The concept of poverty is an inadequate tool for making an accurate diagnosis of the situation of the neediest people. It encompasses and thereby obscures other social problems of paramount importance for policy-making. One of them is the deficit of social integration which turns people into dropouts. As we have pointed out (cf. supra), it is often this type of deficit rather than poverty that gives rise to “hunting” strategies. The fight against poverty would be more effective if it included the concepts of vulnerability, instability and insecurity. It would then be responsive to the situation of people who lack the security of a stable job or ownership. Vulnerability is manifested in constant instability and the need to live from hand to mouth. Some poor people may be thoroughly integrate -- this is the case of low-paid wage-earners, for example. Their difficulties can be solved by a wage increase. The idea of vulnerability expresses problems of social integration and reflects the weakness of the social bonds that are thought to encourage personal development.
The more we concentrate on the fight against poverty, the more we relegate to obscurity and oblivion the forces and processes that lead people towards poverty or keep them there. Why does each day see a rise in the numbers of the needy on every continent? Why is this happening in relatively rich countries like Argentina as well as in very poor countries like Bolivia? These questions are outside the frame of anti-poverty projects because it is generally accepted that neither economics nor politics are mentioned in discussions about poverty.
There is no mention of hierarchies or conflicts. Two major issues are usually absent from expositions and policies contained in documents advocating a “fight against poverty”. When diagnoses are made, it is never said that the poor are poor because they are part of social hierarchies and the ways in which these hierarchies are reproduced (and resources are concentrated). Strategies never take into account the conflicts inherent in the modification of hierarchies and processes (Øyen, 2000). Where will society find the resources to increase the share of product earmarked for education? How can pauperisation be halted without undermining the labour market and security of employment? How can peasants be given access to land? How can the environment and natural resources be protected without regulating the activities of the big companies that exploit these resources? These are issues that are generally mentioned in recommendations for a struggle against poverty, provided no questions are asked about the conflicts inherent in tackling them.
We thus propose a general framework of action for policies in an urban environment which will take these difficulties into account. The proposed framework is one of the most valuable results of the Cities Project experiment. 1. Poverty will not be treated as a problem concerning needy persons but as a problem concerning the society in which these persons live. 2. This starting point leads to recognition of the existence of poverty-generating processes that must be checked. These processes are connected with a hierarchical social
It will be impossible to eradicate or alleviate poverty without transforming
hierarchical relationships. These transformations inevitably involve conflicts.