21.1. From poverty economics to global social policy : a sociology of aid for poverty reduction

Public examination of a doctoral dissertation in the field of sociology

Doctoral candidate: Timo Voipio, M.Soc.Sc.

Date and venue: Friday 21.1.2011, at 12.00 noon, in room ML3, Medistudia, Kuopio Campus


In conventional economic and social analyses of political struggles, the actions taken by actors are usually explained by their motivation to maximize their material or political self-interest. This study is based on the institutional view that human action is driven not only by interests but also by ideas. Especially in complex situations of ‘Knightean uncertainty’, such as global poverty reduction, where nobody can really calculate his or her self-interest based on complete information and rational calculus, people tend to base their choices on shortcuts and coping devices of ‘bounded rationality’ such as habits, worldviews and mental maps, rather than on rational calculus.

What has been missing in institutional analysis is theorizing on the interaction of interests, ideas and identities. This study makes and verifies the following propositions:

1) Ideas are important economic goods with highly asymmetric markets;

2) Professional identity constrains the effective use of ideas;

3) Not only material interests but also professional identities and interests determine how agents behave;

4) Interests are socially constructed – strong organizations can change what individuals and states want;

5) Individuals and organisations are motivated by a complex mix of sometimes conflicting preferences;

6) In situations of great uncertainty ideas and identities, rather than interests determine how agents act;

7) Aid implementation should not be left to economists and diplomats alone;

8) A ‘rare moment’ at the turn of the Millennium cracked the illusion of consent among the development economists;

9) Professionals of development and care should be aware of the crisis within the economics profession – and not take for granted routine assumptions based on outdated economics.

A gradual but irreversible shift seems to be taking place in the politics and practice of global poverty reduction: from a monopolistic dominance of poverty economics towards multi-dimensional and multi-disciplinary Global Social Policy, always tailored to the context.

Keywords: poverty, development, economics, development economics, social policy, global social policy, World Bank, Tanzania, institutional analysis, historical institutionalism, interest, idea, identity

For further information, please contact Timo Voipio, tel. +358 40 778 2954, email: timo.voipio@formin.fi

Publishing year: 2011

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