Lecture 2, 5/31

Measuring Poverty
Poverty can be defined in very different ways. It can be measured in absolute or in relative terms, by looking at financial indicators, or taking into consideration broader factors. The way poverty is measured and defined affects the policies that are enacted to reduce it. In this session, we will look at monetary approaches at poverty assessment, and at multidimensional ones such as the Human Development Index.

Required readings
Banerjee, A. and Duflo, E.. 2012. “Think again, again” In Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty. PublicAffairs. Browse the book’s website http://pooreconomics.com
– Gates, B. 2013. “GDP Is a Terrible Way to Measure a Country’s Economy And it hinders our ability to help the poor.” In Slate
Video: Rosling, H. 2007. “New Insights on Poverty” TedTalks
– Video: Duflo, E. 2010. “Social Experiments to Fight Poverty” TedTalks

Background readings
– McIntyre, L. and Munro, J. 2013 “Nobody helps us”: insights from ultra-poor Bangladeshi women on being beyond reach.” Development in Practice Vol. 23, No. 2.
– Lu, Caizhen. 2011. Poverty and Development in China: Alternative Approaches to Poverty Assessment. Routledge.
– Chambers, R. 1995. “Poverty and Livelihoods: Whose reality counts?” Environment and Urbanization, Vol. 7, No. 1:173-204.

Other resources
World Bank, Poverty Portal
UNDP, Human Development Index (HDI)
Oxford Poverty and Human Development Initiative, The Multidimensional Poverty Index (MPI)

Lecture 1, 5/29

In this introductory class, we will lay out some of the important themes and concepts of this course. We will focus on discussions about the role of technology in poverty alleviation, examining the ways in which these discussions have changed and how they have remained the same in the past five decades or so. In particular, we will discuss two key threads that come into play in discussions of technology and poverty: the spectrum between technological and social determinism (does technology drive society or does society drive technology); and that between social structure and agency (are people’s actions determined by existing social structures or do their actions determine social structures). We will discuss why these threads are useful to follow and how they will help us frame our discussions of various technologies and their use by the poor. We will also discuss the course outline, schedule, readings, assignments, and logistics.

Required readings:

Welcome to I181: Technology & Poverty

Time: Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays 2-4.30
Place: 210 South Hall
Instructors: Neha Kumar & Elisa Oreglia

In this course, we encourage students to examine the interplay between technological systems, economic activities, social structures and practices in the lives of ‘the poor’. Our goal is to challenge the ways in which students think about how ‘technology’ is defined and what this term covers. Similarly, we will discuss how the term ‘poverty’ is understood and measured. Students will come to understand poverty ground-up as ‘the poor’ experience and describe it, not only in terms of high-level indicators. Through the course, we will focus on the roles played by individuals and societies as active agents of technology adoption and use, in the context of their constrained socio-economic conditions.

We will look at several phases of the application of technology towards poverty alleviation in both developing and developed countries. We begin the class by taking a close look at the concepts of poverty, development, and technology. We then contrast ‘thinking big’ – infrastructure and industrialization projects – and ‘thinking small’ – the appropriate technologies movement – approaches to development, looking at past and present projects in both areas. We look at the effect of the upsurge in digital technologies on gender and on the digital divide, and through discussions of case studies from different parts of the world, we focus on specific application areas such as agriculture, financial services, health care, education, entrepreneurship, and entertainment, and examine the impact of different technologies in these domains.