Addressing Poverty and Climate Change: The Varieties of Social Engagement

| July 12, 2012

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In this article I propose to explore two issues. The first concerns what kinds of contributions academics can make to reducing poverty. I argue that academics can contribute in a number of ways, and I seek to spell out the diversity of the options available. I concentrate on four ways in which these contributions might differ. These differences concern: (1) whether their direct focus is on changing policies or on changing the behavior of the affluent or on empowering the disadvantaged (the target); (2) whether they seek to block specific harmful policies or to canvass particular beneficial policies (the negative/positive nature of the contribution); (3) whether their focus is on specific policies or whether they seek more generally to shape the way the issues that bear on poverty are framed (the specificity/generality of the contribution); and (4) the means by which academics can make a contribution (the modalities of social engagement). It is, I think, important to recognize this diversity. Some may be able to contribute in some ways but not in others; some may be better at some kinds of anti-poverty initiatives than they are at others; and some may be more willing to pursue some kinds of activities rather than others. Recognizing and describing the different options available to academics may encourage greater participation in all kinds of antipoverty action.

My second aim is to outline some norms that should inform any academic involvement in activities that seek to reduce poverty. I set out six proposals. These concern: (1) the need to construct coalitions among people with different ethical frameworks; (2) the value of constructing nonideal theory on the basis of our best understanding of an ideal world; (3) the need for integrated analysis that connects antipoverty initiatives to other areas of moral concern; (4) the vital importance of interdisciplinarity; (5) the need for epistemic modesty and revisability; and (6) the need for accountability.

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Category: Article, Development, Inequality, and Poverty, Issue 26.2, Special Issue: Academics Stand Against Poverty

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