The collective action of social movements is often said to be one of the most effective strategies that the poor can use in addressing their poverty. However, little is known about: the number, diversity and extent of such movements in particular national contexts; their overall importance in processes of and debates around poverty reduction; and the strategies they use to address the needs of their members. Most research has focused either on individual or small sets of movements, with less attention paid to the overall significance of the movements at wider territorial and national scales.

This research addresses these themes and knowledge gaps. To assess the overall significance of movements for poverty reduction, it identifies, maps and conducts basic analysis of movements active in Peru and South Africa. The second phase of research addresses in more detail how and why movements adopt particular strategies in their relationships with the state, how these strategies affect the overall influence of movements on poverty reduction and how these strategies and effects vary according to the political context.This is done through a small number of comparative case studies conducted in collaboration with these movements. These movements will be selected from the initial mapping.


“Social Movements and Poverty in Peru and South Africa”

This research grows out of and builds on our earlier work on social movements, politicization and poverty for the Chronic Poverty Research Centre. This work is collected together in three papers: Social movements and chronic poverty across the urban-rural divide: Concepts and experiencesSocial movements and the politicization of chronic poverty; and The role of collective action and urban social movements in reducing chronic urban poverty.

Social movements have been viewed as vehicles through which the concerns of poor and marginalized groups are given greater visibility within civil society, lauded for being the means to achieve local empowerment and citizen activism, and seen as essential in holding the state to account and constituting a grassroots mechanism for safeguarding democracy (World Development, 2005). However, remarkably little attention has been paid by professional researchers and development commentators to: (i) establishing the overall significance of social movements to poor people; and (ii) the strategic choices facing such grassroots movements, their preferred strategies and the effectiveness of these strategies in given political and economic contexts. Despite the relative lack of attention paid to the strategizing that goes within grassroots, poverty oriented movements, our own practical experiences with social movements in the Andes, South Africa and India leave us in no doubt that strategies are constantly being reviewed, moderated and contested. Such strategizing includes choices over levels of contestation or collaboration with the state, over the relative emphasis on specific policy change or demands for political inclusion, over attitudes to self-help and more operational activities, and over the balance between market and citizenship demands. Yet little is known of these dynamics, nor about the ways in which such strategic choices vary according to the nature of the state context within which movements operate, nor how the success of specific strategies is related to such regime context. Understanding these themes is important for any theorization of the relationships between social movements and poverty reduction, and any policy engagement with movements. This study will explore these knowledge gaps with reference to social movement activity in Peru and South Africa.

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