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Since the establishment of society in the world, the concept of poverty has existed. Poverty is essentially described as a low quality of life of an individual, full of struggle and deprivation (World Vision, 2018). According to current statistics, most of the world survives in poor financial conditions. More than two-thirds of the world’s population survives on less than 10 dollars in a day (Roser & Ortiz-Ospina, 2019). There exists an “International Poverty Line” that distinguishes the individuals who live in extreme financial conditions. However, it should also be noted that “poverty” as a concept is perceived differently in different nations. Such individuals are characterised based on their income, expenditure, state of living or other such characteristics. It should also be noted that with the rise of Covid-19 pandemic, more and more individuals are being pushed into poverty. Reports have shown that over 47 million women and children will be pushed into impoverished lives by next year (Moloney, 2020). This essay will be looking at the issues regarding poverty from the perspective of World-Systems Analysis and engage in understanding the reasons behind the existence of poverty. To begin, the essay will strive to provide an in-depth understanding of the World Systems Analysis followed by briefly stating how poverty is described using that particular analysis.
The World-Systems Analysis is a perspective that helps understand the human society that was originally founded by Immanuel Wallerstien (Babones, 2015). Described as a Marxian approach, the perspective helps the in-depth understanding of power and domination that exists throughout the world. The World-Systems Analysis states that the world is driven by market exchange (Babones, 2015). According to Wallerstien, monetary exchange in between entities is inevitable as it is deeply intertwined with the economic and political systems that span over various countries (Babones, 2015). The analysis has also been embraced by developmental theorists due to its emphasis on unequal opportunities and development across nations (Sorinel, 2010).
According to the World Systems Theory, the world is divided into four different parts: the core, the semi-periphery, the periphery and the external, where every country in the world is a part of one of these regions. The peripheral countries are the underdeveloped countries that usually supply raw materials and low-cost labours to the semi-periphery and the core countries (Gotts, 2007). The countries in the core are the leading countries in development and economies. The semi-periphery consists of a mixture of the activities of the core and the periphery; and acts as a filter in between the two (Gotts, 2007). There is a flow of resources that exists from the peripheral countries to the core countries, thus making the poor poorer and the rich richer according to Wallerstien. The core countries can extract resources for military, development and other uses by exploiting other countries and thus establishing a world economic system (Gotts, 2007). This economic system works in favour of the core countries that can exploit the semi-periphery and periphery for their advantage; thus becoming the world’s leading countries and controlling all the important decisions.
Wallerstien believed that the entire world has divided itself into various segments and formed a multi-cultural system (Satzinger et. al., 2004). This social system consisted of boundaries, rules, beliefs and a division amongst each group members. This entire setting, according to him, creates various social conflicts that held the entire world together and sometimes caused disintegration and reintegration of said social groups (Satzinger et. al., 2004). Wallerstien, in his perspective of the world system, disintegrated the world as a set of mechanisms into the industrialized part of the world and the underdeveloped part of the world. Along with that, Wallerstien describes various characteristics that the world system consists of. One of these characteristics is cyclic rhythms which essentially represents short-term economic fluctuations (Satzinger et. al., 2004). Another characteristic is secular trends, which represents economic growth or decline in a particular area (Satzinger et. al., 2004). The term contradiction is used to describe a particular controversy in a system and lastly, “crisis” that represents situations that endanger the existence of a particular system (Satzinger et. al., 2004). Wallerstien described and used these characteristics to explain the various processes that a particular system goes through in the world system.
Understanding the World Systems Analysis can help highlight the motives and aims that drive the core countries and the economic powers that are divided between the four tiers (Skyttner, 2001). The perspective explains the global economic system and the leading causes of phenomena like politics, poverty, illiteracy and other such issues (Skyttner, 2001). Understanding the World Systems Analysis can help understand the roots of such issues and thus help researchers find solutions to eradicate them.
The World Systems theory proposes that poverty as a mishap is caused by the peripheral position of countries and the international division of labour that is present in such countries. The theory also puts forth the idea that economic disparities between the countries along with the growing gap in between them has also caused poverty and backwardness in such countries (Skyttner 2001). What this essentially states is that poverty exists majorly in the external and peripheral countries due to their economic exploitation by the core countries. Such countries are forced to provide cheap raw materials and labour to the developed countries, thus inhibiting their growth. These countries are unable to finance their development and often earn minimum wages with a very unattractive lifestyle (Skyttner 2001).
However, on careful analysis, it can be found that that is not entirely the case with the peripheral countries. The forces do play a part in the existence of poverty but are further fuelled by various situations that reside within the societies themselves. One such situation is the presence of illiteracy amongst the unfortunate. Such individuals are unable to secure expensive educations and subsequently acquire higher posts in organizations. Such posts get acquired by well-established and financially secure individuals whereas the lower sections are forced to retort to minimum wage jobs. Other characteristics like patriarchy, nepotism, discrimination and prejudice also support the increasing distance between the rich and the poor. According to the World Systems analysis there exists a belief that living conditions in developed countries is better as compared to the developed and under-developed countries. The theory supports the idea that the population of such under-developed countries is at a disadvantage as compared to the urban sectors. This idea also exists because of the perception that capitalization and modernization are intertwined with one another (Bockeroff & Brennan, 1998). What this essentially translates to is that the capitalist core countries have better technologies and better standards of living as compared to other countries (Bockeroff & Brennan, 1998). The World Systems perspective perceives that modernization of an area improves the status of individuals, thus wiping off poverty part by part.
However, the presumed superiority of well-developed cities have been widely disputed. Most fail to realize is that poverty exists amongst the core countries as well. A division of the population in such areas suffers from under-development and have a low standard of living. Despite improvement in the recent decades, a sizable fraction of multiple core countries still exist in extremely poor situations (Ortiz-Ospina, 2017). One argument is that the rapid population growth and economic strides is associated with a falling standard of living (Bockeroff & Brennan, 1998). It is perceived that a decline in the ecology and uncomfortable living conditions is a side-effect of the rapid growth, thus causing poverty to exist in such countries. There also exists various forms of inequalities in the bigger cities of these core countries (Bockeroff & Brennan, 1998).
Poverty can also be attributed to inadequate support provided to the citizens of a county by the forces that run that particular country. The government, in general, is responsible for looking after the needs of every individual in the society, and yet a parity exists in various countries in between the treatment of the rich and the poor. Many governments have failed as social organizations to ensure that the poor are well provided for, thus pushing more and more individuals into poverty. This pattern can be especially noticed in developing countries that place the focus on industrialization and globalization, thus ignoring the demands of the needy in favour of development for the higher classes (Ortiz-Ospina, 2017). In some cases, the government turns out to be incompetent and is unable to prioritize in between different issues that prevail in their country. The lifestyle of the poor often gets ignored amongst other demands, and illiteracy amongst the poor about their rights in the country worsens the situations.
This, however, does not negate the fact that poverty is still highly prevalent in the under-developed peripheral countries. The peripheral nations have comparatively fewer available lands that the poor are unable to afford and thus are forced to lease it from the rich landowners, fewer skilled workers available, lesser profits and restricted civil rights and liberties (Dasandi, 2014). It has also been found the inequalities in between the men and women and restrictions on the growth of women is also one of the contributing factors to the poverty that prevails in the peripheral countries (Dasandi 2014). These inequalities, by the means of World-Systems Analysis, can be attributed to the lack of modernization in these countries. Along with the global factors, domestic factors have also contributed to the inequalities and subsequent poverty in these countries (Dasandi, 2014).
The World-Systems Analysis perspective fails to take into account various cultural aspects related to poverty. Certain cultural factors and various beliefs regarding modernization and education have also contributed to the existence of poverty in various countries (Gunaratne, 2001). It has also been pointed out that the perspective is “too prone to generalization” and tends to neglect various class struggles and class structures that exist in between a society and act as a barrier against improvement in the standard of living of various citizens (Gunaratne, 2001). It has been pointed out that poverty as a phenomenon is hugely a domestic issue that is specific to every state, and cannot be generalised to the entire collection of peripheral countries. The roots of the existence of poverty can be very culture-specific in certain parts of the world, and these roots need to be properly assessed to eradicate poverty from that particular part (Gunaratne, 2001).
In conclusion, while the World Systems Analysis succeeds in covering the brief definition of poverty and the various global economic and political situations that have led to the establishment of economic diversity and inequality in various countries, the theory lacks in a more in-depth analysis of the situation. The perspective can briefly state the formation of various tiers and the economic imbalance that exists in between these state and determine why the poor countries are unable to improve their situations over the years. However, the ideas provided are very general and do not provide a complete picture of the concept of poverty. To understand poverty, one has to not only assess the situations from a macro perspective but also analyse the situation via micro-analysis to understand the country-specific political, economic, cultural and other such factors. The World System Analysis, however, can be extremely helpful for understanding the problem from a perspective that looks at poverty from an inter-relation amongst countries point of view.
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Moloney, A. (2020). COVID-19 has widened the gender poverty gap, says the UN. Retrieved from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/09/covid19-women-pandemic-gender-poverty-gap-united-nations
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