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Poverty measures: from production to use

Mensink, Julia (2012) Poverty measures: from production to use. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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This thesis uses the analogy between poverty measures and products to explore how poverty measures are designed, produced, distributed and used by different communities. Three historical case studies are analysed with this product approach: Charles Booth’s poverty surveys of London developed in the late nineteenth century, Mollie Orshansky’s poverty thresholds in the USA in the 1960s and two international measures of the Human Development Index (HDI) and the dollar-a-day in the late twentieth century. The product approach to statistical measurements offers a number of advantages. It shows how poverty measures do not provide numbers only, but packages of complementary products. Booth produced a set of innovations from his survey: numbers, maps and causal analyses; Orshansky a system for statistical and administrative use; and the UNDP a platform for human development – all three facilitating action to reduce poverty. Sometimes the products compete strongly in the market, as the UNDP’s HDI and World Bank’s dollar-a-day have done. Sometimes they help to establish new modes of social science, as Booth’s products did. Sometimes the original designs prove resistant to innovation as Orshansky’s thresholds did. More generally, this product approach places the numbers in their historical context. It demonstrates the importance of both the producers and the users in what happens to poverty measurements; it looks in particular at the way in which such measures are influenced by the interests of the different user groups and their political environment. It shows how co-production between the producers and users of poverty measures, or the lack thereof, influences the trust given to numbers.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2012 Julia Mensink
Uncontrolled Keywords: poverty measures, economic measurement, social indicators, Booth’s poverty measurement, USA poverty thresholds, HDI and dollar-a-day
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > HC Economic History and Conditions
Sets: Departments > Economic History
Supervisor: Morgan, Mary and Howlett, Peter

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