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Poverty in Global Perspective: Is Shame a Common Denominator?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 January 2013

Department of Social Policy and Intervention, Oxford Institute of Social Policy, Barnett House 32 Wellington Square, OX1 2ER
Department of Women and Gender Studies, Makerere University, PO Box 7062, KampalaUganda email:
Department of Social Policy and Intervention, Oxford Institute of Social Policy, Barnett House 32 Wellington Square, OX1 2ER email:
Department of Social Policy and Intervention, Oxford Institute of Social Policy, Barnett House 32 Wellington Square, OX1 2ER email:
Oslo & Akershus University College of Applied Sciences, Norway email:
Department of Social Policy and Intervention, Oxford Institute of Social Policy, Barnett House 32 Wellington Square, OX1 2ER email:
Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences, Oslo, Norway email:
Institute of Rural Management, Anand, Gujarat 388001India email:
Department of Women and Gender Studies, Makerere University, PO Box 7062, KampalaUganda, email:
Institute of Rural Management, Anand, India email:
Institute of Sociology, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Jianguomen nei dajie 5, Beijing, China100732 email:


Focussing on the psychosocial dimensions of poverty, the contention that shame lies at the ‘irreducible absolutist core’ of the idea of poverty is examined through qualitative research with adults and children experiencing poverty in diverse settings in seven countries: rural Uganda and India; urban China; Pakistan; South Korea and United Kingdom; and small town and urban Norway. Accounts of the lived experience of poverty were found to be very similar, despite massive disparities in material circumstances associated with locally defined poverty lines, suggesting that relative notions of poverty are an appropriate basis for international comparisons. Though socially and culturally nuanced, shame was found to be associated with poverty in each location, variably leading to pretence, withdrawal, self-loathing, ‘othering’, despair, depression, thoughts of suicide and generally to reductions in personal efficacy. While internally felt, poverty-related shame was equally imposed by the attitudes and behaviour of those not in poverty, framed by public discourse and influenced by the objectives and implementation of anti-poverty policy. The evidence appears to confirm the negative consequences of shame, implicates it as a factor in increasing the persistence of poverty and suggests important implications for the framing, design and delivery of anti-poverty policies.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2013

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