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Poverty and place through the eyes of the poor: outlining key strands of a conceptual framework, D-SPACE.


This study focuses on raising awareness of the urban poor in the Global South in general and in the Indian context in particular so that they begin to appreciate the relationship between poverty and place. Such an inquiry is particularly relevant in a rapidly urbanizing country such as India, where cities account for around 55 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP). More than a quarter of this urban population is struggling to obtain minimum nutritional levels for sustenance and is living in substandard housing, resulting in what Tipple and Speak (2009) refer to as the "rapid urbanisation of poverty" (p.1).

The authors argue that this awareness can be facilitated by re-conceptualizing poverty and by allowing the poor to chart pathways to well-being. However, the conceptualization of poverty remains essentially contested. In this regard, Wratten (1995) points to two key traditions. In the first, the approach is to de-contextualize and depoliticize poverty and to adopt standardized definitions of income, consumption, or social indicators based on which populations/groups are compared. For instance, in the post-war period, there was a prevalent notion that "social problems (such as poverty) were apolitical [and], such problems [were] to be solved by experts" (Gartrell & Gartrell, 2002; Ross, 1991, p. 404). These assumptions led to the emergence of the behavioralism school of thought and in different ways paved the way for the application of scientific methods in public policy (Chakrabarti 1976; Dahl, 1971). As a result, poverty was responded to through the provision of basic minimum needs such as safe and clean houses and access to water and sanitation. The scientific bias in looking at poverty continued (and still does) through the adoption of approaches such as rational choice theory (Lehtinen & Kuorikoski, 2007) in which, for instance, poor individuals are seen as autonomous entities capable of making intentional actions, and positivist methodology (Burris 2007; Riley, 2007), in which an understanding of the poor can be developed without paying attention to the context in which they are grounded.

In the other tradition, a set of approaches positioned within the interpretive tradition, with a focus on "a more politically engaged, contextually sensitive" political inquiry (Dietz 2002), marks a clear departure from what Madsen (1983) refers to as the "hypothesis testing mindset" of social scientists. Influenced by the work of rural anthropologists and social planners (Wratten 1995), these approaches facilitate the deconstruction of contextual interpretations of meanings and actions. Central to such a focus is the argument that poverty needs to be understood and responded to from the point of the view of the poor themselves (Francis, 1991; Mason & Beard, 2008; Rakodi & Lloyd Jones, 2002) and which thus "allows a local variation in the meaning of poverty" (Wratten, 1995, p. 12). And within that tradition, community-based participatory approaches are increasingly being regarded as an important if not a necessary element in conceiving and implementing pro-poor projects (Agrawal & Gibson, 2001; Fong, 1998; Manor, 1999; Mansuri & Rao, 2004). Such thinking is clearly not new and has informed development practice over the last few decades. For instance, participatory action research, underpinned by the Frierian school of thought, states that "poor and exploited people can and should be enabled to conduct their own analysis of their own reality" (Chambers, 1994, p. 954). Such ideas were influential in shaping techniques such as Rapid Rural Appraisal (in the 1970s) and later Participatory Rural Appraisal (in the 1980s). Drawing on these techniques, a range of community-based planning models have emerged, including state-led community planning initiatives and collaborative planning initiatives drawing on joint effort by state and society (Beard, 2002, 2003; Miraftab & Wills, 2005; Sandercock 1998).

Underpinning such community-based participatory approaches to engaging with lives of the poor is a particular relationship between poverty and place, in which the geographical space delineated by the poor neighborhood becomes an important interface for talking about the progress of the well-being (or lack thereof) of the poor residents. Jordan (2008) points to three traditions that frame this relationship. In the first, the focus is on improving the built environment, for instance, to provide better housing and improved access to services. There are potential problems here such as a mismatch between needs and priorities of the poor and actual investment choices made by experts. The second tradition is based on the argument that cultures of poverty that are shaped and reinforced by norms and practices in the poor neighborhood lead to the perpetuation or reproduction of poverty in the neighborhood (Lewis, 1964, 1969). Such cultures have also been argued to create neighborhood effects that not only result in reproduction of disadvantage, but also in proliferation of social problems such as crime, unemployment, and health problems (Osterling, 2007; Sampson, Morenoff, & GannonRowley, 2002). The counterargument is that in some neighborhoods, norms and practices such as trust and reciprocity are key characteristics of social capital (Putnam, 2000, p. 19) and thus lead to community cohesion.

Lastly, geographical/spatial mobility must be considered in altering the relationship between poverty and place. There are potential tensions here as well. For instance, although in this article we draw on the Frierian school of thought and emphasize the role of agency in progressing on a path to well-being, others would argue that mobility from a poor neighborhood is linked to a neoliberal conception of an autonomous independent citizen. Also, from a policy perspective, on the one hand, facilitating mobility in poor neighborhoods has the potential to break the perpetuation/reproduction of poverty; on the other hand, increased mobility may lead to disintegration of cohesive communities with embedded social capital (Jordan 2008).

There are clearly no easy answers, but at a minimum what must be done is to position the poor at the center of these debates rather than merely setting up community-based participatory models that are focused on inclusive processes (e.g., allowing participation in decision-making processes) and/or delivering tangible outputs (e.g., using participatory processes to decide on the location of a new training center near the slum to facilitate skills training for jobs). Within the context of increasing inequalities in the Global South, this article emphasizes the need to re-examine how the poor may view the relationship between poverty and place. Given that the poor are bound (both in time and space) to a particular community, it seems important to adopt a framework that engages with (1) the significance of the quality of the built environment; (2) the impact of local cultures, norms, and practices; (3) choices (or lack thereof) for mobility. The remainder of the article is organized to discuss how this framework is developed.

First, key strands of the conceptual framework will be outlined through a more focused review of literature and bringing together the resource profile approach framework and different notions of capital. Then the material and methods used in this article will be reviewed. The next section will discuss the development of the conceptual framework by drawing on key findings from the participatory mapping workshop. The concluding section will outline future challenges in taking the D-SPACE model forward.

Framing the Research

There is now a wider appreciation of factors leading to poverty, particularly in the Indian context, and thus the emergence of a multidimensional understanding of poverty as opposed to a solely income-based definition of poverty. This has led to models focusing not on mere provision of assets in the short term, but on providing a long-term response strategy such as facilitating sustainable livelihoods and promoting well-being of poor and disadvantaged communities. Such models are similar in that they emphasize the role of the agency and the ability of poor people to be resilient (Gough, McGregor, & Camfield, 2006). However, Bebbington and Hinojosa (2007) make a distinction between two key strands underpinning such models: one that focuses on what people have and control and the other focusing on what people think and do. The former includes models such as the sustainable livelihood framework (Carney, 1998; Chambers & Conway, 1992) and the asset accumulation framework (Moser 1998), whereas the latter, which is what we will consider in this article, brings together models such as the resource profile approach (Lewis & McGregor, 1992; Lewis et al., 1991; Saltmarshe, 2002). In particular, the research profile approach provides a useful starting point by stating that the value of resources necessary for well-being is shaped by contextual factors. In so doing it outlines a range of resources (social, cultural, and others) and discusses how it has helped in enhancing the well-being of the poor and disadvantaged. In other words, it engages with the question of why are some resources more valued than others and how do poor people draw on them to become resilient. This is clearly an important contribution to engaging with poverty.

This article moves the debate forward by doing two things. First, it draws on the value of the resource dimension from the research profile approach framework by particularly framing it within the inherent tension that poor people inadvertently experience, a tension that we argue can be found at the interplay between different forms of capital. The research profile approach acknowledges that, when poor people participate in decision-making processes, they create and reproduce structures within society (Gough et al., 2006), thus leading to transmission of inequalities/disadvantage across generations. However, it does not either offer a template to capture this tension or provide a perspective for the poor to both conceptualize this tension (thinking) and act in response to such an understanding (doing). To engage with this gap, we draw on concepts from education and public health, particularly how capital has been used to engage with such tensions (i.e., the reproduction of disadvantage in higher education and health). We think that poverty, as a consequence and cause of reproduction of disadvantage in particular sites, may present itself as a suitable case to test such concepts.

In particular, we will discuss capital at two levels: at the level of the individual/ family and at the level of the poor neighborhood. At the level of the individual, Bourdieu (1986, p. 243) argued that different types of capital exist: economic ("which is immediately and directly convertible into money and may be institutionalised in the form of property rights"), cultural ("which is convertible, on certain conditions, into economic capital and may be institutionalised in the form of educational qualifications"), and social ("made up of social obligations, which is convertible, in certain conditions, into economic capital"). He further argued that the greater the capital (through a combination of its different types at any point in time) to which individuals have access, the greater their well-being. In the case of a poor individual, we argue that an understanding of access (or lack of access) to different forms of capital, or what we refer to as individual cumulative capital (ICC), at any point in time will shape notions of poverty.

To discuss capital at the level of the poor neighborhood, we draw on the notion of institutional social capital (ISC), which was previously discussed in two contexts:

1. Higher education (Brinton, 2000; Lee & Brinton, 1996; Waters & Leung, 2013) in which institutions such as universities have different sets of "social resources or ties (e.g., alumni networks and academic faculty) that can be acquired only through an individual's attendance at a particular university" (Lee & Brinton, 1996, p. 182) as opposed to private social capital (acquired through family and friends).

2. Public health (Gomez & Muntaner, 2005) in which institutional social capital among other forms of social capital was explored to see how it might affect health of a neighborhood undergoing urban redevelopment.

When this concept is applied in the context of a poor neighborhood, institutional social capital in this article refers to those resources and ties, distinct from private social capital (Lee & Brinton, 1996), that can be acquired only by residing in the neighborhood (Gomez & Muntaner, 2005) and that are "a product of political, institutional and legal environments" (Woolcock & Narayan, 2000, p. 246). Seen in this way, the poor neighborhood as an institution provides a range of benefits to its residents including a political voice to make concerns of its residents heard in formal democratic institutions, as well as acknowledging membership of the residents within that community. The framework of institutional social capital also fills in the gap in the current application of social capital and poverty. Osterling (2007) points out that social capital provides a useful interface for understanding the relationship between the individual and the neighborhood, but a range of community attributes such as economic capital, political power, and neighborhood resources are not captured in the social capital framework (James, Schulz, & van Olphen, 2001; Warren, Thompson, & Saegart 2001). Thus, if poor individuals want to move away from the reproduction of disadvantage (e.g., lack of employment opportunities or good schooling options for children for generations) that they experience in their neighborhood, then the interface between the different forms of capital that an individual can access and the challenges and constraints posed by the institutional social capital embedded within the poor neighborhood needs a closer look.

The two key strands outlined by Bebbington and Hinojosa (2007) that underpin much of community-based participatory models (i.e., one that focuses on what people have and control and the other on what people think and do) do not effectively engage with space and time. Linking with the previous argument, although an interface for engaging with different forms of capital is important, it must capture what Sen (2009) refers to as relational perspectives of poverty. These relational perspectives are distinct in that the poor are themselves contemplating and valuing the resources needed to participate in community life. The manner in which they relate to their neighbors/other residents in the community vis-a-vis access to and ownership of resources needed for their well-being shapes their relational perspective Although Sen (2009) talks of such a perspective, he does not tell us how to operationalize it. So we draw on these strands to operationalize a relational perspective to poverty that will result in a conceptual framework that may serve as an alternative community-based planning model.

Based on the discussions above, we outline three questions that would be key to comprehending how the poor understand and want to/can engage with poverty. Drawing on the relational notion of poverty, questions arise at the level of the individual poor household (q1) and as part of a wider community (q2). Such relational notions of poverty are also intrinsically tied to tensions the poor experience at the interface of change or continuity (q3) with their existing life; thus, the research profile approach offers the critical lens with which resources (both material or nonmaterial) are valued to make these decisions. These questions--the comparative (q1), the cooperative (q2), and the dynamic (q3) dimensions to understanding poverty--are thus used to design the activities in a participatory concept-mapping workshop (see Table 1). It is hoped that results from the workshop will then throw more light on what these dimensions may mean.

Material and Methods

The data used in this article were collected as part of British Academy research on place-based understanding of poverty in India undertaken in May/June 2011, for which the authors were the investigators. The British Academy study set out to explore how contextual factors might shape understanding of and response to poverty. Two distinct yet interrelated studies were carried out as part of the empirical research. In the first, the focus was on examining a current policy on poverty alleviation (the preparation of city development plans) and how/whether residents from poor neighborhoods in Trivandrum, one of the southern cities in India, found the plan preparation responsive to their needs and priorities. The second, which is the focus of this article, was to examine how a participatory agenda might be set up to permit residents from poor neighborhoods to understand and respond to poverty through their own eyes. In particular, we argued that the poor can conduct an analysis of their own reality, and in doing so we employed concept mapping that is "a structured process, focused on a topic or construct of interest, entailing input from one or more participants, that produces an interpretable pictorial view (concept map) of their ideas and concepts and how these are interrelated" (Sheppard et al., 2012, p. 2; Trochim & Linton, 1986).

The concept mapping exercise was carried out in the city of Trivandrum in southern India. For the purposes of testing the draft conceptual framework, a peripheral neighborhood, Villapil, was selected. The participants were recruited by liaising with state government officials (Town and Country Planning Department and the Kudumbashree initiative), and flyers were posted on the announcement board in the local authority office. Criteria for inclusion included residency within the neighborhood for six months or more, age eighteen years or older, and consent to participating in a group session. Drawing on the methodology used by Sheppard and colleagues (2012), data collected during the forum included both individual and group viewpoints.

Activities identified draw on inputs in the previous section and were communicated to the respondents via relevant illustrations in the participatory concept mapping exercise held in the case study area:

1. Activity 1 involved a mapping of comparative perceptions of well-being/ill-being at the individual/household level. Figure 1 was developed to engage with the comparative view. An illustration to capture the relational perspective of individual cumulative capital was presented in the form of a central square (indicating the house occupied/owned by the respondent) surrounded by four other squares (indicating houses occupied/owned by the respondent's neighbors). This was circulated to all respondents, who were asked to fill in their copy individually.

2. Activity 2 involved a mapping of the cooperative view of well-being/ill-being for the whole neighborhood. Figure 2 was developed for this purpose. Based on a reconnaissance survey by the project investigators, an outline map of the neighborhood and its immediate vicinity was sketched out, highlighting key buildings, roads, and services. Respondents were divided into four groups and each group was asked to develop the cooperative view with support from project volunteers.

3. Activity 3 involved a mapping of the dynamics of choices for pursuing spatial mobility (or lack thereof). Figure 3 was developed for this purpose, showing possible mobility pathways, along with a table to capture reasons for mobility (or lack thereof).

Developing the Conceptual Framework

This section will explore key findings in response to the three activities that were carried out in the participatory concept mapping exercise and show how the conceptual framework was developed.

Question 1: The Comparative View

Two key findings are presented. First, from the responses, two categories of respondents emerged. Members of Category A saw themselves as the poorest vis-a-vis their neighbors and compared themselves to the better off neighbors. Meanwhile members of Category B saw themselves as between the worst off and the better off neighbors, thus providing perceptions as to why a neighbor was worse off and another was better off. These perceptions were based on a list of criteria, such as nature of employment and caste identity, that was presented to the respondents. Of the fifty-two respondents, thirty-two fell into Category A and twenty into Category B. This has important implications for informing policy making as well. That is, if a higher proportion of poor residents are in Category A, then chances are greater that more people in the poor neighborhood are stuck in poverty traps. Such categorizations seem to suggest patterns in social mobility whereby one group saw itself on the path to progress/prosperity although not there yet, whereas the other group still believed that they were at the bottom in terms of progress. The findings are also interesting in that they represent two alternative ways of conceptualizing poverty. On one hand, they offer a dynamic as opposed to a static view. Conventionally, poverty is defined using a range of measures such as income and indices of deprivation. But the poverty mapping workshop discussed in this article facilitates a multidimensional view of poverty that permits an understanding of local meanings of poverty. On the other hand, individual cumulative capital is a useful way not only to show perceptions of progress, but also to elicit feelings of being stuck in poverty traps.

Secondly, access (or lack of access) to a house and not income seems to be the dominant measure for talking about well-being or ill-being. Caste identity is used more to describe ill-being than well-being. The variance in slopes seems to concur with what Pain and Smith propose, that "poverty and ill-being often go together but wealth and well-being do not" (Smith et al., 2010, p. 299), which seems to suggest that respondents quantify ill-being more readily. This has interesting implications for informing future community forums and policy makers of what residents in a particular neighborhood consider important for pursuing their well-being.

Therefore, the question that was engaged is the ontological (Greek, ontos, of being) question concerned with unpacking what exists within the physical world of human experience. For instance, there are competing ontological conceptions of human nature. Coming from similar aristocratic backgrounds, both Plato and Aristotle believed that some people are (and remain) slaves by nature, whereas others are naturally born to be rulers or part of the elite community (Cooper, 2001; Hobson, 2001). Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-179 7), a prominent Enlightenment philosopher, believed that both men and women are naturally endowed with the power of reason that eventually guides them to become autonomous individuals.

In framing an ontological conception of poverty, we draw on two theoretical strands discussed in the previous section: the notion of capital (Bourdieu, 1986), and Sen's (2009) relational perspective on poverty. By doing so, we are suggesting that is what poverty might be on a conceptual level and not in any given or absolutely defined way. Drawing on Bourdieu (1986) and Sen (2009), we argue that (1) poverty can be regarded as a lack of adequate individual cumulative capital from the point of view of a poor individual and (2) a relational perspective can be employed to enable the poor individual to appreciate this inadequacy. Figure 4 captures these arguments by listing measures of well-being in relation to access to and ownership of one or more forms of capital.

Also, in relation to individual cumulative capital, we argue that individuals will perceive access to/ownership of resources through various forms of capital such as economic, social, and cultural capital (following Bourdieu, 1986). However, when individuals express adequacy or inadequacy of such resources in relation to another individual/family, they will present a cumulative view of access to/ ownership of the total of all resources. Because each form of capital cannot be measured quantitatively, the individual's cumulative capital will not reflect a true sum of resources but rather a perceived sum total of all resources they have access to/own. In other words, an understanding of individual cumulative capital is contingent upon presenting a relational perspective to the respondents. Such an understanding is temporal; that is, if the individual comes into possession of new forms of capital or if some existing resources are lost, then this will affect his or her cumulative capital. Thus, the comparative view permits the mapping of the individual cumulative capital of different individuals in the poor neighborhood.

Question 2: The Cooperative View

In the second activity, respondents were divided into four groups and asked to record their perceptions of well-being and ill-being in the neighborhood. Group perceptions of well-being/ill-being seem to be consistent across all groups. They were also able to clearly appreciate the distinctiveness of their neighborhood visa-vis other neighborhoods.

The question in this activity refers to the epistemological question (Greek, episteme, knowledge) and is concerned with different ways of generating knowledge. For some, the epistemological concern relates to whether one moves from the specific to the general (the inductive strategy) or vice versa (the deductive strategy). Whereas inductive and deductive strategies are concerned with moving from the specific to the general and from the general to the specific, respectively, epistemological dimensions have other binary counterparts. For instance, can the social world be understood as the product of interpretation and thus as a highly relative concept, underpinning the hermeneutic school of thought? Or can the social world be understood only by objective observation and measurement and thus as a static notion, consistent with the traditions of the naturalism school of thought (Dixon, Carrier, & Dogan 2005)? Such schools of thought have also led to the rise of the interpretive and positivist approaches, respectively. In this article, because we are focused on understanding poverty from the point of view of the poor, we will adopt the interpretive approach:

the interpretive paradigm ... stresses the dynamic, constructed and evolving nature of social reality. It rejects the positivist notion of knowledge being grounded in the objective and tangible, and instead seeks to understand social reality through the eyes of those being studied (Devine and Heath, 1999, p. 202).

Drawing on institutional social capital (Brinton 2000; Waters and Leung 2013) discussed in the previous section, we argue that in addition to developing a relational perspective of adequacies (or inadequacies) of individual cumulative capital, individuals/families position themselves with respect to wider meanings of being poor, for instance, by relating to their neighborhood/community. This knowledge of meanings, we argue, is shaped by the reinforcement of the repetitive relational perspective of access to different types of resources of other individuals/families in the neighborhood/community. This also leads to the development of one's own position within the structure of shared meanings, benefits, and norms of behavior, for example, within that neighborhood. In this regard, the notion of institutional social capital with the poor neighborhood as an institution becomes a useful framework to deconstruct such knowledge. Also, we argue that a cooperative view permits residents to move beyond comparing material resources and to focus on concepts such as vision and group identity. Some of these resources may promote cohesion and community well-being whereas other community resources such as caste and other social relations may lead to reproduction of disadvantage and/or social and spatial immobility, creating what one would refer to as poverty traps (see Figure 5).

Question 3: The Dynamic View

In the final activity, we were interested in examining whether there was any propensity among the respondents to leave their current place of residence to improve their well-being (i.e., to disentangle from the reproduction of inequality that occurs at particular sites of poverty). Twenty-five percent of Category A respondents showed an interest in moving abroad compared to only 5 percent of Category B respondents. Opportunity for spatial mobility seems to be linked to individual cumulative capital (which Category A respondents seem to have in larger quantity). It also means that they are keen to use individual cumulative capital to counteract the ill effects of institutional social capital. Potential factors favoring the interest in mobility of 25 percent of the Category A respondents are friends and families in the Gulf region.

The third question looks at what the poor could do to improve their well-being. Conventionally, different organizations have developed varied strategies in reaching out to the poor. Conventional strategies tend to view the poor as mere recipients of services/support. A key actor in development policy has been the state. Having developed a suitable measure for defining the poor, two broad strategies underpin government intervention in reaching out to the poor: targeted intervention using indicators and self-targeting (Besley & Kanbur, 1993; Dreze & Sen, 1989; Imai 2007). Self-targeting is also a kind of indirect targeting, in which the government allocates certain services/resources (for instance, cheap and poor quality food grains) for use within the poorer sections of society. It has also been argued that the geographical level of targeting is significant in ensuring that effects of government intervention reach the maximum number of poor households (Bigman & Srinivasan, 2002). This has implications for poverty alleviation programs in large countries such as India, where such programs are presently targeted only at the state level. This introduces us to intergovernmental dynamics of how poverty is conceptualized and brings out possible tensions in such understandings. The review of literature points to how other groups, including civil society organizations and external agencies, have developed strategies in reaching out to the poor.

Drawing on the role of the agency (Gough et al., 2006) and the ability of the poor to analyze their reality (Chambers, 1994), we argue that, when poor residents are grounded in their own versions of comparative and cooperative views, they are able to better consider the question of how to engage with the dynamic view and to consider whether spatial mobility is possible or even desirable (see Figure 6). The choice (or lack of choice) of spatial mobility may be one option; equally, the ability to choose to stay behind is another.

Bringing all of these strands together results in the conceptual framework (see Figure 7). Two key points stand out. First, the dimensions of poverty that are engaged are highlighted. For instance, the binding nature of time and space is seen as central in the comparative view. The poor individual/family is fixed in space at a particular point in time and carrying out a relational perspective with capital relative to their neighbors. Similarly, in the cooperative view, the importance of the group is highlighted. Secondly, the possible activities that one might develop to engage with the core questions and their relevant attributes and dimension are presented. The way in which these activities were presented through relevant illustrations will be described in the next section.

In summary, we can say that the D-SPACE model is a significant contribution in the tradition of the resource profile approach, This model shows that at any point in time the poor are embedded in tensions between individual cumulative capital and institutional social capital, and it is not necessary that all or most poor residents view spatial mobility as desirable or even necessary. The D-SPACE model has added more meaning to the relational perspective of poverty advanced by Sen (2009). However, the criteria for engaging with such a perspective need to be identified by the poor prior to concept mapping. Finally, the D-SPACE model has built on institutional social capital, which clearly is an important conceptualization for understanding the challenges/constraints faced by the poor. Having said that, more could have been done. We explored only how and whether poor people can come together to develop shared meanings and/or visions of well-being and ill-being. In the future, the range of community resources that make up the institutional social capital of a poor neighborhood needs to be defined in further detail.


In spite of the predominant use of income poverty (i.e., families who do not earn enough to buy food that would give them the stipulated minimum calories in their diet) as the broader definition of poverty within the policy-making arena in India, there has now been a gradual inclusion of a multidimensional definition of poverty in some states such as Kerala. Such models tend to have a static understanding of poverty and do not appreciate either the relational perspective of poverty or the spatiotemporal dimension of poor neighborhoods. This is significant for social mobility and where pathways to well-being are contingent on the poor being able to see the need for progress both in absolute and relative terms. For example, how does one poor family/individual relate its material/nonmaterial progress to that of his/her neighbor? Thus we argue that there needs to be a model of community-based participatory planning through which the poor become aware of the spatiotemporal contradictions seen through the interface between different forms of capital that challenge their progress to well-being (i.e., on one hand to be able to describe the reality in a manner that links them to the reproduction of inequality that occurs at particular locations, and on the other, to be able to identify alternative locations/mobility pathways where their well-being might be better than in their current location). For example, a poor household living in a slum might be able to understand why its members are not well off in a particular neighborhood (e.g., due to existing networks that contribute to reproduction of the poverty cycle at that site) and be aware that the family would be better off if they moved elsewhere (e.g., areas with better schools and less crime).

Through the participatory concept mapping exercise, we have learned key lessons:

1. Participants can wear multiple hats. Thus, understanding and responding to poverty become contingent on the role assumed by the participant at a particular time (e.g., household member, member of the community, or mother).

2. Participants are able to appreciate the spatiotemporal contradictions and understand that, although choices are not easy to make, not making them risks reproduction of inequality that will have consequences for future generations.

3. Whether or not social/spatial mobility is taking place in particular neighborhoods can be revealed by using the conceptual framework, which we refer to as D-SPACE.

Building on key findings from each of the key attributes of the draft conceptual framework, we argue that a D-SPACE model can be operationalized with the help of volunteers to inform policy makers of what needs to be done to support poor residents whether or not they choose spatial mobility. First, the comparative view needs to be mapped out. The participatory concept mapping exercise revealed Category A and B respondents, who considered themselves to be the poorest among their neighbors and between their better off and worse off neighbors, respectively. In another neighborhood, one might encounter a third grouping, Category C, whose members consider themselves better off than all their neighbors. This has interesting implications, for instance, for the number of people in such groupings and their contribution to institutional social capital in the poor neighborhood and eventually for social/spatial mobility for poor residents. Secondly, the cooperative view needs to be investigated with a view to understand what defines/binds poor communities together and equally what might prevent them from carrying out social/spatial mobility. The influence of local culture, customs, and norms could potentially be captured here. Finally, the possibility for individuals to pursue social/spatial mobility needs to be explored.


We argue that there needs to be an ongoing effort to re-conceptualize the understanding of and response to poverty, particularly from the point of view of the poor themselves. In this regard, both investigators in the British Academy study jointly developed a conceptual framework, D-SPACE (Dynamic Spatiotemporal Analysis of Cooperative and Comparative Visions) through a participatory concept mapping exercise. In this mapping exercise, self-rated mental well-being measures were used to elicit neighborhood characteristics and how such characteristics might be used by city planning authorities to understand needs and priorities of particular neighborhoods. Given that this was a first step in setting up such an agenda, there was some element of expert-led support (developed by both the investigators) and it is hoped that in the next phase, with the benefit of a case study for reference, residents in another or the same location can start entirely on their own in pursuing such an agenda to enhance their well-being and to take full ownership of the participatory process.

In this article, we also explored how this framework might be set up so that poor people living in a particular neighborhood might (1) consider the relational importance of factors shaping their well-being in relation to the social reality in which they are grounded, (2) appreciate the value of fostering a community vision in shaping the quality of their overall environment, and (3) weigh the extent to which they consider it possible or even desirable to carry out spatial mobility to enhance their well-being. The opportunities (or lack thereof) for making such choices, we would argue, have implications for the reproduction of inequality that occurs at particular sites.

This is where we think D-SPACE as a model has the potential to permit poor people to be aware of the structures in which they are grounded and yet present possible choices that they may make. Having said that, clearly more work needs to be done in the future. First, the relational perspective of poverty needs to be documented in an early session led by the poor residents and volunteers. This can then be used in shaping a forum later. Secondly, because mostly women attended the session described in this article, the question of how the responses might be different if both men and women had participated should be investigated.

To conclude, poverty persists despite various attempts to engage with it since the eighteenth century (Himmelfarb, 1984; Townsend, 1993; Woolf, 1986). Positioned within these lines of inquiry and considering the scale of the poverty challenge that needs to be engaged with, the D-SPACE model advanced in this article does not claim to have all the answers. It merely reflects one of many and yet an important contribution to ongoing debates where the overall aim is to determine whether solutions to the poverty challenge may be revealed in how poverty is related to place.

Deepak Gopinath, PhD, is lecturer in Town and Regional Planning, School of Social Sciences, University of Dundee, Dundee, Scotland. Murali Nair, PhD, is clinical professor, School of Social Work, University of Southern California, Los Angeles.


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Table 1 Key Conceptual Strands and Activity Types

Activity     Core question          Attribute

Activity 1   What is poverty?       The comparative view

Activity 2   How does one develop   The cooperative view
             knowledge of

Activity 3   What can one do        The dynamic view
             about poverty?

Activity     Dimension           Activity

Activity 1   Time-bound Space-   Views of
             bound               individuals/
                                 households vis-a-vis
                                 their neighbors in
                                 terms of their
                                 progress on the
                                 pathway to

Activity 2   Group-bound         Shared view of
                                 wellbeing or lack
                                 thereof at the
                                 neighborhood level

Activity 3   Choices for         Views of
             spatiotemporal      individuals/
             mobility? New       households as to
             groupings?          which spatial
                                 pathways to traverse
                                 or not
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Author:Gopinath, Deepak; Nair, Murali
Publication:Social Development Issues: Alternative Approaches to Global Human Needs
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Nov 1, 2015
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