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Global Development Institute

WP199/2014

Livelihoods Limitations: The Political Economy of Urban Poverty in Bangladesh

Nicola Banks

Frameworks for understanding urban poverty have taken an asset-based approach that assesses livelihoods strategies on the basis of a household’s portfolio of assets. Research in Dhaka, Bangladesh reveals the limitations of such approaches. Their narrow focus on households and depoliticized definition of social capital may capture experiences of urban poverty, but cannot reconcile these with the significance of the structural drivers of urban poverty. Our understanding of urban poverty must recognize the informal systems of governance that dominate resource distribution at the community-level and keep the resources necessary for household improvement confined to a relatively small elite. Excluded from the accumulation networks that provide a platform for household mobility for the well-connected, most urban poor households are reliant upon survival networks in their search for security. Only through extending our analysis beyond the household to explore their position within this local political economy can we recognize the significant limitations placed on their efforts to extend and improve their livelihoods.