Discussions of chronic poverty have emphasised the extent to which poverty is chronic because of the social relationships and structures within which particular groups of the poor are embedded. In this sense chronic poverty should be understood as a socio-political relationship rather than a lack of assets. In such an understanding, processes of social mobilisation become central to any discussion of chronic poverty because they are vehicles through which such relationships are argued over in society and potentially changed. Parting from this observation, the paper reviews the roles of social movements in addressing chronic poverty. It focuses on three domains in which such movements might influence chronic poverty. First, it discusses their roles in challenging the institutions, social structures and political economy dynamics that underlie chronic poverty. In this domain, movements can play potential roles in changing the conditions under which accumulation occurs and attacking relationships of adverse incorporation. They can also change the relationships that underlie processes of social exclusion. Second, movements have played important roles in the cultural politics surrounding chronic poverty. They have helped change dominant meanings associated with poverty, and influenced the ways in which the poor are thought of in society. Third, in some instances movements – and in particular social movement organisations – have direct impacts on the assets that poor people own and control.
CPRC Working Paper No. 63, School of Environment and Development, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK, 27 pp.