The power of the powerless: neighbourhood based self-help networks of the poor in Istanbul

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Recent poverty research focuses on the household responses to poverty through structure vs. agency perspectives. The human agency perspective, however, provides us important insights for looking beyond these simplistic tendencies which assume poor people as inherently passive, or envision them as helpless victims. In Turkey, politicians view poverty as a temporary and manageable problem which can be dealt with the provision of more charity or community support. Migrant networks, informal sector work and social assistance are considered to be important mechanisms that would provide resources for the poor. This paper argues that for some of the poor households none of these mechanisms provide sufficient resources. Instead, neighbourhood-based small-group solidarities and self-help networks enable those poor to develop collective capabilities and make ends meet. The paper also reveals that in Turkey, the implementation of social policies for poverty reduction could bring about relationships of patronage and in some cases contribute to existing inequalities.

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)76-87
Number of pages12
JournalWomen's Studies International Forum
IssuePart 1
Early online date2 Aug 2013
StatePublished - Nov 2013


  • poverty, gender, inequality, Social policy, capabilities approach, Ethnicity, Informal economy, Neighbourhoods, neighbourhood-based regeneration, solidarity, Social networks


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