Demand rationalities in contexts of poverty: do the poor respond to market and policy incentives in the same way?

Professor Xavier Bonal, University of Barcelona

8 December 2016, 16.15-17.45, UCL Institute of Education, 20 Bedford Way, London WC1H 0AL. Room to be confirmed.

During the last few years, we have witnessed globalized policies aimed specifically at improving access to education, and schooling conditions, for disadvantaged groups. International organizations such as the World Bank, national governments and some key private-sector actors share a common vision about the role that incentives are supposed to play in enhancing educational access and educational performance of the poor. Programmes or policies such as Conditional Cash Transfers (CCT) or voucher systems designed to promote school choice of the most disadvantaged, assume that beneficiaries of such an approach follow an instrumental rationality that ensures the optimization of its effects.

Although the results of various investigations are not at all conclusive, the theory of change underlying these programmes does not question the existence of several rationalities that may alter the expected effects of market or policy incentives. This is a key aspect to understand the failure (or the partial success) of certain policies addressed to improve the education of the most disadvanteged. By ignoring the real responses of the poor to public policy and market incentives, policies and programmes may introduce important biases in their design and implementation process and obviously reduce their effectiveness and equity. In this paper we will provide empirical evidence on the various rationalities offered by families living in poverty to different sorts of incentives. Taking examples from Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) programmes and voucher systems we will show the reductionism of their theory of change and their limits to interpret the reactions of the most disadvantaged groups that go beyond instrumental rationality.

Xavier Bonal is Professor of Sociology at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (UAB) and Special Professor of Education and International Development at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). He is the director of the research group Globalisation, Education and Social Policies (GEPS) and Coordinator of the GLOBED Project, an Erasmus Mundus Master on Education Policies for Global Development. He has been member of the EU Network of Experts in Social Sciences and Education (NESSE) and is member of the Editorial Board of several international journals of education policies and educational development. Professor Bonal has widely published in national and international journals and is the author of several books on sociology of education, education policy and globalisation, education and development. He has worked as a consultant for international organisations such as UNESCO, UNICEF, the European Commission, and the Council of Europe. Between 2006 and 2010, he was Deputy Ombudsman for Children’s Rights at the Office of the Catalan Ombudsman.

Professor Bonal’s seminar presentation is now available here.