This typical American consumer feels that, in purchasing a handmade item, whether imported or through tourism, she is in some way participating in the culture that produced it. In her social circle, the handmade item awards her cultural capital. She is like a representative for the culture the item represents, along with the exotic knowledge that position suggests. She also likes the idea that buying the item does good in the world; buying from a craft collective is appealing to her. Therefore, advertising intentionally builds a narrative around the collective and its products. The general storyline involves a population in crisis, who, usually thanks to the intervention of kindly Americans or Europeans, develops a small industry, producing handicrafts imbued with exoticism.
I was 15 when you came into being. We “grew up” together, you and I. I was very young during the liberation struggle, so I did not quite understand what April 18 1980 really meant. But I was old enough to appreciate that something seismic had happened. The euphoria among the people was palpable. The adults could not contain themselves. The music made us all giddy: “Mauya, mauya comrade, mauya tongai Zimbabwe!” (welcome back comrade, it’s your time to lead Zimbabwe).
A fascinating new paper by Ben Olken and Abhijit Banerjee uses a field experiment to look into the difference between “objective” consumption-based measures of poverty and what Indonesian villagers define as being poor. They find that a community ranking exercise basically does at least as well as an objective alternative in estimating consumption (until people get tired of the exercise), but that villagers value other non-consumption factors in determining who is poor.
I am taking two photos of the same person; one photo with the typical symbols of poverty (dejected look, ripped clothes, etc.), and another of this person looking their very finest, to show how an image can be carefully constructed to present the same person in very different ways. I want to bring to light some of the different assumptions we make about a person, especially when we see an image of “poverty” from rural Africa. So far, I have finished two sets in the series and I want to share them with you to get reactions and hopefully generate some discussion around this in the early stages of this project.
There is one issue which remains, broached in their different ways by Chambers, Bhatt and Osner. This issue makes me uncomfortable within myself, takes me off my high moral perch when I talk (or lecture) to others about poverty, and it is an issue for which I do not have an answer. It is quite simply this—those of us, including me, who analyze poverty and discourse about poverty, seem to do rather well out of it. Working on poverty issues, whether in international agencies, in bilateral donor ministries, in academia, in think tanks, in foundations, or in many NGOs, has become a well defined career path, with ladders that one climbs and financial compensation to match. To be sure, the monetary compensation may not come close to that of the Wall Street Set or the Dalal Street Set. But the Development Set does fine, thank you very much.