Peaks, Troughs and Traps: Exploring the Dynamics of Intergenerational Poverty through the Life Histories of Women in Burkina Faso

Chen, Tammy (2014). 'Peaks, Troughs and Traps: Exploring the Dynamics of Intergenerational Poverty through the Life Histories of Women in Burkina Faso' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, 2-5 September 2014, Athens, Greece.

In recent decades, there has been a renewed interest in poverty and its reduction in development thinking (World Bank, UN Millennium Goals, 2000). The World Bank has made reducing poverty among the poorest people a global priority, as they hope to 'halve, between 1990 and 2015, the proportion of people whose income is less than $1 a day'. In addition to the efforts made to reduce poverty, researchers and development workers have developed new methods to conceptualize, measure and analyze poverty. Emphasis is now being placed on understanding individual's experiences of poverty and moves away from the income/consumption-based and asset-based basic needs approaches most prevalent between the 1960s to 1980s. This is most evident in the World Bank's study Voices of the Poor (Narayan et al., 1999, 2000) which sought to represent the voices of individuals from 58 countries in the developing world and explore the differences and similarities of poor people's experiences of poverty. Lending to this shift in thinking about poverty is Amartya Sen's conceptualization of development as the expansion of human capabilities (1984, 1990, 1999), which allows people to define what poverty means to them because they are seen as individuals whose values and opinions matter (Sen, 1999). My doctoral thesis will incorporate a 'thinking small' (Hulme, 2004) approach and will pair it with an inter-generational focus given that there is a gap in the literature regarding the duration of poverty (Clark & Hulme, 2010) by combining elements from the Capabilities Approach and the Chronic Poverty Approach as a framework. Most studies provide a snapshot of poverty but this study will examine family groups of two to three generations of Burkinabe women and analyze their experiences in poverty, which will provide valuable insight on the intergenerational dynamics of poverty at the micro level.

The purpose of this young scholar's presentation is to set out a theoretical framework and to develop a methodology intended to help guide my Ph.D research. I have chosen Sen's Capability Approach (CA) and the Chronic Poverty Approach (CPA) because these two approaches together offer a valuable lens for examining complex issue like poverty. Sen's CA (1984, 1985, 1999) contends that we should view poverty and well-being in terms of human capabilities or opportunities to achieve positive freedoms, such as being able to live a long life, eat well, attain literacy, participate in community life and achieve self-respect (Sen, 1984). The value of this framework is that it recognizes that poverty and well-being are multidimensional phenomena that cannot be reduced to income alone. To address the generational aspect of my research I will use the CPA, which embraces time in terms of duration as an important aspect of poverty (Hulme & Shepherd, 2003; CPRC, 2007). More specifically, the CPA moves away from focusing on poverty trends (i.e headcounts of the poor) and instead, analyzes 'the factors that (1) trap people in persistent poverty, (2) allow others to move in or out of poverty over time, and (3) enable some people to escape poverty indefinitely' (Hodgett & Clark, 2011, 170). Combining the CA and CPA offers a richer, more nuanced understanding of the dynamics and diversity and multidimensionality of poverty.

The methodology for this research has been influenced by Anirudh Krishna's (2010) 'Stages of Progress' methodology, which helps identify context specific reasons associated with movements into or out of poverty. It is meant to serve as a yardstick in assessing households' relative well-being by measuring their assets over time. For this research, the Stages of Progress methodology has been mixed with other participatory methods, including community mapping exercises, semi-structured interviews, life histories and photo-elicitation. The methodology is an exhaustive multi step procedure designed to include participants in each step of the data collection process. In recent years, a strong case has been made that knowledge about poverty should focus on the understandings of poor people and the concepts that they utilize (Chambers, 1997). Photo-elicitation will be used as a method to collect and gain an understanding of women's perceptions of poverty, community mapping will be used as an exercise to identify household categories of well-being and ill-being, and life histories will be used as a tool to analyze individual and generational well-being and ill-being. These combined methods will help us think about different dimensions relating to poverty 1) how women and not entire households experience poverty mobility, 2) women's perceptions on poverty, 3) women's perspectives on their own agency and barriers, 3) the psychological dimensions that shape women's poverty.


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