Poverty and its Representations: An Anthropological Analysis of Indigenous Knowledge and Western Science Discourses within the Sustainable Development Debate

Franklin Forzo Titang


Poverty continuously lays a breeding ground for capitalist orientations and perceptions of the concept in itself and “justifies” the adoption of foreign-based solutions with little or no affiliation to local and socio-cultural contexts. Meanwhile, the contextualizations surrounding the poverty debate in development aid and intervention seemingly underpin the assertion that development aid is problematic in itself given binary tensions surrounding indigenous knowledge and western science as post-modern development discourse. This paper succinctly explores the orientations of poverty within the development aid conundrum and discusses dichotomies between indigenous knowledge and western science in defining development processes in developing countries and Sub Saharan Africa. It seeks to underscore the socio economic, cultural and politically constructed “representations” of poverty by discussing theoretical standpoints to question development aid agencies’ interventions in the Global South, and the impending changes in local and community relationships as a result. The paper concludes that while anthropologists’ role within this development and knowledge debate is pivotal, it is imperative for development aid to go beyond mere economic and measurement led framings of poverty, to affix a more salient perspective of culture and local knowledge systems that will shape the understanding of poverty and guide concurrent interventions.


culture; development; poverty; Global South; indigenous knowledge; western science

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