Poverty as Ideology

Rescuing Social Justice from Global Development Agendas

Andrew Martin Fischer


An incisive critique of how the field of international poverty studies, cultivated by global development agendas, has served to legitimate an increasingly punitive and conservative neoliberal world order.

Winner of the International Studies in Poverty Prize awarded by the Comparative Research Programme on Poverty (CROP) and Zed Books

Poverty has become the central focus of global development efforts, with a vast body of research and funding dedicated to its alleviation. And yet, the field of poverty studies remains deeply ideological and has been used to justify wealth and power within the prevailing world order. Andrew Martin Fischer clarifies this deeply political character, from conceptions and measures of poverty through to their application as policies.

Poverty as Ideology shows how our dominant approaches to poverty studies have, in fact, served to reinforce the prevailing neoliberal ideology while neglecting the wider interests of social justice that are fundamental to creating more equitable societies. Instead, our development policies have created a ‘poverty industry’ that obscures the dynamic reproductions of poverty within contemporary capitalist development and promotes segregation in the name of science and charity. Fischer argues that an effective and lasting solution to global poverty requires us to reorient our efforts away from current fixations on productivity and towards more equitable distributions of wealth and resources.

This provocative work offers a radical new approach to understanding poverty based on a comprehensive and accessible critique of key concepts and research methods. It upends much of the received wisdom to provide an invaluable resource for students, teachers and researchers across the social sciences.

Author Bio

Andrew M. Fischer is associate professor of social policy and development studies at the Institute of Social Studies (ISS). He has worked with and advised various multilateral agencies and NGOs, including the United Nations Development Programme, UNICEF, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch. His previous books include The Disempowered Development of Tibet in China (2014) and State Growth and Social Exclusion in Tibet (2005).

Table of Contents

  • 1. Introduction: Poverty, Ideology and Development
  • 2. Unpeeling the Politics of Poverty Measures
  • 3. Money-metric Measures of Poverty
  • 4. Multidimensional Measures of Poverty
  • 5. The Social Exclusion Approach
  • 6. Locating Modern Poverty within the Creation and Division of Wealth: Towards a Structuralist and Institutionalist Political Economy Approach in Poverty Studies
  • 7. Social Policy and the Tension between Identification and Segregation within Social Ordering and Development
  • 8. Conclusion: Poverty as Ideology in an Age of Neoliberalism


'In this deep critique of global poverty studies, Andrew Fischer shows how dodgy methods and metrics and wishful thinking combine to place scholarly analysis of poverty in the effective service of economic orthodoxy and neoliberal policies. Informed by the author's own field research and spectacular command of the literature, Poverty as Ideology is an instant landmark.'
James K. Galbraith, The University of Texas at Austin.

‘A timely, spirited, critical dismantling of the poverty business, complete with thoughtful suggestions for its alternatives. Of great value to students and practitioners alike.’
Barbara Harriss-White, Oxford University (Emeritus)

‘In this important work, Fischer shows how concepts and measures of poverty come with underlying ideologies and politics. This lays the basis for a truly transformative approach, explicitly bringing in the politics of social justice.’
Jayati Ghosh, Jawaharlal Nehru University

‘Fischer does a wonderful job in linking technocratic approaches to poverty reduction, which try to eschew questions of politics and power, to neoliberal hegemony. His critique is powerful and convincing. Highly recommended.’
Ray Kiely, Queen Mary University of London

‘This award winning book shows that global poverty and what we know about it is much more contentious than is ever recognised in the headlines. A must-read for anyone who cares about global poverty and inequality.’
Andy Sumner, King’s College London

‘A bracing challenge to contemporary approaches to poverty and exclusion. No matter your point of view, Fischer will make you rethink what you thought you knew.’
Gary Dymski, Leeds University Business School

‘In this landmark contribution, Fischer uncovers the ideological foundations of poverty and poverty measurement, going beyond critique and deconstruction to spell out a radical alternative. Perceptive and profound, this is essential reading.’
Jamie Peck, University of British Columbia


Publication Date: 15 December 2018
336 pages

Product ISBNs: Paperback: 9781786990440
Hardback: 9781786990457
eBook ePub: 9781786990471
eBook PDF: 9781786990464
eBook Kindle: 9781786990488

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