Beyond PSO: More Poverty Theories of Change

photo of run-down house

At PSO, you discussed "Poverty Theories of Change" with your fellow VISTAs. To provide a deeper exploration of these theories, we are posting "Theories of Poverty and Anti-Poverty Programs in Community Development," the research article the session was sourced from. In it, former University of California, Davis community studies professor, Ted K. Bradshaw, notes that community anti-poverty programs have "infrequently examined the theories that underlie the dominant practices addressing poverty."

He suggests a more rigorous exploration of poverty theories is important and useful, for two key reasons. First, despite longstanding claims that poverty is an unsolvable problem ("the poor you shall always have among you"), there is good evidence that poverty can be significantly reduced by identifying its root causes and tailoring solutions to those causes. Second, whether we realize it or not, all anti-poverty programs operate from one or more theories about the cause(s) of poverty.

photo of volunteers renovating a house

Bradshaw observes that most scholarship on poverty groups the causes of poverty into two broad categories: individual deficiencies, and an assortment of cultural and structural barriers. He suggests these broad categories can be further broken down into five distinct theories that explain why people are poor. In turn, these theories can be tied to five distinct -- though sometimes overlapping -- approaches to addressing poverty.

photo of a newly renovated house

Bradshaw’s framework for the causes of and solutions to poverty is a useful tool for you as a VISTA to analyze and comprehend the anti-poverty philosophy behind your project and the specific tasks and responsibilities identified in your VAD.

Download the Bradshaw article to read, then consider the following questions:

1. What do you see as the role of community-based organizations and community development approaches in reducing poverty?
(Consider their history in your response.)

2. Which of Bradshaw’s five theories of poverty matches the organization you are working with? How does that theory show up in the work?
(You can choose a combination of the theories if you like.)

3. Based on your experiences with and understanding of poverty, which approach do you believe is most effective for alleviating poverty?


If you’d like to discuss this article and/or other aspects of poverty with your peers, head over to the Cafe and start or join a discussion.



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