Coffee Hour with Lakshman Yapa: How development causes poverty

Friday, October 7, 2016 - 3:30pm
Refreshments are offered in 319 Walker Building at 3:30 p.m. The lecture begins in 112 Walker Building at 4:00 p.m.

soweto poster

Travel notes from Cuba, Haiti, South Africa, and Sri Lanka

About the talk

Abject poverty amidst great wealth has persisted throughout history in rich and poor countries, in good and bad times—a paradox that attracted the attention of people such as Karl Marx, Charles Dickens, Henry George, Mahatma Gandhi, Fidel Castro, Ivan Illich, Nelson Mandela, and now it appears, even of Donald Trump. It is universally believed that poverty can be eradicated thorough economic growth and development. This notion widely accepted by economists, adhered to by politicians, and promoted by The World Bank and the IMF does have a few notable skeptics among whom were Gandhi and Illich. They both claimed that contrary to the dominant mainstream view, economic development is a causative agent of poverty. I support this contrary claim. Drawing on the thoughts of Marx, Foucault, and Illich I shall present briefly a few theoretical ideas that link development to poverty. Then I shall resort to a narrative mode of argument by telling a few stories from places that I recently visited in Cuba, Haiti, South Africa, and Sri Lanka. The stories support the larger argument that development not only causes poverty, but also acts as formidable obstacle to finding solutions to the problems of poor people.

About the speaker

Lucky YapaLakshman Yapa is professor emeritus of geography in the Department of Geography, Penn State. His primary teaching, research, and service interests are related to poverty and economic development. His undergraduate degree is from Sri Lanka, and his Ph.D. is from Syracuse University, New York. In the past he has consulted for The World Bank, US Agency for International Development, the United Nations Development Fund, the Institute for Development Anthropology, companies such as Chemonics International, and Non-governmental organizations such as Winrock International. From 1998 to 2010 he was the director of the Philadelphia Field Project, a Penn State service learning course based in the poorer black neighborhoods of West Philadelphia.

Suggested reading

  • Yapa, Lakshman (Forthcoming). “Poverty.” In The International Encyclopedia of Geography, edited by Douglas Richardson, et al. Oxford, UK: John Wiley and Sons, Ltd. PDF
  • Yapa, L. (2015). “Why We Cannot All Be Middle Class in America,” In S. Haymes, M. Vidal de Haymes, and R. Miller (eds.), Routledge Handbook on Poverty in the United States. London: Routledge Press, 576-583 PDF
  • Sunil Yapa, "Where There Is No Water and Nothing Grows" June 2016

Contact us

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