The embodied character of poverty, and gendered disadvantage, has not been adequately recognised in development policy debates, and it is argued here, through an application to labour-intensive public works programmes, that a fuller consideration of embodiment is a good way to think about how the kind of work offered in employment schemes may enhance or impair well-being. The promise of public works for poverty reduction, through an embodiment lens, is examined through reviewing the evidence on identities of participants, considering differential returns to work on public works, and the factors mediating how effort intensive work on employment schemes is transformed into personal well-being or transferred to others. Questions emerge around targetting, male gender identities, and the universal appropriateness of social policy approaches based on employment. Poor relief has historically aimed to chasten and train the poor through work, and contemporary domestic social policy in the UK and USA increasingly emphasises access to social support through work. This paper argues that these are especially inappropriate in contexts of rural poverty in the south where heavy manual work in public works may impair wellbeing of participants, and that research which foregrounds embodiment is necessary to reveal the extent and location of such dangers.
DFID, London, UK, 20 pp.