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Ordinary Families, Extraordinary Lives

Ordinary Families, Extraordinary Lives: Assets and Poverty Reduction in Guayaquil, 1978-2004

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 360
  • Book Info
    Ordinary Families, Extraordinary Lives
    Book Description:

    Fifty years after Oscar Lewis's famous depiction of five Mexican families caught in a "culture of poverty," Caroline Moser tells a very different story of five neighborhood women and their families strategically accumulating assets to escape poverty in the Ecuadoran city of Guayaquil. InOrdinary Families, Extraordinary Lives, Moser shows how a more sophisticated understanding of the complexities of asset accumulation as well as poverty itself can help counter inaccurate stereotypes about global poverty. It provides invaluable insight into strategies that may help people in developing countries improve their wellbeing.

    The similar socioeconomic characteristics and economic circumstances of the Guayaquil families in 1978, when Moser began her research, set the stage for a natural experiment. By 2004, these circumstances varied widely. Moser captures the causes and consequences of these developments through economic data, anthropological narrative, and personal photos. She then places this compelling story within the broader context of political, economic, and spatial changes in Guayaquil and Ecuador.

    Moser describes how households in a Third World urban slum relentlessly and systematically fought to accumulate human, social, and financial capital assets. Her longitudinal account of their odyssey captures long-term trends and changes in perception that are missed in snapshot assessments. Chapters in this holistic story cover diverse issues such as housing and infrastructure, community mobilization and political negotiation, employment, family dynamics, violence, and emigration.

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-0420-1
    Subjects: Economics, Business

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Caroline Moser
  4. Prologue
    (pp. xiii-xxii)

    With these words Marta, leader of the local community committee, introduced me to her neighbors in Indio Guayas in 1978. These were poor households—only one in five lived above the poverty line—squatting in bamboo-walled houses in a mangrove swamp on the periphery of Guayaquil, Ecuador. Recently arrived, they were young, upwardly aspiring families who had taken advantage of free waterlogged land to build and own their homes and were living without basic services such as electricity, running water, or plumbing, or social services such as health care and education. Yet thirty years later Indio Guayas was a consolidated...

  5. 1 Introduction to Indio Guayas and the Study
    (pp. 1-16)

    This chapter sets the scene for this thirty-year story by introducing the households and families in Indio Guayas that are the main social actors, summarizing the changes they have experienced over the thirty-year period. It highlights how the similarity between their socioeconomic characteristics and economic circumstances in 1978 enabled them to be considered what scientists term a natural experiment. By 2004 differentiation was more visible between those that had made it out of poverty and those who had not. The causes and consequences of this change are the main theme this book seeks to address.

    In 1978 Marta, a twenty-six-year-old...

  6. 2 Grappling with Poverty: From Asset Vulnerability to Asset Accumulation
    (pp. 17-41)

    In 1978, Aida, a local resident in Indio Guayas, identified her family as poor. At the same time she described how her family, even in the midst of considerable vulnerability, was starting to accumulate an important asset, housing. This chapter introduces the relationship between poverty, vulnerability, and assets. The first part describes two frameworks that focus on the assets of the poor. These have been developed sequentially over the past ten years on the basis of inductive research in Guayaquil.¹ The “asset vulnerability framework” was closely associated with research on the social and economic impacts of macroeconomic structural adjustment reforms...

  7. 3 A Home of One’s Own: Squatter Housing as a Physical Asset
    (pp. 42-62)

    In this way Lidia, a member of one of the families who by 1978 had settled in the Calle K in Indio Guayas, described the primitive conditions in which she first lived. Under very similar circumstances to those of her neighbors, she and her husband Salvador had acquired a ten-by-thirty-meter plot and, over the mangrove swamp water, built a modest house with a wooden floor, bamboo walls, and zinc roof. To acquire their own home, the couple together with their three young children had left their rented, tugurio (inner-city slum) accommodation. Accompanying them were Lidia’s mother and her brother, who...

  8. 4 Social Capital, Gender, and the Politics of Physical Infrastructure
    (pp. 63-88)

    These two comments made twenty-six years apart by Marta, president of the Indio Guayas barrio committee throughout this period, describe different stages in the struggle (lucha), as it was called, for infrastructure. As a young woman, shortly after arriving in Indio Guayas, she highlighted the importance of women’s support for the mobilizations being planned; as a grandmother more than a quarter of a century later she reflected back on the responsibility she had assumed to ensure that both physical and social infrastructure were acquired.

    Turning from household priorities centered on the acquisition of plots, this chapter and the next address...

  9. 5 Leadership, Empowerment, and “Community Participation” in Negotiating for Social Services
    (pp. 89-113)

    This salutary experience overturned any misconceptions I might have had about a “culture” of poverty (Lewis 1966). The problem was not Alicia’s “cultural” ignorance or apathy; rather it was the overwhelming structural constraints facing her. In 1980, although three government health facilities provided services for the entire suburbios area, the quality of care was very poor, and lack of resources meant that none provided free services.¹ With only four private doctors in the area, the majority of residents had to travel out of Cisne Dos for health care. Like most of her neighbors, Alicia only took curative action as a...

  10. 6 Earning a Living or Getting By: Labor as an Asset
    (pp. 114-136)

    Claudio, a tailor, lived with his wife, Mercedes, and two young children directly across the walkway from Marta. As an “artisan producer” Claudio made trousers for local community members while augmenting his income as a “subcontracted outworker” for a city center shop. However, as he described above, in 1978 he decided to diversify his income-earning activities. His confidence about the future was typical of many young men who in 1978 had settled in the suburbios to seek a better life.

    To rectify his illegal situation, and improve both income and status, Claudio entered night school in 1980, and by 1984...

  11. 7 Families and Household Social Capital: Reducing Vulnerability and Accumulating Assets
    (pp. 137-156)

    As Marta commented, at the heart of all coping, survival, or indeed accumulation strategies in Indio Guayas over the past twenty-six years was the social institution of thefamily—those joined by consanguinity—that closely overlapped with thehousehold—those joined by sharing a common space, cooking pot, and financial resources.¹ Earlier chapters that focused on the importance of community social relationships, trust, and collaboration that constitute community social capital viewed households in somewhat homogeneous terms. The preceding chapter, which described workers in terms of their accumulation of financial capital, tended to view them as individual “atomistic decisionmakers.” In reality,...

  12. 8 The Impact of Intrahousehold Dynamics on Asset Vulnerability and Accumulation
    (pp. 157-181)

    Birthday parties break the monotony and hardship of daily life, and are times of happiness and celebration. They also provide “apt illustration” (Mitchell 1968) of the pooling and sharing around a family life cycle ritual. This description of a barrio fiesta is timeless; the social construction of gender relationships in the domestic arena played out at such an event has not changed in thirty years. Within the household it is women who are responsible for the preparation and running of the event; as with daily provisioning and household consumption, Latin American cultural norms attribute such female tasks as “natural” women’s...

  13. 9 Daughters and Sons: Intergenerational Asset Accumulation
    (pp. 182-205)

    A thirty-year study makes it possible to track how well parents’ aspirations for their children were met, as well as the extent to which children’s lives played out in comparison to their own expectations. Such long-term observation relates not only to the sons and daughters of the first generation that settled in Indio Guayas in the 1970s but also to the third generation—their grandchildren. For instance, the five mothers from the five families on Calle K had raised a total of twenty-five children, and by 2004 they had fifty grandchildren.

    The similar socioeconomic characteristics and economic circumstances of these...

  14. 10 Migration to Barcelona and Transnational Asset Accumulation
    (pp. 206-230)

    The three individuals whose stories introduce this chapter have all migrated from Calle K to Barcelona. This chapter turns to household members, particularly second-generation sons, daughters, and friends of the families in Indio Guayas—and a few first-generation exceptions such as Carmen—who have migrated to this Spanish city. They exemplify the comparative levels of well-being of migrants who have moved abroad versus those who have remained in Guayaquil. As in previous chapters, the macro- and city-level economies and their associated job opportunities provide the broader context within which their lives are positioned. In the case of Ecuadorian emigration, the...

  15. 11 Youth Crime, Gangs, and Violent Death: Community Responses to Insecurity
    (pp. 231-248)

    The previous chapter described how some young men got out of Guayaquil and made new lives as migrants, predominantly in Barcelona, Spain. However, the majority remained in Indio Guayas. As highlighted by Lourdes’s account of the tragic January 2005 killing of the gang leader Stefan by Mario, a university student, violent conflicts were occurring within the community, most often among its young men. Lourdes distinguished between gangs of youngsano(literally, “healthy”) men that hung out on street corners playing football and drinking as a recreational activity, and gangs that were involved in criminal thieving and drug-selling activities. In addition,...

  16. 12 Research and Policy Lessons from Indio Guayas
    (pp. 249-264)

    Although the final chapter of a book is the conclusion, the struggles of the five Indio Guayas families to get out of poverty and accumulate assets, and their efforts to retain a cohesive community really have no definitive conclusion. Rather, they constitute a continuous intergenerational process in which a nearly thirty-year cutoff period is as arbitrary in many ways as any other shorter period would be. Indeed, the global financial crisis of 2009 will undoubtedly have an impact on income-generating activities in Guayaquil as well as on migrant remittance levels from Barcelona, with important implications for the sustainability of accumulated...

  17. APPENDIX A Research Methodology: Guayaquil Fieldwork
    (pp. 265-273)
  18. APPENDIX B Guayaquil’s Political and Economic Context
    (pp. 274-287)
  19. APPENDIX C Econometric Methodology
    (pp. 288-310)
  20. Notes
    (pp. 311-331)
  21. References
    (pp. 332-350)
  22. Index
    (pp. 351-360)
  23. Back Matter
    (pp. 361-362)