Poverty is usually thought of as 'not having stuff.' But this is a fundamentally materialistic and consumeristic way of defining the term, and falls far short of understanding the plight of the poor, or the various ways in which poverty can be manifested. For this reason, I am exploring these ways of describing poverty, although this is tenuously affirmed, and I would appreciate feedback on the ideas...
Instead of thinking of poverty as a lack of stuff, lets try thinking about it as a lack of access to systems of power. This actually helps us to make sense of the different forms of poverty that we see in the world around us. After all, most of us recognize that poverty is very real in our country, and yet, it is very different from poverty in other countries...
This can be defined as individuals or groups who lack access to systems of economic power.
These are people who are not having their most basic needs met. They are without food, shelter, clean water, or health care. This is what we think of as the 'global poor,' or the 'third-world poor.'
This can be defined as individuals or groups who lack access to systems of social power.
These are people who are abundantly fed, warm, and entertained, but have no control (real or perceived) over their own destiny, or that of their community or the world at large. This is the 'urban poor' and the 'rural poor' of America. People who have little access to education, to health care and healthy food, or to networks of economic, social, and political power.
This can be defined as individuals or groups who lack access to systems of meaning.
These peoples needs are met, they have power to control individual destiny, but there is no larger sense of what is to be pursued. These are people we are not likely to consider poor, yet, they have a clear lack. For them material wealth and power are ends in themselves, instead of means to something more meaningful...
In all three of these categories, the resultant poverty can be the result of an actual lack of access, or a perceived lack of access. Both are equally problematic. If a family starves because there is a famine, and literally no food exists within range of their table, that is neither more nor less a problem than an individual who suffers from mental illness and literally starves with food in their pantry.