I’ve signed a contract to deliver my next book by the end of this month. The working title is “The poverty of nations: a relational perspective”, and it develops an argument I’ve been building over the last few years about the relational elements of poverty – understanding poverty, not as a lack of resources or income, but as a set of social relationships. I posted, two years ago, the abstract of a paper on this general theme. Here is that abstract again:
Poverty is at root a relational concept, which can only be understood by locating the experience of poor people in the social and economic situation where they are found. This is not just saying that poverty is ‘relative’. Developments in policy and practice are increasingly focused on dynamic, relational and multi-dimensional understandings of poverty; our conceptual frameworks have failed to keep pace.
Much of the consideration of poverty in the course of the last hundred years, relative or absolute, has found it convenient to rely on three fallacies. The first is that poverty is a condition or state of being, which can be considered exclusively from the perspective of the individual who experiences it. The second is that can be understood solely in terms of resources, when resources themselves have to be understood in terms of social and economic relationships. The third is that there is a clear and decisive threshold below which people can be said to be poor, and above which they are not poor.
All of these positions are tenable – they are supported by many of the most eminent writers in the field – but they are not adequate, either as a way of describing the positions that people hold, or as a conceptual tool to analyse the issues. Discussions of exclusion, a concept which is self-evidently relational, come closer to the idea of poverty than much of the academic literature on poverty in itself, offering a way to escape from the limitations of conventional models of poverty.
The book will be out next year. It will be my twentieth, depending on how you count them, and the fourth since I left my post in 2015. People may be surprised at the short time between contract and delivery of the final copy. It’s been my practice for many years to write a book before I submit it. I started to do that early on, after working through the more conventional route of proposal and writing to order, only to find when I delivered the script at the end of two years the publisher thought that I should have written a different book. This way, I can guarantee is that we all end up with what we’re expecting to get.
I wouldn’t, however, advise any young academic to follow in my footsteps. The fact is that academic institutions don’t like books very much, or social policy, and don’t really rate either when it comes to counting the beans. When I left my employment, I was making a choice; I wanted to do more on poverty, benefits and social theory, and going independent was the best way to do it. I don’t regret it; in the last three years I’ve done four books, a few research contracts and a semester in Poland, which I loved. If anyone out there wants an academic career, however, you’ll all be better off writing bids for research funding.