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Regional themes > Poverty reduction frameworks and critiques Last update: 2020-11-27  

Global Poverty Research Group

Pluralism, poverty and sharecropping:
Cultivating open-mindedness in development studies1

Wendy Olsen

Global Poverty Research Group


SARPN acknowledges the ESRC Global Poverty Research Group as a source of this document:
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Pluralism adds depth to the mixing of methods in development studies. In this paper, two aspects of pluralism (methodological and theoretical) are described and applied. Pluralism is grounded in an assumption that society has both structure and complexity, and that agents within society actively promote specific ways of describing and interpreting that society. An example –tenancy in India -- is briefly explored, illustrating the ways that pluralists compare theories and conduct empirical research. Pluralist research is often interdisciplinary because of the depth ontology that is involved. Such interdisciplinary research generates a dialogue across epistemological chasms and across theories that have different underlying assumptions. Pluralist research can be valued for its discursive bridging function and such research is illustrated through examples from the tenancy literature. Pluralist research can also contribute to improvements in scientific measurement. Divergent schools of thought can be brought into contact by reconceptualising the objects of research, such as contracts or coercion. In the tenancy literature explored here, alternative ways of measuring and interpreting power arose. Structuralist approaches tended to assume poverty and inequality as part of the context within which economic action takes place. Strengths and weaknesses of such assumptions are examined. Pluralism makes possible increased and improved dialogue about tenancy-related policy changes aimed at poverty reduction.

  1. This paper originated within the ESRC Global Poverty Research Group at the University of Manchester Institute for Development Policy and Management. The support of the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) is gratefully acknowledged. I am grateful for comments received after presenting the paper at the conference of the Development Studies Association, Glasgow, Sept. 11, 2003. The reviewer’s and editors’ comments were valuable in improving the paper.

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