New IDS Bulletin examines links between power, poverty and inequality

Published on 28 November 2016

Power analysis is essential for developing new strategies to tackle poverty and inequality. This new IDS BulletinPower, Poverty and Inequality’ edited by Marjoke Oosterom and Patta Scott-Villiers, brings together the latest analysis on understanding power and inequality and their links to poverty.

Ten years ago, IDS published an inaugural IDS Bulletin on power and change. This collection of articles were influential in developing ways to analyse socio-political situations using a power lens which helped people and organisations working in development improve effective policy and action. In particular, the issue clarified the use of the powercube, a tool for investigating the different faces of power (visible, hidden and invisible power), its levels (local, national, global) and spaces of operation (closed, invited and claimed).

IDS Director of Research, John Gaventa, who has contributed to both issues describes how invisible power operates:

“…influencing how individuals think about their place in the world, this level of power shapes people’s beliefs, sense of self and acceptance of the status quo – even their own superiority or inferiority. Processes of socialisation, culture and ideology perpetuate exclusion and inequality by defining what is normal, acceptable and safe.”

“Invisible” power can perpetuate injustice and widen inequality

The new IDS Bulletin, ‘Power, Poverty and Inequality’, argues that tackling invisible power is of vital for understanding the links between poverty, inequality and power. It is this form of power that is in operation, alongside hidden and visible power, in the quiescence that development agencies encounter when dealing with people living on low and precarious incomes in many parts of the world.

Within the black box of invisible power can be found different degrees of deference, despair, hope, pragmatism and resistance – all of which have a bearing on the success of programmes that seek to assist.

Articles call for ways to denaturalise norms and structures of social, political and economic inequality…

  • tackling injustice
  • misrecognition
  • poverty
  • disenfranchisement

…so that the universal aspirations of the Sustainable Development Goals may have a chance of success.

Contributors discuss the ways in which economic and political modes of inequality interact with social inequalities such as gender, race or sexuality to create yet more inequality, confronting policymakers with a challenge.

Such complex social inequalities become “normal” – but the contributions in this new IDS Bulletin offer ways of untangling complexity using approaches to analysis which take account of multiple dynamics in unequal relations.

Power in Practice: Bringing Understandings and Analysis of Power into Development Action in Oxfam

In her contribution, Jo Rowlands, Senior Global Programme Adviser, Governance and Institutional Accountability at Oxfam, explores the process of strengthening and developing power analysis in the international non-governmental organisation (NGO), Oxfam, and explores some of the obstacles and issues that need further attention for theory to reach practice.

“Leaving no one behind” can only be achieved by breaking the vicious circle of inequality

In ‘Power, Poverty and Inequality’, articles suggest means by which tacit understandings of what is bearable, useful and fair can be brought into question. The SDG call to ‘leave no one behind’ – which will only be achieved through breaking the vicious circle of inequality – is more than about policy, increased action, or creating alternative economies. It is also about changing norms of what is possible, and making visible those invisible norms that have hindered our ability to imagine and create a just world.

This IDS Bulletin was funded by the SDC-IDS Collaboration on Poverty, Politics and Participatory Methodologies.

Key contacts

Marjoke Oosterom

Power and Popular Politics Cluster Lead

Emilie Wilson

Communications and Impact Officer

+44 (0)1273 915779


About this news item

Related content