Saturday, February 13, 2010


A Spectre is haunting humans civilization, the spectre of poverty and social exclusion. It is haunting in the sense of the presence could be feel, seen and related everywhere in this face of the earth. And it is perceived as a spectre in the sense of multiinterpretation of the definitions. Therefore it is important to grip a better understanding on the concept of poverty and social exclusion. By this paper I will try to review two books that deal with such concept, Lister Ruth’s ‘Poverty’ and David Byrne’s ‘Social exclusion.’

First of all, It is worth noted that Lister said that the concept of Poverty is a construction of a specific societies , and because of its moral imperative and its implications for the distribution of resources both and within the societies, the definitions is highly contested (Lister, p.3). This views could be applied as well to the closely link concept of social exclusion concept, whereas the definitions cannot be separated from the political use to which they are used.

Lister favored on a fairly narrow, focused definition of poverty that distinguishes clearly between the states of poverty and non poverty. By this she focused to defining poverty in terms of low income and a low standard of living, or material aspects. Following her narrow definition tendency, she endorse the low income should remain central to any official measurement. Moreover, triangulation is needed to improve the accuracy of the operationalization of definitions of poverty (Lister p.50). In my opinion we should varied the poverty measurement from different aspects including material and non material, organized in a way to ensure different angles of poverty. Therefore multidimensional perspectives can be addressed in ways as seem fit.

Narrow definition is not enough for Lister argued also for a broader conceptualization that better captures the multifarious ways in which poverty is experienced (Lister, p.36). One of the perspectives on broader conceptualization of poverty is social exclusion approach by Byrne. Byrne lean to Madanipour approach when saying social exclusion as a multidimensional process, in which various forms of exclusion are combined: participation in decision making and political process, access to employment and material resources, and integration into common cultural process. And in aggregate, creates a forms of acute forms of exclusion that find a spatial manifestation in particular neighborhoods (Byrne; P.3). Here I can argued that poverty in a narrow sense were nested in a wider concept of social exclusion. But we have to bear in mind that there are other perspective on the relation between poverty and social exclusion.

There are two formulations of relations between poverty and social exclusion by Lister. First in a causal-sequential arrow, in which poverty can lead to social exclusion or the opposite directions. Second is the descriptive ways, which are nested or overlapping. Poverty could be seen as nested in the broad social exclusion concept, or social exclusion can be seen as the worst form of poverty. And overlapping conveys the idea that social exclusion and poverty shares the same aspects sometimes, this means a person can be excluded without being poor or being poor without being excluded (Lister p.83). Moreover she argued that social exclusion is better understood as a potentially illuminating concept and as a set of political discourses with a range of policy implications. It also can use to advances broad framework of analysis of poverty.

Lister listed two perspectives in dealing with poverty. First , individualistic where the main responsibility is the poor. Second, structuralist perspective in which the economic, social, culture, and political structures including their process create and perpetuate poverty (Lister, p.35). He also favored for a relative approach towards poverty, in which comparison between needs among society can be differed, at the same time he acknowledges the existence of universal absolute needs (Lister, p.36). In line with structure agency perspective of Lister, Byrne agreed with Veit Wilson regarding a very distinction between ‘weak’ and ‘strong’ version of the idea of social exclusion. Whereas in the ‘weak’ version of the discourse, the solutions lie in altering the excluded handicapping characteristics and enhancing their integration towards the dominant society. ‘Stronger’ forms of the discourse also emphasize the role of those who are doing the excluding and therefore aim for solutions which reduce the powers of exclusion (Byrne; P.5).

Both writers underlined the importance of interplay between structure and agency in the exposition of various aspects of poverty and social exclusion. Using the structural perspectives lens; poverty and inequality are seen as intertwined globally and within individual nation states. Moreover , poverty is also shaped by structured social divisions of social class, gender, race, disability, and spatial divisions. These divisions, in turn, mediate individuals passage through life course (Lister P.73). Meanwhile Byrne emphasized on the flexible postfordism capitalism that characterized current social exclusion. Social exclusion derives from inequality. It is a product of the postindustrial social order dominated by globalizing capital and the superclass. (Byrne; p.181). In my opinion, both of their views on the structural constraint can be seen as complementary, in which the base structure is the flexible postfordism capitalism and the social division occurred in the political, social and cultural as the supra structure.

Despite structural and cultural constraints, people in poverty do exercise agency as actors in their own lives. From everyday struggle of survival, conducting everyday resistance, trying to get and stay out from poverty, to the more collective forms and demands for participation in decision making that affects their lives (Lister p.157). One of Byrne basic tenets is to advocate the restoration of social organizations power especially the trade unions as the agency of self advancement (Byrne, p.181). Here we can see that Byrne see the most important agency is the trade union, but I also need to emphasized the needs to acknowledge other form of social organizations.

To address the moral imperative to eradicate poverty and deal with social exclusion, both writers in favor to address it in a structuralist and broader approach while Byrne proposing a more detailed effort. Lister argued that politics of poverty can be understood as politics of redistribution and as a politics of recognition and respects at its symbolic relations. Redistribution means resource and power distributions. Meanwhile recognition identified with the assertion of group difference and identity (Lister p.188). Both strategies belong to the same coin in which one should be done in line with the other. To be more concise Byrne propose the way to deal with the issue of poverty and social exclusion is through the proper taxation of high incomes and accumulated wealth with the revenues used to sustain a process of global development on a sustainable basis, coupled with a restoration of basic organizational rights to workers so that they can both resist job instability and reduce the levels of corporate profits and senior executive remuneration to the benefit of wage earners (Byrne; p.182). In addition Byrne advocating the idea of using sustainable city as the basis for a local politics against exclusion (Byrne;p.181).

To conclude, I agree with both writers in terms of acknowledging the structure and agency category underlying poverty and social exclusion, also understand change need to be done in the structural level. In my opinion, the concept of poverty and social exclusion is complementary whereas social exclusion can gave a wider and richer conceptualization to address poverty. Last, given the recognition of structural agency aspects, the effort to eradicate also needs to address both level of structural and agency.


1. Byrne, David (2005), Social Exclusion, Buckingham: Open University Press.

2. Lister, Ruth (2004), Poverty, Cambridge: Polity Press.

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