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Beck, Anthony (1991) Poverty and power: Survival of the poorest in three villages of West Bengal, India. PhD thesis. SOAS University of London. DOI:

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This thesis examines the relation between power and poor people's agency. It does so through critical review of the literature on theories of poverty, and through a comparative analysis of three villages in two contrasting regions of West Bengal, India. Chapters two and three compare two theoretical approaches to poverty. Chapter two notes the connection between the ideology of poverty measurement in nineteenth century Britain and twentieth century India, and discusses mainstream literature on the Indian political economy which concentrates on the poor. The chapter locates a common theme in these two literatures, which are seen to conceptualise the poor as passive and lacking agency. Chapter three considers an alternative theoretical approach, that is literature concerning the dimension of human agency. In particular it analyses the tradition of 'people's history', which conceptualizes the poor as active participants in the making of their societies, as well as contemporary discussion of poor people's participation in rural development. Chapter four gives a background to agrarian West Bengal in terms of history, agro-ecology, agrarian differentiation and politics. Chapter five describes the two study regions, the three study villages, and the methodology used in the field. It also outlines the method of categorization of village households employed in the thesis. The next two chapters present the field work data. Chapter six evaluates the effectiveness of irrigation facilities introduced into the main study village as a means of examining how external resources are mediated through village power structure. The evaluation analyses the relation between irrigation, the local agro-ecology, and power structure. The main benefits of the programme accrued to the village elite, and benefits to the poor were negligible. Chapter seven focusses on poverty as experienced by the poorest, and poorest people's priorities. In contrast to chapter six, it details indigenous efforts at 'development'. It discusses five types of strategies used by sixty purposively selected poorest households that were crucial to their survival: use of common property resources, management of food, sharerearing of livestock, sale of assets, and informal organization into mutual support networks. Poorest people exploited both social and natural resource bases in an attempt to 'negotiate' a better quality of life for themselves within local socio-economic structures. The conclusion stresses the importance of understanding the ways in which the abilities of the poor are conceptualised, and argues that rural development may be more successful if it attempts to understand and build on indigenous strategies already in use by the poor.

Item Type: Theses (PhD)
SOAS Departments & Centres: SOAS Research Theses > Proquest
DOI (Digital Object Identifier):
Date Deposited: 16 Oct 2018 15:09

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