The Poverty Research Network

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By Julia McClure (HEC 2014-2015) (*)

In the Autumn of 2015 the Poverty Research Network was launched at the University of Warwick with the help and support of the Global History and Culture Centre, the Institute of Advanced Studies, and the Global Research Priority Group (GRP) on International Development. This research network aims to create a platform to discuss issues of social justice, structural inequalities and distributional politics. The network brings together scholars from different disciplines to compare the questions being asked and the methodologies and conceptual apparatus used in different fields of poverty research. It also seeks to facilitate dialogue between academics and practitioners and activists broadly working in the field of social justice. It has developed out of previous international collaborations at Harvard’s Weatherhead Initiative on Global History and the European University Institute, and has sort AHRC funding to develop international collaboration with poverty research at local levels.

We held a preliminary workshop to discuss the implications of the terminology dominating in our different fields of research, poverty, inequality, precarity, austerity, and what issues these different terms relate to. The workshop was attended by researches from across sociology, law, politics, and history. The poverty research network is part of the Global History and Culture Centre and aims to historicise contemporary global and local social justice issues in order to deepen our understanding of the way they are caused and maintained. The interdisciplinary context enables us to see fresh perspectives and to unpack the questions we ask and the assumptions we carry in our work.

Our inaugural lecture was by Jason Hickel, an anthropologist from LSE who has also written for The Guardian and Al Jazeera and whose work explores globalisation, finance, democracy, violence, and ritual. Hickel gave a thought provoking lecture onRethinking Development: How the aid industry misses the point about poverty.’ He demonstrated how the methodologies of anthropology and ethnography can be used to question the methodologies and rationalities of financial institutions such as the IMF, suggesting that such institutions generate strategies and supporting data which maintain inequality.

Our next lecture was delivered by Jonathan Glennie, director of sustainable development research at Ipsos MORI, and visiting fellow at the International Development Institute at King’s College London. Glennie has also worked at the Overseas Development InstituteSave the Children UK and Christian Aid, and is the author of The Trouble with Aid: Why Less Could Mean More for Africa and Aid, Growth and Poverty. He delivered a lecture for the poverty research entitled, The end of the beginning: Development cooperation in a new era’. We invited Glennie to encourage us to think of ways to improve dialogues between researchers and practitioners and the perspective needed for pragmatic decision making. This lecture was attended by undergraduate and postgraduate studies interested in careers in the Third Sector. We hope this will be the start of long-term collaborations!

Our second interdisciplinary workshop explored the ‘aesthetics of poverty’. It brought together researchers from the social sciences, history, and film studies. We heard presentations on the politics of representations of poverty from the Middle Ages to present day, from African leaper colonies to Chinese porcelain factories, from the late medieval Franciscan valorisation of the image of poverty to its use in contemporary fundraising. Santiago Oyarzabal and Michael Pigott presented their video installation looking at life on the margins in Argentina and the international film maker Emiel Marten presented his film Welcome to the Smiling Coast, a documentary about African tourism and migration. This highly stimulating event questioned the politics of representation whilst forging a new form of interdisciplinary collaboration. It encouraged us to think not only about the politics of poverty, but the politics of communication in a globalised world.

The poverty research network is co-founded by Julia McClure, a specialist of the history of poverty and charity in the Spanish Empire, and Andrew Jones, a specialist of humanitarianism, with the support of Anne Gerritsen, a specialist in the material culture of East Asia. The next workshop to be held in the 2016-2017 academic year is on ‘Empires of Charity’, investigating the long entanglement between forms of imperialism and charity. This workshop will extend the discussion to today’s phenomena of philanthrocapitalism, typified by the Bill Gates Foundation and Mark Zuckerberg’s planned medical research foundation. This workshop will discuss the relationship between charitable giving and social justice and continue to extend our understanding of distributional politics.

The network exists thanks to the institutional support offered by the Institute of Advanced Studies, the International Development GRP, and the Centre for Global History and Culture where it is based, as well as previous support from the EUI. This year the Centre for Global History and Culture at the University of Warwick is becoming an international hub of research into inequality with its 2017 Annual Research Conference focusing on global inequality.

The poverty research network plans to extend its interdisciplinary and international investigation into poverty research, to encourage dialogues between researchers, activists and practitioners, and to demonstrate the importance of critical historicisation of social justice issues. It is a forum for asking new questions and negotiating critical perspectives and insights. If you are interested in getting involved then please get in touch!

(*) The MWPBlog is a platform for MW Fellows and former Fellows to address scholarly topics and comment on current affairs. The thoughts expressed in the posts represent solely the views of the posting Fellows and not of the Max Weber Programme