Chronic Poverty and the problem of agency: the awkward potential of the enabling state


Chronic poverty results from multiple exclusions. Turning exclusion into inclusion, poverty into wealth, requires effective ways and means. But ideas about how wealth and poverty come about as well as ideas about instruments of intervention and agency are founded upon three quite different kinds of understanding about coordination in society. Cultural Theory suggests that individualist, hierarchical and group biases underlie market thinking, bureaucratic thinking and NGO thinking and are, in essence, incompatible. Each kind of thinking has its own explanation of poverty and exclusion and can be linked to ideologies of development (if one revives an Anarcho-Syndicalist view). Each can claim a strategy for inclusion. One will tend to dominate, yet pure institutional forms do not exist and all development work seems always to require working across boundaries. The interface between types of organisation will always be awkward; the point at which transaction costs will mount up and 'partnerships' falter. For state or other central agencies, a successful enabling role requires the understanding of other 'mind sets' or, failing that, a willingness to find standard, pre-negotiated formula that work. The theme is illustrated with well-known instances of programmes or projects that depend upon effective links between the incompatible, including the Indian IRDP programme (which links bureaucratically delivered productive assets and subsidy with market exposure) and the Grameen Bank model of credit administration (which links bureaucratic bank administration to savings groups). The paper concludes with the argument that an effective enabling strategy requires standardisation around 'happy' solutions where possible and extensive learning. But the enabling state can easily slip into endless moralising on the one hand and resource consuming 'policy development' on the other.


Chronic Poverty and the problem of agency: theawkward potential of the enabling state presented at Staying Poor: Chronic Poverty and Development Policy, Institute for Development Policy and Management, University of Manchester, 7-9 April 2003. Chronic Poverty Research Centre (CPRC), Manchester, UK, 21 pp.

Chronic Poverty and the problem of agency: the awkward potential of the enabling state

Published 1 January 2003