"I mean we're not the richest but we're not poor": discourses of 'poverty' and 'social exclusion'
thesisposted on 21.02.2011, 10:11 by Jan Flaherty
While people in poverty have long been included in social policy research the purpose has principally been to discover their experiences of poverty, with little attention paid to their own conceptualisations of poverty and social exclusion. This research used focus groups and in-depth individual interviews to explore the discourses of poverty and social exclusion with people identified as experiencing poverty, although this was generally a label they rejected. Due to recruitment through Sure Start Children's centres the sample of respondents were predominantly mothers of working age, although a number of men and non-parents also took part. The study, therefore, is not a representative sample of all people who may be associated with poverty but is an in-depth examination of some. Respondents reproduced many mainstream poverty discourses, including scepticism of real poverty existing in Britain and the othering of people who might be seen as 'poor'. 'Poverty' was formulated in extreme and 'absolute' terms and was perceived as occurring 'elsewhere': another neighbourhood, another country or historically. Dis-identification with 'poverty' was therefore accomplished in a number of ways, from its 'absolute' conceptualisation through to strategies of distancing and the presentation of socially positive subjectivities, such as 'good parent' and paid worker. In this way participants dis-identified with the characteristics and the label of 'poverty' but without denying economic and material hardships. People's discursive power therefore resided in their ability to renegotiate the label of poverty as one that was inapplicable to them and to redefine their difficult economic position in terms of 'managing'. The active concept of 'managing' allowed respondents to feel in control of their resources, however modest, and by extension maintain control over their choices and their lives. Not managing equated with failure and thus with 'poverty'. The fact that respondents described themselves as managing meant that by definition they were not in 'poverty' as they perceived it. 'Responsibility' was also a key concept to emerge, deployed by respondents to avoid social censure for their own economic circumstances whilst simultaneously reproving others for theirs. The research also found that the majority of respondents had not heard of 'social exclusion' and did not perceive of themselves as excluded. As such, it was a concept that had little resonance for people in the study. It is argued that the use of the word 'poverty' within a British context needs to be rethought if it is to have relevance for people experiencing socio-economic marginalisation. Alternative constructions within a human rights framework, such as a minimum living standard, may achieve greater recognition with people currently defined as experiencing poverty and as such lead to tangible demands for change.
- Social Sciences
- Communication, Media, Social and Policy Studies