A World Without Poverty: Negotiating the Global Development Agenda

Elham Seyedsayamdost

A World Without Poverty: Negotiating the Global Development Agenda
Seyedsayamdost, Elham
Thesis Advisor(s):
Doyle, Michael W.
Political Science
Persistent URL:
Ph.D., Columbia University.
This dissertation examines the political processes that gave rise to the antipoverty norm; the moral principle that abject poverty is dehumanizing and must be eradicated. I trace the origins of this norm to a critical juncture in the 1990s when the end of the Cold War ushered in a euphoric moment while, at the same time, crises loomed large on the international stage, where governance structures of an earlier era seemed like ancient relics no longer capable of managing problems of a new world order. As the World Bank and IMF were attacked for their conditionality programs, the UN was overwhelmed with competing peacekeeping missions. Declining foreign aid and increasing conflicts relegated development to a lower rung of importance. As official development assistance fell, donor countries found themselves debating the future of development assistance and their role within it. While international organizations created after World War II reflected on their relevancy in a changing world, they found in poverty a strategic response to their varying crises of relevancy. Consequently, towards the end of the twentieth century, diverse international organizations with diverging mandates, including IMF, WB, UN and OECD, converged on the central goal of poverty reduction. The constitution of the antipoverty norm--manifested in the Millennium Development Goals--was in turn essential to its consolidation. The multidimensional definition of poverty within a human development framework offered a holistic approach to poverty reduction that fit the mandates of participating development organizations. As such, poverty reduction created an arena for consensus without threatening state interests or organizational agendas while at the same time accommodating donors' domestic priorities. Four distinct features of the MDGs--ontological freezing, target setting, standardization, and quantification--induced these goals to dominate the international development agenda within a short time period. By making poverty a problem internal to the state and setting standardized, time-bound, and quantifiable targets to monitor progress on countries' poverty reduction priorities, the MDGs became part of development discourse and practice. Aid recipients used the MDGs to show their use of funds to reduce poverty in their countries, while donors used the MDGs as performance tools to demonstrate the effectiveness of aid to their citizens. This iterative process of data collection, analysis, and performance evaluation helped solidify the use of the MDGs while constructing the antipoverty norm as the ultimate goal of global development. In that process, instead of seriously critiquing and reforming extant global governance structures, the convergence on poverty reduction resulted in a reinvention of development orthodoxy and maintenance of status quo.
International relations
Political science
Economic history
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Suggested Citation:
Elham Seyedsayamdost, , A World Without Poverty: Negotiating the Global Development Agenda, Columbia University Academic Commons, .

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