Dissertation Abstracts

Understanding the Unequal Distribution of Human Capabilities through Forms of Exchange: Case Studies in Salvador, Brazil

Author: Vannier, Helene M.E, ln.vannier@gmail.com
Department: Development Policy and Practice
University: Open University, United Kingdom
Supervisor: Theo Papaioannou, Helen Yanacopoulos
Year of completion: In progress
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: development , exchange , capability approach , social inequalities
Areas of Research: Social Movements, Collective Action and Social Change , Poverty, Social Welfare and Social Policy , Political Sociology


This doctoral research investigates models of exchange in order to understand how they contribute to the (un)equal empowerment of people to do or be what they value. To do so, the research mainly draws on the capability approach advanced by Amartya Sen, theories of economic sociology developed from the work of Karl Polanyi, with the sociology of social reproduction of Pierre Bourdieu.

This research explores the interactions (economic and non-economic) that vulnerable people have within different social groups and their (re)distributive logics. Specifically, the study considers exchanges occurring in five case studies across a diverse set of formal and informal settings in a poor neighbourhood of the Bahia state capital Salvador, Brazil. These case studies include a saving group, a religious community, an association of fishermen, a local market, and a scavenger cooperative. The study aims to renew perspectives about exchange's (un)equal impacts on people's empowerment in society as well as their effect on the unequal capability distribution. The study also inquires into the processes and structures conditioning the access to capability and further a long debate on which social relations matter to account for poverty and fight inequality.

Moreover, the research tries to understand the characteristics of this causality in a developmental context and the impact of actual development policies. Although Brazil is one of the world’s most dynamic economies, it has recently re-engaged with redistribution policies and also hosts many social movements promoting redistribution and reciprocity as an alternative way of exchange. But the persistence of inequalities in Brazil and particularly in the region of Bahia demonstrates the limits of market growth and state redistribution strategies against poverty and inequality. To step away from an institutional interpretation of exchanges (mainly understood as the state redistribution opposed to the profit-market and to civil society reciprocal solidarity), this paper explores exchanges as elements distinct from institutions and claims of justice; it does so by adopting a systematic inductive analysis of the exchange diversity.