The concept of poverty: A synchronic perspective

Federica Misturelli*, Claire Heffernan

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Poverty is often presented as an evolving concept linked to dominant development paradigms. However, changes in the meaning of specific topics comprising definitions of poverty have been largely overlooked. Therefore, the authors adopted a synchronic approach to evaluate changes contained within 159 definitions of poverty offered over a 30-year period from 1970s to 2000s. Component terms were investigated for their stability in meaning, through the application of De Saussure's concepts of signifier and signified. The results illustrate that terms often did not share the same signifier and, therefore, were accorded different meanings. In this manner, the authors argue that poverty is a highly contested concept.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-58
Number of pages24
JournalProgress in Development Studies
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2010


  • Development
  • Discourse
  • Poverty
  • Poverty definitions
  • Signified
  • Signifier
  • Synchronic analysis


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