Two University of Washington geography professors are leading an effort with what might be considered a staggeringly ambitious goal — to reframe how poverty is perceived and studied around the world.
Victoria Lawson and Sarah Elwood are the co-founders of the UW-based Relational Poverty Network, a coalition of academic institutions and organizations around the United States and as far away as Europe, Asia and Africa. The network seeks to recast perceptions of poverty from something impacting others — what Lawson terms “this shiny object or person called the poor” — to a condition created by a complex web of societal relationships involving power and privilege.
It’s a sharp departure, they say, from the traditional view of poverty in the United States as resulting from people’s own decisions, rather than the effect of economic forces and structural inequality.
“There’s a tendency to blame the poor for their poverty,” Lawson said. “That’s the individualist explanation. There’s a lot of judgment.”
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