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Editorial

Imperial crisis and the millennium goals

Monique Nuijten

Poverty is ‘big business’. Donor funds are set to increase substantially as the UN millennium targets—to eradicate extreme poverty and halve the number of people suffering from hunger by 2015—seem ever more out of reach. Small wonder that social science methods to assess levels of poverty and the results of development projects have become a hot issue, too. As much of the research on poverty directly feeds into policy making and donor strategies, people are rightly concerned about its quality. Anthropology has a stake in this debate: despite the hegemony of quantitative methods in development research, participatory rural appraisals and poverty assessments have always drawn upon anthropological methods. One might wonder what happens to these qualitative methods in research that aims to establish quantitative levels of poverty.

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Khuat Thu Hong

Background: In many ways, Vietnam can be considered a representative case in global development debates. It has been presented as a relative success story in many global development discussions since the country has moved into the middle-income category. Moreover, it statistically met many of the indicators included in the Millennium Development Goals, especially the reduction of poverty and, above all, extreme poverty.

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Johannes Fedderke

The definition of what precisely we mean by poverty is controversial. Yet empirical evidence establishes firmly that both the gap between the richest and the poorest countries in the world has been widening (as measured in terms of per capita GDP) since 1960, and that since independence a number of the very poorest countries in the world have experienced negative growth in per capita GDP. Regardless of whether one is concerned with relative or absolute conceptions of poverty, therefore, it is difficult to argue that poverty has not become a problem of greater urgency.

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Gauging inequality among pastoralists

A problem of comparison

Paul Spencer

Poverty is a relative concept that is most meaningful within the context of social inequality in a particular culture. Among pastoralists in east Africa, often with mixed economies and herds that tend to fluctuate erratically over time, the problem of assessing poverty and wealth can be resolved by examining profiles of polygyny to provide a comparable index of wealth. Several profiles are examined in relation to a mathematical model based on the binomial series, with an emphasis on its social rather than mathematical implications. These series are especially apt because they closely follow the distribution of wives in a substantial sample of African societies, and they reveal different types of balances between competition and conformity associated with age and with status. The purpose of this essay is to redefine the problem of poverty in terms of the social profiles of inequality, leading toward a comparative analysis between cultures.

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David Lester and Sergei Kondrichin

A study of the regional variation of suicide and homicide rates in the 1990s in Siberia showed that suicide rates were associated with clusters of variables measuring economic poverty and ethnic composition, while homicide rates were associated only with a cluster of variables measuring ethnic composition.

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Robert W. Compton Jr.

The African National Congress and the regeneration of political power, S. Booysen, 2011. Wits University Press.

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, D. Acemoglu & J. Robinson, 2012. Crown Publishing (Random House).

A Legacy of Liberation: Thabo Mbeki and the Future of the South African Dream, M. Gevisser, 2009. Palgrave-Macmillan.

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The year 2017 has started with many significant challenges for regionbuilding in the world. Not only do poverty and socio-economic inequity seem to be extending within and between world regions, but social tensions are manifesting themselves in different forms, from the fallout from electoral divisions in the Unites States to terrorism in Europe and Turkey.

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Jonathan Friedman

This is an age of regression, the amplification of class relations and their polarization, the withdrawal of the new political classes into luxurious lives along with other dominant classes, while the declining lower end of the social world recedes into poverty and chaos. Overstated as a description, perhaps, but it does, I suggest, situate current trends.

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Carl Knight

Earlier versions of the five articles of this edition of Theoria were presented at a conference held at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg in March 2010.1 Although they are diverse in style and content, all address the shared theme of the conference and this edition — ‘Poverty, Charity, Justice’.

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The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) mean many things to many people. Public debates have recognized the critical role they played in helping the topic of development, the related struggle against poverty and its environmental implications to emerge in the collective consciousness of global actors. In fact, diminishing the number of people living in extreme poverty by half, the main priority of the MDGs, is the most notable success of this political process that began with the Millennium Development Summit in 2000. At the same time, the MDGs have been heavily criticized by leaders and academics for being indicator-driven and, in some cases, unrealistic. It still seems that five of the eight MDGs will not be met before the goals expire in 2015.