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Understanding Poverty and Inequality through Different Forms of Exchange


Helene Vannier


An Open University funded PhD project, October 2011-September 2014.

Aims and Objectives

This research aims to understand how exchanges contribute to the (unequal) empowerment of people to do or be what they value. Specifically, it draws on Sen's capability framework and Polanyi's theory of exchange, to investigate how the different forms of exchange - market, redistribution and reciprocity - affect people's capabilities: enable their distribution, unequally structure their repartition and support the achievement of functionings people value.

Salvador de Bahia in Brazil is used as a case-study to understand this relation in a developmental context. Although the country is one of the world's most dynamic economies; it has recently re-engaged with redistribution policies and also hosts many social movements promoting redistribution and reciprocity as an alternative ways of exchange. But the persistence of inequalities in Brazil and particularly in the region of Bahia demonstrates the limits of market growth and state redistribution strategies against poverty and inequality.

This study draws on theories of distributive justice, economic sociology, social reproduction, and on the political debate on socio-economic policies for international development.

Conference Presentations

Vannier, H (2015). What looking at how exchanges facilitate capabilities teaches us for - assessing and designing - development policies? HDCA Annual Conference, Georgetown University, Washington, DC, USA, 10 - 13 September, 2015.

Vannier, H (2015). Shifts of paradigm and power: The dynamics behind Brazilian 'self-determination' development policies. ISA Annual Convention, New Orleans, USA, 18 - 21 February, 2015.

Vannier, H (2014). Individual capabilities vs. social exchanges: Discussing levels of agency and structure in opportunities and choices. The Ethics of Poverty Alleviation Conference, Salzburg, Austria, 28 - 29 August, 2014.

Vannier, H (2014). Brazilian policies and Salvador’s communities: Revisiting development theory and practice. World Congress of Political Science, IPSA, Montreal, Canada, 19 - 24 July, 2014.

Contact us

To find out more about our work, or to discuss a potential project, please contact:

International Development Research Office
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
The Open University
Walton Hall
Milton Keynes
United Kingdom

T: +44 (0)1908 858502