SOAS University of London

Centre for Development, Environment and Policy (CeDEP)

Understanding Poverty (30 credits)

30 credits

The first two targets within the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are as follows:

1.1 “By 2030, eradicate extreme poverty for all people everywhere …”, measured as people living below the so-called international (consumption) poverty line;

1.2 “By 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions.”

Furthermore, throughout the SDGs there is a concern to ensure that “no one is left behind”. As efforts are made to enhance human health, provide quality education, clean water and sanitation, generate decent work through economic growth and so on, this mantra emphasises the need to tackle inequality in both opportunities and outcomes.

This module is aimed at (current or future) development practitioners – from government departments, international development agencies, NGOs or private business – who are involved in the design of policy or interventions to combat poverty in low- or middle-income countries. It aims to provide a sound understanding of the nature of poverty, its causes and consequences, of trends in poverty reduction across low and middle income countries, and of debates as to the drivers of these trends.

The module encompasses economic, social and political perspectives and examines the interaction of diverse factors in producing and reproducing poverty. There is an emphasis within the module on assisting students to gain a rigorous and critical understanding of key concepts used in international poverty debates, and on showing how the definitions of poverty that we use affect our findings regarding both poverty incidence and poverty trends, and hence also the policies prescribed to tackle poverty.

Given the emphasis on measuring poverty, as well as defining it, within some units of the module, a basic level of numeracy (and readiness to think about numbers) is required for full engagement with the module materials.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the module

  • demonstrate a rigorous and critical understanding of key concepts used in international poverty debates. This includes practical issues of measurement as well as definition;
  • analyse both the proximate and deeper factors that trap people in poverty or assist them to escape poverty;
  • critically examine trends in poverty reduction in low and middle income countries, as shown by alternative poverty measures;
  • critically examine international paradigms and architecture for poverty reduction policies.


Students are advised to dedicate 15 - 20 hours study time per week for this module.

Scope and syllabus

The module will comprise 15 units:

  1. Conceptualising Poverty
  2. Measures of Monetary Poverty
  3. Multi-Dimensional Poverty Measures
  4. Growth and Poverty Reduction
  5. Inequality, Growth and Poverty
  6. Poverty Dynamics
  7. Social Differentiation and Poverty
  8. Gender and Poverty
  9. Trends in Monetary Poverty and Malnutrition
  10. Poverty and the Environment
  11. Urban Poverty
  12. Tackling Capability Poverty
  13. Power, Politics and Governance
  14. Minerals and Aid
  15. The Sustainable Development Goals

Method of assessment

This module is assessed by:

  • a 500-word commentary and critical discussion on a key reading, and assessment of the commentaries of two other students (10%)
  • a 3000-word examined assignment (EA), with an element of online interaction and discussion, worth 40%
  • a two-hour written examination worth 50%.

Since the EA is an element of the formal examination process, please note the following:

  • The EA questions and submission date will be available on the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE).
  • The EA is submitted by uploading it to the VLE.
  • The EA is marked by the module tutor and students will receive a percentage mark and feedback.
  • Answers submitted must be entirely the student’s own work and not a product of collaboration.
  • Plagiarism is a breach of regulations. To ensure compliance with the specific University of London regulations, all students are advised to read the guidelines on referencing the work of other people. For more detailed information, see the FAQ on the VLE.

Suggested reading

  • World Bank (2018) Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2018: Piecing Together the Poverty Puzzle. Washington DC, The World Bank.
  • Collier, P. (2007) The Bottom Billion. Oxford, Oxford University Press.
  • Ruggeri Laderchi, C., Saith, R. & Stewart, F. (2003) Does it matter that we do not agree on the definition of poverty? A comparison of four approaches. Oxford Development Studies, 31 (3), 243–274
  • Alkire, S. & Santos, M. (2010) Acute Multidimensional Poverty: A New Index for Developing Countries. Queen Elizabeth House, University of Oxford. OPHI Working Paper, pp. 6–26, 30–35
  • Bourguignon, F. (2004) The poverty-growth-inequality triangle. Presented at the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations. 4 February 2004, New Delhi. pp. 1–26
  • De Weerdt, J. (2010) Moving out of poverty in Tanzania: evidence from Kagera. Journal of Development Studies, 46 (2), 331–349
  • Stewart, F. & Langer, A. (2008) Horizontal inequalities: explaining persistence and change. In: Stewart, F. (Ed.) Horizontal Inequalities and Conflict: Understanding Group Violence in Multiethnic Societies. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 54–82
  • Timmer P (2009) A World without Agriculture: The Structural Transformation in Historical Perspective. Washington DC, The AEI Press, pp. 1–36.
  • Mitlin, D. & Satterthwaite, D. (2013) Urban Poverty in the Global South: Scale and Nature. London and New York, Routledge. pp. 278–303
  • UNESCO (2015) Education for All 2000-–2015: Achievements and Challenges. Education for All Global Monitoring Report 2015, Paris, pp. 75–106.
  • Jamison, D., Summers, L., Alleyne, G. et. al. (2013) Global health 2035: A world converging within a generation. The Lancet, 382, pp. 1898–1955.
  • Horn, P. & Grugel, J. (2018) The SDGs in middle-income countries: Setting or serving domestic development agendas? Evidence from Ecuador. World Development 109, pp. 73-84.


Important notice regarding changes to programmes and modules