Journal article Open Access

Addressing Poverty and Climate Change: The Varieties of Social Engagement

Caney, Simon

In this article I propose to explore two issues. The first concerns what kinds of contributions academics can make to reducing poverty. I argue that academics can contribute in a number of ways, and I seek to spell out the diversity of the options available. I concentrate on four ways in which these contributions might differ. These differences concern: (i) whether their direct focus is on changing policies or on changing the behaviour of the affluent or on empowering the disadvantaged (the target); (ii) whether they seek to block specific harmful policies or to canvass particular beneficial policies (the positive/negative nature of the contribution); (iii) whether their focus is on specific policies or whether they seek more generally to shape the way that the issues that bear on poverty are framed (the specificity/generality of the contribution); and (iv) the means by which academics can make a contribution (the modalities of social engagement). It is, I think, important to recognize this diversity. Some may be unable to contribute in some ways but can contribute in others; some may be more adept at some kinds of anti-poverty initiatives than they are at others; and some may simply be more willing to pursue certain activities rather than others. Recognizing and describing the different options available to academics can hopefully encourage greater participation in all kinds of anti-poverty action. My second aim is to outline some norms that should inform any academic involvement in activities that seek to reduce poverty. I set out six proposals. These concern: (i) the need to construct coalitions among people with different ethical frameworks; (ii) the value of constructing non-ideal theory on the basis of our best understanding of an ideal world; (iii) the need for integrated analysis that connects anti-poverty initiatives to other areas of moral concern; (iv) the vital importance of interdisciplinarity; (v) the need for epistemic modesty and revisability; and (vi) the need for accountability.

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