Exchanging Experiences, Expanding Opportunities

Cultural conceptions of poverty and shame in 7 diverse societies

File Created On:
August, 2016

This working paper constitutes a first step in exploring the contention that shame is universally associated with poverty, irrespective of place, time and culture. The importance of establishing such a link, if it is exists, are multiple. Social psychologists suggest that shame is among the most pernicious of the social emotions, creating a sense of powerlessness and lack of agency that cannot readily be assuaged since the cause may not be of the person’s making. If they are correct, a poverty-shame nexus might help to explain the persistence of poverty. Furthermore, if policies designed to tackle poverty deliberately or inadvertently add to the shame experienced by people in poverty, they could prove counterproductive by eroding individual agency. In addition, if poverty is everywhere associated with shame, shame, and its possible antonym dignity, might better facilitate a global discourse on poverty than do current definitions based on relative and absolute measures of poverty.

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