Multidimensional Poverty Framework: Linking the Capabilities Approach to Sociological Poverty Concepts

Beycan, Tugce (2016). 'Multidimensional Poverty Framework: Linking the Capabilities Approach to Sociological Poverty Concepts' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Tokyo 2016.

abstract Poverty, multi-dimensionally, manifests itself for years in different ways among societies.  Traditionally the notion of poverty is often expressed and measured by scholars from a monetary perspective. However, the concept of monetary poverty covers only one part of the economic sphere of multi-dimensional poverty. As mentioned by many scholars in the literature there exist, apart from money, other elements (which cannot be bought by money) are extremely important for surviving and for leading a dignified and pleasant life. For instance, considering a woman living in a monetarily and materially affluent family because her husband earns good money but she is forced to not work (not economically active) and to not express her ideas in the public or even in her house. Another example, a relatively prosperous middle-class family possessing a number of electronical materials such as computer, Wi-Fi, cell phone, or other kitchen equipment and besides the family has a possibility to access public education and health services but parents suffer of social insecurity at their work such as unemployment risk or dangerous working conditions. From these two examples, we can have a picture of the powerless of money. In the 1980’s the inconveniences about considering poverty from, uniquely, a monetary vision has been expressed by the Nobel Prize laureate Amartya Sen with his Capability approach. Previously to Sen, the various difficulties of  life  as having no shelter, no food, no light, no fuel are assessed as poverty inputs by scholars measuring poverty; notably, the Victorian nutritionists, Booth’s (in the end of the 19th century), Rowntree’s (1901), Bowley & Burnett-Hurst & Tawney's (1915) poverty studies. In the 1970’s the sociologist Peter Townsend conceptualized poverty from a relative deprivation perspective by emphasizing the importance of social needs such as social participation in the society. However, in terms of measuring, the poverty outputs (statistics) are usually produced in a monetary framework, and computed in terms of income, expenditure, or consumption patterns. Opposing to this trend which was dominating the world at that time, Sen (1981) showed that the real liberty and freedom are the fundamental elements of the study of poverty, notably for southern countries. He distinguished the notions of being and doings i.e. how a person can become a person s/he wants to be, or can obtain/achieve what s/he wants to obtain/achieve. He distinctly defined poverty as the deficit of capabilities in the sense that the way that a person lacks of resources, opportunities, means, or the adequate environment to realize her/his doings and beings is a manifestation of poverty itself on which poverty studies should focus rather than on whether a person holds or not some items. In this sense, Sen brought an extremely important contribution for understanding poverty from a multidimensional, and particularly from an open minded scientific perspective. Meanwhile scholars from different disciplines have used his conceptual framework to measure poverty by employing different measurement techniques such as composite index, counting approach, or structural equation modelling. As far as the literature shows, the capability approach based studies are numbers oriented, focusing on aggregated poverty statistics by using (arbitrary) poverty lines and classifying each unit as poor or not poor.  The poverty indicators (corresponding to achievements) are usually used as proxies of capabilities by assuming that the achievement scores below the poverty thresholds are corresponding to the capability deficit. However, capabilities represent also the ensemble (and the combination) of resources, means, possibilities offered by a society to its members allowing them to cope with their achievement deficits.  Particularly for this reason, it is crucial to address the general public, researchers, and the policy makers about the patterns of these capabilities for showing how people are witnessing capabilities inside their societal system.   In this light, the goal of my work in progress is to link Sen’s capability approach with the field of sociology by addressing specifically three issues: (1) dividing the population study into two groups like poor and not poor produces a loss of information because it hides the people ‘who are not under the poverty line but they face some disadvantaged positions comparing to the most prosperous situation’, referred as ‘in-between’ population; (2) departing from ‘in-between’ population cases, showing that people witness different forms of poverty i.e. one unit, in a specified time period, can face simultaneously different forms of poverty; (3) the patterns of capabilities are an indication of to which extent the societal system  is capable to offer capabilities to its members (the power of societal system in terms of providing the real liberty to each society member by respecting and protecting the life of each citizen). While the main thrust of the contribution will be conceptual, empirical evidences on ‘in-between’ population, different forms of poverty, and capability pattern from selected upper middle-income countries (Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, and Turkey) will also be presented.   Keywords: Multidimensional poverty, capability pattern, ‘in-between’ population, forms of poverty, upper-middle income countries

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