Thinking Poverty: Basic Codes

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Abstract

The present-day viewing of poverty in a predominantly economic perspective is neither “natural”, nor self-evident, nor the only possible viewpoint. The perception of poverty is always part of an integral worldview (Weltanschauung). This article aims to shed more light on some elements (basic codes) of a somewhat unconscious construction of the world, which predetermine various views on poverty in different societies and civilizations. Here the codes are thought of as the most general ways and modes of perception of social reality, and general strategies of behavior within that reality. These codes characterize the specific stances of practical subjects (individuals, groups or larger communities), stances that represent an alloy of perception and action. Two types of codes are distinguished: structural and formative (cultural, civilizational). The structural codes are only two in number: the dual and the hierarchic, while the formative specifically characterize an individual culture or civilization. The different types are reconstructed with reference to a number of historical studies. Among the formative codes, special attention is devoted to those specific for the Judaic, Christian, and Islamic civilizations.

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