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11 July 2010

Poverty according to the World Bank

Francisco Adjacy Farias e Mônica Dias Martins

Francisco Adjacy Farias is a sociologist and member of the research group Observatório das Nacionalidades (Nationality Watch). Mônica Dias Martins is a professor at the State University of Ceará coordinator of Observatório das Nacionalidades, and editor of the journal Tensões Mundiais (World Tensions).
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Although poverty is a complex, variable, and persistent phenomenon, the World Bank has appropriated the issue, seeking to place it under social control. Under the pretext of alleviating the poverty of nations, it has expanded its ability to influence national governments. Thus, for the Bank, the existence of poverty becomes more valuable than its eradication. The mission to “fight poverty” confers prestige on the institution and acts as a symbol of its power.

The concept of poverty as developed and disseminated by the World Bank has long served as the model by which governments, NGOs, and academic institutions analyze socio-economic realities. In this work, we examine some of the World Bank’s principal documents on the subject of poverty, an issue that has become synonymous with the institution’s work with nation states over the course of the last three decades. While on the one hand, this multilateral organization has at its disposal a vast supply of experts and data to mold anti-poverty discourse; on the other, it skillfully assimilates objections made by former directors, intellectuals, and activists. This study reveals that the World Bank’s concept of poverty guides not only the policies of national governments, but also the debate regarding development in the international community.


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