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Social movements and chronic poverty across the urban-rural divide: concepts and experiences

Diana Mitlin
Anthony Bebbington


This paper develops a series of arguments regarding the contribution of social movements to the reduction of chronic poverty in both urban and rural social contexts, building on the more specific arguments developed in CPRC Working Papers Nos. 63 and 64). This short, more analytically oriented summary identifies some of the critical conceptual and strategic issues raised in those two papers. The discussion gives special attention to those aspects on which there is an emerging consensus between the urban and rural analysis. The summary is divided into three sections addressing: the relevance of social movements to the chronically poor; social movements and the representation of the chronically poor; and the interaction between the state and movements of the poor, with a special focus on the influence of social movements on policy and politics. Our discussion suggests that the power of social movements lies less in their ability to influence the specifics of policies and programmes, and rather more in their capacity to change the terms in which societies debate poverty and social change, and to influence the types of development and policy alternatives that are considered legitimate in a given social and political context. While our discussion argues that movements are essential actors in a chronic poverty agenda, the combined effects of neo-liberalism and the internal constraints on movements, requires that we remain cautious about the capacities of social movements to shift fundamental processes of exploitation, most notably those related to the underlying processes of contemporary capitalism. While social movements seem able to achieve limited political gains in these contexts, these gains modify, but do not significantly change, the processes that determine the creation of poverty and, in some cases, social exclusion.

Publication Type(s)

CPRC Working Paper


concepts policy politics adverse incorporation social movements

ISBN: 1-904049-64-8


Social movements and chronic poverty PDF 190.2 KB

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