Can We Create a World Without Poverty?

Poverty is the state when people lack the means to satisfy their basic needs (“Poverty | Definition, Causes, Types, & Facts”).

In the 21st century, this issue is the top priority, ergo "No poverty" is the number one sustainable development goal out of seventeen. Various governmental or non-governmental organizations unite around it. Their vision is creating the world without it. But is it possible? To find answers to those questions, we will review Functionalism, Conflict Theory, and Symbolic interactionalism - three major sociological paradigms and their micro and macro-level analysis of the issue, and explain: What is poverty? How would the world function without it? And, can we create the world without it?

UN. (2015). Sustainable Development goals [Graph]. 17 sustainable development goals by the Un to transform our world
Figure 1: UN. (2015). Sustainable Development goals [Graph].

Functionalism on poverty

First of all, functionalism states that poverty has a function that helps society to operate better. Stratification must exist as it is an integral part of the competitive and healthy function of society. The existence of stratification depends on the occupation. Individuals will strive towards jobs that best suit them and can offer the most benefit and rewards (Dmello, Sociology of Poverty). However, getting such a position requires years of studying and hard work that will finally result in the development of the individual. Ergo, the will to overcome poverty and stratification, individuals gain motivation, hence the society will develop. However, it will be fair to say that the Functionalist theory is unjust and subjective as it leaves the suffering and the everyday struggle of millions of people unexplained. It does not discuss the possible solutions to the issue, in fact, it states that there is no end to this inevitable issue.

Sangorori. Stratification illustration
Figure 2: Stratification

Conflict theory

On the contrary, conflict theory discusses that poverty is an integral part of a capitalist society. It is a direct consequence of the inequality inherent in the class system. Unlike functionalism’s viewpoint of poverty, it claims that social stratification does not benefit society as a whole but instead only a small section - the bourgeoise. The lack of opportunity that an individual is born in causes class stratification. (Dmello, Sociology of Poverty). To break the cycle of poverty, one needs to get proper education and life, which is only affordable to people with a certain amount of income and livings. Stated above leads to an assumption that mobility between classes and moving from one position to another is possible but barely manageable.

Envettia. (2017, December 11). Envettia’s avatar poverty due to lack of education [Painting].  poverty and education. staving child
Figure 3: Envettia’s avatar poverty due to lack of education

Symbolic interactions

Finally, symbolic interactionism tries to find the roots of poverty in everyday interactions and daily lives of the members of society. It states that one is poor because society treats him as underprivileged. . To end poverty the society must start treating people from disadvantaged backgrounds as full-right citizens. Stereotypes, prejudices, and expectations are the biggest obstacle in this mission. Everyday interactions are the way for socialization and development. If one lacks proper socialization or is treated in a certain way, he will never fully unleash his potential. Unlike functionalism or conflict theory, symbolic interactionalism claims that poverty is not inevitable and can be solved with healthy communication.

To summarise, poverty is one of the most concerning issues in the modern world. Organizations around the globe are working on plans to eliminate stratification and create well-being and equal opportunities for everyone in the world. Nonetheless, sociological understanding of the problem and its complexity suggests that solving world poverty is next to impossible. Functionalism theory claims that poverty and stratification have a latent function that serves the development of society. On the contrary, conflict theory discusses that poverty is the direct consequence of inequality and it leads to the destruction of society as a whole. Lastly, symbolic interactionalism does not discuss the meaning of poverty. It explores micro dimensions of sociological issues and seeks the solution in social interaction. Therefore, symbolic interactionalism suggests that the problem of poverty exists because interactions between people from different classes are different too. It results in less motivation and opportunities for those who are considered poor. If people cease to make assumptions about one’s background and supposable future, one will have more freedom to get an education, a job, and the life he desires, instead of the life society expects him to lead. In short, one can overcome poverty and stratification only if other members of the society start interacting with him or her without prejudices and stereotypes.


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Irina Berdzenishvili

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