SEATTLE — The world of theory is adjacent to the world of policy. Though policymakers do not always specifically seek the advice or commentary of theorists, theory indisputably shapes the decisions of policymakers.
Harvard University professor Stephen M. Walt highlights the connection between theory and policy and urges an increase in their co-dependence. This is because theory shapes decision and policymaking. Thus by extension, theory shapes poverty relief. The various theoretical approaches to poverty shape the policies that direct the fight against poverty.
Realism, liberalism, and social constructivism are three prominent and persuasive schools of thought. An individual’s idea of how poverty policies should be shaped is dependent on their subscription to these differing schools.
Realism tends to focus on the individual. Thus, if a person or a state is a realist, they tend to focus on themselves or on policy decisions that will reflect their needs before those of others. This is not necessarily out of self-interest. Rather, the realist uses self-promotion as a means of self-preservation.
Therefore, a realist might ask, “Why should we place our efforts in fighting global poverty when we have impoverished people in our own country?” This is a fair question. However, it misses an important component: we can do both.
Liberalist theory accompanies the other theoretical approaches to poverty. It embraces intergovernmental cooperation. Furthermore, liberalism regards the world as a machine that only functions because each of its parts plays a specific and necessary task. States, communities and individuals are regarded with equal importance in the international order.
A liberal might be inclined to suggest a multilateral cooperative to help fight poverty at different levels. They might underscore the importance of fighting poverty from the top (e.g. creating policy) to bottom (e.g. educating community members on good maintenance).
Social constructivism is a more recent theory that seeks to interpret the international order. Political scientist Alexander Wendt says social constructivism is composed of two primary facets. First, “human association[s]are determined primarily by shared ideas rather than material forces.” In other words, we construct our reality based on our ideas and not on that which is tangible. Second, the identities and interests of actors (i.e. states, communities, individuals) are constructed by ideas.
The ambiguous nature of the theory allows the constructivist a wide variety of commentary. Since social constructivists also believe that social structures can be reduced to an individual level, a social constructivist might suggest that each case of poverty should be examined as its own unique case and fought according to its specific features and environment.
Since theories attest to the nature of human beings, their premises will inevitably arise throughout policymaking conversations. When a poverty-fighting policy is brought up, it is important to remember that diverse perspectives and ideas that accompany the various theoretical approaches to poverty foster ingenuity and breakthrough.
– Rebeca Ilisoi