 1979, p. 296) 3
and plenty of leisure time. Indeed, in the 1970s the anthropologist Marshall
Sahlins went so far as to claim that contemporary foraging groups were the
ā€˜original afļ¬‚uent societyā€™ (2004, p. 9). This has long ceased to be the situation.
Forcibly resettled San in Namibia and Botswana ļ¬nd themselves excluded
from their hunting grounds, unable to gather wild foods, and dependent on
cash to mediate access to basic foods and necessities. Leisure ceases to be the
desired purpose of productive labour and instead becomes forced through
a combination of lack of access to previous productive activities and high
unemployment. Poverty, welfare dependency, and destitution result (Good,
1999). Examples such as this demonstrate that relations between poverty and
assets are complicated, depending on the social systems in which relationships
between assets and entitlements are determined.
Assets are not things ā€˜out thereā€™ in the world which have natural exchange
values. What count as assets are artefacts of the social systems which deter-
mine what are constituted as such and their changing values. Recognition
as an asset holder is ļ¬rst and foremost social recognition within a system that
3
Compared to agriculturalists in the same region of Africa. Leeā€™s study also shows that the
San groups he worked with in the 1970s were less vulnerable to seasonal food shortages than
neighbouring agriculturalists.




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permits assets to become convertible. Within real economies, that is social sys-
tems as opposed to abstract models of economy, assets are what are accepted
as assets, that is as having transactability and conversion value in relation to
who is entitled to transact them (Gudeman, 2001). Social and natural capitals
for example, the abstract values claimed by development theorists as forms
of capital (e.g. Narayan and Pritchett, 1997), are not necessarily utilizable as
assets unless they are convertible within actual economies. Natural capital
can become convertible through formalization into property. This process
of assetiļ¬cation, that is the social process of formalizing the asset status
of things (and, in some social systems, persons), depends on political and
institutional movements in the organization of the relations between people. 4
The ā€˜mystery of capitalā€™, as De Soto acknowledges, does not inhere in capital
itself, but within the institutional arrangements though which social relations
can be made to bring ā€˜capitalā€™ into being. Therefore, the strategy for creating
capital is premised neither on production nor technology, although it entails
the production of specialized technologies for the creation of capital, which
centre on legal reforms and systems, that is on ways in which social relations
are organized (2000, p. 9).



14.4. Destitution and Disentitlement

The importance of relationships, the institutional ordering between people
and people and people and things, is clearly evident in the example of
destitution. Destitution is not an automatic consequence of poverty, an end-
point in an economic process of impoverishment brought about by income
failure. It is rather the product of a crisis in social relations. Destitution,
associated with social exclusion and marginality and with the loss of the
social entitlements within society that a person may have once had, represents
sanctioned harm through a recategorization of a person away from previous
entitlements (Harriss White, 2002, pp. 4ā€“9). In the absence of wider systems
of social support, the consequences of destitution are devastating. Yet despite
the prevalence and severity of destitution globally, particularly in the poorest
countries in the world, its signiļ¬cance has been consistently underplayed in
development thinking.
The oversight of destitution in preference for poverty is explained by the
challenges a concept of destitution as a failure of social relations presents for
the theoretical underpinnings of the poverty paradigm, with its assumptions
of individual economic agency oriented towards growth and the market
as the institution capable of springing the poverty trap (see also Nandy,

4
See Marcia Wrightā€™s book on the lives of East African slaves and other owned dependants
for a sense of how this was organized in the nineteenth century (1993).




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Social Distribution of Sanctioned Harm

2002). In addition, as some theorists see destitution as the extreme end-point
of progressive impoverishment, destitution is thought to be encompassed
within the poverty paradigm. Such perspectives are profoundly distorting.
Destitution, as the state in which people have lost social entitlements, is
patently a different kind of social position from poverty, and has different
consequences. Destitution might be connected to poverty of one sort or
another, but the point is that once the person becomes destitute they have
entered a new social categorization which situates them very differently in
relation to others. In some instances, as for example in India, this resitua-
tion is so extreme as to amount to active social expulsion (Harriss White,
2002, p. 4).
The person locally categorized as destitute has experienced a loss of social
placement, of entitlement, within a scheme of social ordering. Their social
recategorization situates them outside social relations of entitlement, bringing
into sharp relief the importance of moral content and values in determining
who gets what, and to what extent the effects of extreme deprivation are
socially tolerated. Destitution as a consequence of recategorization of entitle-
ments or a shift in the moral content of social relations highlights the central-
ity of social relations in determining how people live, that is their deprivations
and entitlements (see also Kabeer, 2005). These relations extend far beyond
the market frameworks represented in economic models of poverty. Such
models of economic relations fail to recognize the social constitution of value
and allocations, and hence the social and institutional foundations of poverty
and destitution. It is these socially constituted values and allocations which
establish the parameters of distribution and compensation, and which ensure
that some individuals are more likely than others to become destitute, and
will not have the luxury of poverty.
Destitution is not so much a failure of social relations as a categorical shift
into a different realm of social relations, into the domain beyond which
social obligations cease. Destitution as a categorical transition into the space
where social obligation has ended is a process of reordering, too, a social
process through which certain individuals are socially resituated through
active recategorization. This is not simply a consequence of poverty, but of a
special kind of social reorganization. Understanding the social constitution of
destitution as process sheds light not only on the differences between poverty
and destitution, but on the ways in which the social ordering of allocative
entitlements determines social well-being and social harm. Destitution in
India has been characterized by Barbara Harriss White as a stage near the
end-point of a process of social exclusion and marginalisation. The extent of
the desocialization of the destitute is so extreme that destitution is generally
experienced as a condition of individuals, the fragments of atomized house-
holds. Destitution in India is not an outcome of extreme poverty, although
the destitute are extremely poor. It may be a consequence of mental illness,



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divorce, loss of rights to dependency, and stigmatization. The destitute lack
social assets, although they do create their own forms of social organiza-
tion (2002). Destitution in this example is more than the failure of liveli-
hoods and dependence on transfers, as Devereux proposes for Ethiopia (2003,
pp. 8, 11). Neither is it simply a matter of exclusion from access to the labour
market which could provide income and hence the route away from poverty.
Destitution is a social status. Destitution represents the condition in which
people become disengaged from the moral obligations of mutuality which
constitute the matrix of the social. The destitute have lost their rights to
dependent status (Harriss White, 2002, p. 7). This disengagement encom-
passes kinship, households, and arenas of consumption and exchange. Desti-
tution is thus not merely a highly individual condition (ibid. 3). It is positively
antisocial.
Given that destitution is a kind of social status it is not surprising that it is
most elaborated in highly unequal and formally differentiated societies such
as India. As a shift in social categorizations into a realm beyond support it
is of course more visible in countries which do not have widespread systems
of emergency assistance and social welfare. Even in social welfare regimes,
however, destitution exists and marks a transition point where assetless indi-
viduals become so socially disembedded as to be external not only to kinship
and social networks but to the established state systems of social support
(Pasarro, 1996). Destitution as a social status is also evident in the highly
unequal but less formally hierarchical societies in Africa where, as in India,
destitution as a status is associated with social and household fragmentation,
marginalization, exclusion, and extreme deprivation. Perceiving destitution
as a social status rather than an economic condition provides an interesting
vantage point for understanding the processes of destitution which again
must be apprehended in social terms. Destitution as the termination of enti-
tlements through loss of dependent status is an outcome of the ways in which
dependency is constituted in certain contexts for certain social categories. It
is not the loss of support in itself which fosters destitution, although this
becomes a precipitating cause, so much as the social order which deems
certain social categories dependent on others and incapable of subsisting
without new relations of dependency being established. What is stripped away
from the destitute is the latent right to ongoing relations of dependency. They
thus have to rely on the unpredictability and humiliation of charity and alms,
and on the very transient relationship between giver and recipient which such
transactions convey.
Vulnerability to destitution is not evenly distributed but is an attribute
inherent in the unequal ways in which all societies are organized. Certain
social categories are at greater risk than others of losing social and economic
assets. This is clearly evident in the Indian example, where members of
tribal groups and scheduled castes are at increased risk of destitution, along



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Social Distribution of Sanctioned Harm

with other pariah categories: widows, sex workers, epileptics, the disabled. 5
Exclusion and marginalization are not in fact indicators of social breakdown,
but of the opposite. They are indices of social order (Douglas, 1986) which
sanctions social harm for some individuals while it ensures the protection of
others. Responses to famine provide a clear example of this. The harm created
by famine in terms of social chaos and increased morbidity is not in fact
the effect of the famine agent, drought or harvest failure or whatever, but
of the ways in which access to alternative sources of food or cash is organized
(Sen, 1981; De Waal, 1989). The effects of famine are experienced differently
by different social categories: the very same social categories who are vul-
nerable in everyday life bear the burden of famine-intensiļ¬ed vulnerability.
This is evident in village India where ā€˜substantial harms and risks of harmā€™
are unevenly allocated as part of the formal structure of social organization.
Torry makes this point explicitly when he states that ā€˜famine adjustments are
not radical abnormal breaks with customary behaviour: rather, they extend
ordinary conventionsā€™ (1986, p. 126). That this is the case is not surprising.
Society as a way of organizing is built, like all forms of organization, on
the elaboration of difference. In the words of Charles Tilly, ā€˜another way of
thinking about organizations is to see them as an extreme form of categorical
inequality: a frontier extended into a complete perimeter separating ins from
outsā€™ (1998, p. 61). Social beneļ¬ts like social costs accrue along existing lines
of social division. The rich get richer, the marginal get excluded. They are also
likely to suffer disproportionately from the effects of deprivation, manifested
in vastly increased rates of mortality, morbidity, and vulnerability not only
to disease, but displacement, dislocation, and dispossession (Farmer, 1996,
1999). These allocations central to social ordering are likely to be justiļ¬ed
ideologically in moral and religious terms, hence for example the cultural
elaboration of pollution in Hinduism, the inauspiciousness of widows in India
and Bangladesh; the marginalization of Roma people in Eastern Europe, and
the ongoing stigmatization of people living with HIV and AIDS in many
countries (Torry, 1986; Douglas, 1991; Davis, 2006).



14.5. Reordering Entitlements

The micro processes of social differentiation as a practice of social ordering
can be clearly observed at household level, within the local social relations of
family, not only with reorderings based on the possibilities presented within
existing categorizations, for example the gendered category of wife to widow,
but from insider to outsider, innocent victim to ā€˜witch otherā€™ (Ciekawy, 1998,
5
Nandy comments on the high incidence of death by starvation of tribal children in
Maharashtra in 2001, the lack of public condemnation of this state of affairs, and the fact
that this occurred within ā€˜a relatively prosperous stateā€™ (2002, p. 14).




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p. 120). Recent accounts of the social effects of witchcraft in contemporary
Africa demonstrate how this process happens and what drives it when families
seek to reorder kinship relations, and hence relations of obligation, through
witchcraft allegations. This is not to suggest that families accusing others of
witchcraft are doing so only in order to alter the relations between them.
They are doing so because they perceive these others to have altered, to have
come to embody the attributes of witches, and hence the relations between
people are already changed. Allegations of witchcraft have different social
consequence for accused witches depending on what is done to them. These
range from expulsion, execution, the imposition of sanctions, and, in parts
of southern and eastern Africa, cleansing rituals which reintegrate alleged
witches into social networks (Green, 1997; Green and Mesaki, 2005; Niehaus,
2005, p. 506). Irrespective of what happens to alleged witches, all face recat-
egorization as essentially ā€˜otherā€™. Witches harbour immoral attributes and
desires. Their opposition to the social good is such that witches physically
embody the inverse of normal human attributes, walking upside down, adopt-
ing nocturnal habits, and eating human ļ¬‚esh (Green, 1997, 2005). The social
and institutional processes which create the possibilities for categorization are
oriented towards the production of ā€˜witch-othersā€™ (Ciekawy, 1998, p. 120).
It is the othering possibilities of witchcraft which situate it as a strategy
within family conļ¬‚icts and which make witchcraft useful in situations where
social order is at stake. In converting kin to stranger, neighbour to demon,
allocations and entitlements are profoundly redrafted.
The witch as pre-existing outsider, exempliļ¬ed by the in-marrying wife
within the wider family, is giving way to the witch insider as notions of
signiļ¬cant family contract. In Zambia, the anthropologist Elizabeth Colson
found that fathers were now liable to be accused of witchcraft by their adult
sons and daughters, something previously unimaginable when she had ļ¬rst
undertaken research during the 1960s (2000). In Malawi and southern Africa
witchcraft disputes are now used as a means of converting the moral con-
tent of relationships, transforming kin into strangers and those closest and
between whom mutual obligations existed into mortal enemies (Peters, 2002;
Niehaus, 2005). What seems to be happening in witchcraft in many countries
is an increasing emphasis on the potential for witchcraft within closer groups
of kin (Douglas, 1999; Ashforth, 2005). The dynamics of witchcraft provide
coherent commentaries on core social values, not only about what sociality
is and hence its antithesis, the witch, but by extension concerning the moral
content of social relations. It is not then surprising that where witchcraft is
utilized against non-kin co-residents within small-scale communities it retains
an explicit concern with moral sociality. Isaak Niehaus describes the social
context of a spate of accusations of witchcraft against neighbours in a rural
community in South Africa during the 1990s. Apart from the escalating vio-
lence with which alleged witches were confronted, and the very real threat of



320
Social Distribution of Sanctioned Harm

severe penalties, including homicide, they faced, the targeting of accusations
was notable. Victims of accusation were not only elderly and income poor,
they had few dependants. Most lived alone (2005, pp. 200ā€“1).
Niehaus, in an inverted reference to Jane Guyerā€™s classic account of ā€˜wealth
in peopleā€™, that is the importance of dependants in relations of social sta-
tus and power in West Africa (1996), calls this ā€˜poverty in peopleā€™ (2005,
p. 201). Yet these elderly people were not yet destitute. On the contrary, they
seemingly made ends meet and managed to maintain themselves and their
social existence without recourse to support from kin and neighbours. It was
the apparent self-reliance of these poor individuals which aroused suspicions
of witchcraft. How could they maintain themselves alone, without someone
to help them? With no grandchildren to fetch and carry? With no helping
hands in the ļ¬elds or in the house? Surely such people must be in control
of zombies, the mindless bodies of other people, to undertake this work in
secret. Witchcraft here provides a tool for the creation of a moral boundary
between witch and victim, moral villager and amoral demon, but it is also
being used to make clear statements about how people should live. Aloneness
is negatively valued in general. Combined with self-reliance it becomes an
affront. The refusal of these older people to become enmeshed in relations of
reciprocity and dependency by for example taking in children to help them
challenged the normativity of mutual asking for assistance which was highly
threatening to other poor people in the community. Witchcraft discourse in
these examples and in the strategies of older persons to do without depen-
dants was negatively viewed not merely as antisocial, but as creating atomized
households, without social tiesā€”the very kinds of households which are
the basis of economic theories of the modern social imaginary. The parallel
between witchcraft, individualism, and the market values of consumption is
acknowledged in popular representations of witches throughout Africa (e.g.
Englund, 1996; Sanders, 2001).


14.6. Poverty and Social Ordering

Witchcraft discourses, in Africa and elsewhere, are commentaries on sociality
and hence on the ways in which society as a network of relationships is
organized. Like development theories of society, with which they contrast,
they represent normative orderings which are morally weighted. This order-
ing emphasizes the relations of interdependency between people, indeed
dependency and responsibility for others as core values. Wealth in people,
patronage and clientelism, and the values of kinship are part of this discourse,
which is articulated symbolically through the cultural emphasis on food
and feeding, inclusive kinship, and extended visiting. In this visioning of
social order, households are not perceived as isolated units engaging with



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other households through market institutions. Neither is there a categorical
separation between spheres of production, reproduction, and exchange. These
separations are in fact in the process of being created through global incor-
poration and the international development policies which require modern
social ordering, that is the division between conceptual spheres of economy,
public sphere, and the private, to be operationalized (Mitchell, 2002; Taylor,
2004). It is these orderings, with their categorical delineation of households
and restricted vision of the social, which both require poverty and create it as
a problem to be solved through economic transformation.
A consequence of extant economic transitions and the development polices
which promote them is to make the market the institutional cornerstone
of social organization and, in the process, to render extensive non-market
systems of social allocation unsustainable. A result is the increasing tension
between social values of inclusion and mutual obligation, and the burden
of support for individuals and families who depend on cash for their liveli-
hoods. In situations where there is no alternative but to shrink the family,
and hence the pool of obligations, individuated households are being cre-
ated, through such strategies as witchcraft differentiation, contributing to
the creation of the kinds of households as economic agents which conform
to the social imaginary of modern capitalism (Wallerstein and Smith, 1992,
p. 13). Similar processes of household creation and shrinkage were set in
train by the aggressive social policies of industrializing France and England in
the nineteenth century, which sought to establish the productive individual
enmeshed within the capitalist economy and to ensure the institutional sep-
aration between the organizational spheres of production, reproduction, and
exchange (Donzelot, 1979; Williams, 1981; Polanyi, 2001; Block and Somers,
2003). These processes of social reorganization required by the separation of
economy were for the ļ¬rst time managed by the state. Social policy was born
out of the need to create a national economy as an object of policy and
management, an economy which depended on the isolation of households
as units of engagement and through which populations could be reproduced
as labour power. Gender as an organizing principle came into play here,
with the ideal of the male household head as provider for a family and
household reinforced through regulation which restricted womenā€™s access to
labour markets and their entitlements to independent social support.
Such organization makes capitalist integration into global markets possible,
creating economic opportunities for poor people in poor countries to become
part of global value chains in which their product or labour can provide them
with some kind of income. It does not necessarily address the problem of
chronic poverty because the social determination of value means that agents
at the bottom of the global economy cannot determine their worth within it.
The implicit theory of social relations in which poverty discourse is embedded
rests on the categorical divisions of modernity, economy, public, and private.



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Social Distribution of Sanctioned Harm

Dependency becomes imagined as hierarchical relationship between unpro-
ductive persons, who are thus not economic agents, and household heads,
breadwinners, market agents. Because dependency is imagined as one way
and as the drain of the unproductive on the productive and hence as a cost,
it is represented as illegitimate. Indeed, the only valorized activity within this
social model is productive, in the sense of producing goods which have market
values for exchange. In this construction, the problem of poverty is a problem
ļ¬rst and foremost of households as economic units in which relations of
interdependency and mutual responsibility are privatized.
As individuation proceeds within this model relations within households
become contested as dependency is further delimited in the drive to pro-
ductivity. In Western societies it is not family division due to witchcraft
allegations so much as divorce which creates new atomized households. In
the words of Ulrich Beck, ā€˜It is not social position but divorce which is the
trap door through which women fall into the ā€œnew povertyā€ . . . the spiral of
individualisation is thus taking place inside the familyā€™ (1992, p. 89; my empha-
sis). Legitimate dependency becomes morally loaded and conļ¬ned to the
categories of acceptable dependants: children, the elderly, and people whose
disabilities prevent them from achieving the economic ideal of self-reliance
(Fraser and Gordon, 1994; Adair, 2002). Livelihoods discourses in develop-
ment documentation and research are based on these kinds of representations
(e.g. Scoones, 1998). As individuals strive to earn a living in a liberalized
economic order, those deemed unproductive risk destitution. Policies which
foster individuation and investment in individual human capital, such as the
promotion of secondary education, may promote the betterment of some
individuals but in diverting investment away from supporting other social
categories of dependants actually drive the socially differentiating processes
of impoverishment and destitution. 6



14.7. Conclusion: Durable Poverty and Destitution

I have argued that chronic poverty as a concept is useful in highlighting
the intractability of poverty, and hence confronting assumptions inherent
in theories about growth. Chronic poverty as a framing device has limited
explanatory power. It cannot explain why some people stay poor, nor isolate
the institutional relations which allocate social costs and beneļ¬ts inequitably
across social categories, indeed which create and reproduce the very social
categories to which positive and negative entitlements accrue. Further, in
prioritizing duration rather than depth it does not adequately differentiate
6
Beck makes a similar argument for the kinds of social policies and processes which
foster individuation, and which therefore render old social models, about gender relations
for example, impractical in the sense that they no longer work in practice (1992).



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