The Poverty Narrative

Abstract

At the heart of The Rules is a critique of the mainstream narrative about global poverty, and a desire to fundamentally shift the frames by which poverty is understood. Throughout our work, we have infused the reframing of poverty, from a passive and natural state to something that is actively created and maintained by establishment power. The poverty narrative core frame is an example of a strategic use for framing in narrative work.

Context

The Rules began with a critique of the mainstream development narrative, informed by work team members had done prior to, or as part of the research leading to the establishment of The Rules. We undertook some research to validate and deepen this critique when TR came into being. Two key insights that emerged from this study were, firstly, that poverty is largely treated and thus understood as an issue to be responded to with the logic of charity – i.e. rich people giving a little money to poor people. Secondly, that there is no creation story for global poverty. In other words, when the mainstream development industry – i.e. governments, large NGOs, and the UN system – talk about global poverty, they never really explain what causes it. Their narrative starts with its base existence. This means that it is treated as natural, somewhat inevitable, and not as created by intentional, human decisions. The role of humans, in this narrative, is simply to be the actors that overcome it. 

These assumptions were buried deep in the language and imagery used and they are the origin of a lot of misunderstandings and thus poor decision making at all levels of society and politics. As long as poverty is understood as natural, and not the result of human decision making, there will always be a deficit of true understanding of its causes, a depoliticized narrative and issue landscape, and thus a far weaker appetite for action commensurate to the scale of the problem.

Narrative Intention

We adopted “poverty is created” as a strategic frame to be deployed as a core tenet of TR’s counter-narrative. The frame could be and was expressed in many different ways, depending on the context, but the essential logic became a core part of TR’s narrative to the world.

    Method and Execution

    We did not run a single campaign on this, but rather adopted it as a core frame for all of our work. This meant ensuring that in all of our campaigns we used variants of the idea that ‘poverty is created’. This strategic frame stayed with TR throughout its history and has been a point of logical departure for all campaigns that we have run.

      Links and Resources:

      Truthout

      “It’s Time to Shine a Light on the Poverty Creation Industry”

      SDG Hack

      The Rules Case Study

      Al Jazeera

      “We have the power to change the rules”

      Lessons

      • There are such things as core frames.
      • The core frames are essential pieces of logic that can capture a fundamental reality that help a narrative make sense, which is not the same thing as an objective reality because subjectivity is always present within the “intra-relations’ between actors.
      • The core logic can go beyond a single campaign and inform the foundation of an ongoing narrative intervention. 
      • It is critical that we reframe passive stories into active stories, with clear agents and causality. I.e. poverty is not an externality of the economic system but rather is a human-made phenomenon actively created by agents following a set of rules.

      By The Rules

      The Rules (TR) was an activist collective that existed from 2012 to 2019. In its eight years of existence it focused on addressing the root causes of inequality, poverty and ecological break down through narrative and cultural interventions. TR worked directly with social movements to inform the nature of interventions, and worked with journalists, think tanks, independent researchers and others to reframe and amplify alternatives to help midwife post-capitalist realities.

      Creative Commons License

      All The Rules content is Creative Commons Share Alike 4.0

      You are Free to:

      • Adapt — remix, transform, and build upon the material for any purpose, even commercially.

      TR Social Media