Research projects under Poverty Politics

This page presents ongoing and recent research projects under Poverty Politics

The projects below are current research projects under the Poverty Politics Research Group


Brazil - Margit Ystanes

The postdoctoral project Trust as a precondition for socio-economic development – what can we learn from the case of Brazil? explores the relationship between trust, inequality and economic development. It is more or less taken for granted that trust is a crucial component in the workings of both societies and the economy. At the same time, dominant economic ideology emphasises that a degree of inequality is necessary to stimulate investment, hard work, economic growth – and consequently, good societies.  The coexistence of these two assumptions with regards to the workings of the economy and societies is contradictory, for existing perspectives in trust research also emphasise that trust cannot be a feature of relationships marked by power differences. Thus, it would appear that both trust and inequality are preconditions for economic growth, yet cannot occur simultaneously. How these contradictory ideas can coexist represents something of a riddle. These contradictory ideas are therefore critically scrutinised through an exploration of their historical trajectories and social embeddedness, as well as the cultural conditions for Brazil’s simultaneous economic rise and efforts to reduce inequality. More specifically, the empirical focus is on the implementation of the conditional cash transfer programme Bolsa Familia, as well as its reception among various social sectors in the strongly hierarchical Brazilian society. Further information can be found at the project website


India - Vigdis Broch-Due

The regional state of Kerala, India provides a unique setting for exploring both the complexity of factors embedded in poverty-producing processes, and the impact of poverty reducing polices on very different groups of poor peoples (the so-called “scheduled casts”, “tribals” and the “impure”). Not only does this heterogeneous category labelled “the poor” contain groups with radically different socio-cultural profiles in terms of ethnicity, class, religion, kinship, gender and property-rights regimes, it also embrace very complex livelihood systems. The natural environment is at the interface between the land and the sea, where a wide array of ecosystems of terrestrial, inter tidal, riverine and marine origin meet and interact. To survive, poor peoples draw on a diversity of activities work such as fishing, fuelwood collection, farming, animal husbandry and petty trading. This complexity increases greatly at the household level where members typically engage in different income-generating activities. Moreover, much of the poverty in Kerela is “interstitial” - pockets of poverty hidden amidst the development and relative wealth that is often found in coastal areas in India.


Kenya -  Vigdis Broch-Due

"The History of Changing Environments, Poverty and Gender Relations Among Pastoralist Groups in Northern Kenya and Southern Ethiopia", running from 2004 until 2014.  Since the former Norwegian prime minister, Gro Brundtland launched the "sustainable development" strategy in 1987, environmental programs have become the major forms of foreign interventions in the so-called South. Integral to these interventions is the reinvention of the Malthusian idea that poverty and the problems of population is a cause, as well as an effect, of environmental problems. More recently, the effects of climate change, particularly on the drylands like those dominating the geography of much of Eastern Africa, have been added to the list of forces contributing to degrading environments. Thus, a combination of more frequent droughts, depletion of natural resources, negative population dynamics related to resource competition, armed conflicts and creeping poverty - all threatens the development of more prosperous and peaceful pastoralists communities locally, and undermines the growth of the national tourists economies erected around wild life and the rich cultural heritage of the diverse peoples in Northern Kenya and Southern Ethiopia. Thus, not surprisingly, the region sports a long history of intervention to fix such environmentally related problems, dating back to the colonial times. However, it has become increasingly clear that these interventions themselves often have direct and far-reaching consequences for the distribution of wealth and poverty in the communities targeted. It is this pattern of interventions and their related economic, political social and symbolic impacts on disadvantaged groups that form the central focus of the proposed research project. The project builds on previous research by Prof. Broch-Due whose experience in the region now spans 3 decades. It also incorporates a research team consisting of local field researchers, MPHIL and PhD students. The dry savannah of Northern Kenya and Southern Ethiopia constitute a perfect environment for exploring these important issues. The diverse pastoralist groups – Turkana, Pokot, Samburu and Borana on the Kenyan side of the border, and Ngiyangatom amd Mursi on the Ethiopian side – and the range of administrative districts and land-use systems involved make this multinational location perfect for this project. It explores historically and comparatively the ways in which these diverse pastoralists communities’ complex links to landscape––both material and meaningful–– have been shifting since the onset of colonialism in Kenya and the empire of Menelik in Ethiopia. Since then these pastoralists communities on the Kenyan side of the border have had first to confront the huge confiscation of land converted into ranches and farms by European Settlers, accompanied by taxation, labour migration, dislocation schemes engineered by the colonial state –interventions that all had detrimental effects on the local livestock economies. More recently, Turkana, Pokot, Samburu and Borana together with their Ethiopian counterparts, Nyangatom and Murle, have had to confront, with increasing frequency, the interests of wildlife, forestry, water and soil conservation projects, both public and private; tourism and the competing discourses of western and national environmentalists. The varying definitions of ‘nature’, ‘wealth’ and ‘want’ these different actors bring into their mutual encounters, interact and influence one another, profoundly shaping ensuing political struggles over resource flows. Attention will be given to a significant dimension embedded in the outcomes of such struggles: notably the restructuring of gender and class relations, - usually to the disadvantage of the poor and the pastoralist livelihood. The project includes Vigdis Broch-Due as project leader, Adamson Lanyasunya as field coordinator, Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS)as an affiliated partner, the PhD candidates Mellese Madda Gatisso, Thor Erik Sortland and Elias Bedasso and the MA/MPHIL students Marianna Betti, Lise Solvoll and Silje Vaage.


Malawi - Jessica Mzamu

The current PhD project entitled "Can the “Poor” Influence policy? An Anthropological analysis on Conceptualisation of “Food Security” explores the complex and contested discourses and practices that collect around food issues and “poverty” policy processes during their interpretation and implementation among the Chewa of Malawi. Specifically, the project rests on an ethnographic foundation among the matrilineal Chewa people of Lilongwe District. Thus, in building context progressively and at different scales and levels, this multi-sited research project examines how the politics and policies surrounding “poverty” and “food security”, as formulated at global and national level, articulate with Chewa experiences of these issues. In particular, macro and micro policy initiatives by Bi/Multilateral donor agencies such as the World Bank/IMF and UNDP, Government departments and some NGOs involved in the formulation of the Food Security Policy as well as their documented sources have been analysed in this research with reference to the Chewa ethnographic base. Hence, in asking the broad question; can the “poor” Influence Policy? I examine how poverty discourses work? How hegemonic are they? What is their impact on local settings? What role do policy institutions play during their everyday work in making discourses work? Are meanings of concepts used in policy processes such as “food Security” or “poverty” interpreted in similar or different ways at different levels? How do the Chewa people contribute to these policy processes? Central to my research is an exploration of the struggle not only of scarce tangible resources but of the struggles of the meanings collected around time, money and goods, and how these interpretive struggles affect the decisions on food and cash crop production of the Chewa people.


Mozambique and Zimbabwe - Bjørn Enge Bertelsen

Entitled "Social imaginaries of death, suffering and accumulation. Urban spaces of insecurity and poverty in Mozambique and Zimbabwe", this postdoctoral project running until 2014 aims to grasp ongoing social conceptualizations of poverty in the urban contexts of Chimoio in Mozambique and Mutare in Zimbabwe. The project approaches this thematic through employing the notion of social imaginaries to ethnographically explore, analyse and represent these domains. As such, the research project contrast dominant trends within literature about the postcolonial world in general and in Africa in particular where the universalizing tropes of ‘slums’ and ‘poverty’ are constantly reproduced. Not merely being concepts that are crucial for establishing concerted understandings among agents of development in what is often called the global South, ‘slums’ and ‘poverty’ also comprise key components in an ever-expanding and increasingly dominant scholarly and public discourse on certain global regions.
Against such simplifying discourses and its continued implementation in concrete empirical contexts in the postcolonial world, this research project is premised on the existence of social orders, dynamics and processes that are irreducible to universal and universalizing templates of such discourses. However, such templates are powerful and may be seen to be produced by two types of forces: Firstly, the rhetoric and intervention of the development industry and its agents (NGOs, INGOs or other donor or aid bodies) or agencies that permeate local, regional, national and international postcolonial domains. Secondly, the state dynamics of the colonial and postcolonial eras that through different forms of intervention attempt to transform, reorder and engage the wider society. Very often constituting assemblages working together and being integral to wider and global transformations of the state order towards a more corporate state, the two types of forces effectively feed on and produce universal subjects in need of intervention – the poor.


Venezuela - Iselin Åsedotter Strønen

Strønen's PhD project focuses on grass root groups - so-called Community Councils- in the shantytowns of Caracas, Venezuela, and their interaction with the wider community and the state institutions. Through this ethnograpic point of departure, Strønen is analysing processes of social, political and cultural change in contemporary Venezuela.