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Toward an Economic Sociology of Chronic Poverty: Enhancing the Rigor and Relevance of Social Theory

Michael Woolcock


In recognizing that poverty is “multi-dimensional”, contemporary policy discourses – drawing on scholarship on ‘networks’, ‘exclusion’, and ‘culture’ – have made important (if often underappreciated) steps to incorporate insights from social and political theory, but these (hardwon) gains now need to be consolidated, advanced and sharpened. To build significantly on them, coherent theories of and useful policy responses to chronic poverty require attention to three additional (and interrelated) realms, which must cumulatively be able to (a) provide a clear but distinctive model of human behaviour, (b) explain how and why poverty persists as part of broader processes of economic prosperity and social change, (c) account for the mechanisms by which power is created, maintained and challenged, and (d) readily lend themselves to informing (and iteratively learning from) a new generation of supportable poverty reduction policies and practices. These three additional realms – social relations, rules systems, and meaning systems – are deeply grounded in a long tradition of social and political theory, and offer an opportunity to take a next step towards more faithfully incorporating the full richness of social science into poverty policy and practice.

Publication Type(s)

CPRC Working Paper


policy politics social relations

ISBN: 978-1-906433-12-4


Toward an Economic Sociology of Chronic Poverty PDF 216.2 KB

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