Think Tank #27 – Aporophobia: a right misconception?

With Nicolas De Kuyssche of The Forum – Brussels against inequalities, David Trembla, active member of DoucheFLUX, and Daniel Zamora, sociologist at ULB.

In all social classifications, attempts have been made to combine social and cultural elements: we can reshape social relations by changing the way we perceive the culture associated with them. For instance, in the fight against ‘Islamophobia’, a change in the way we look at Muslim culture should help change the unequal social relations arising from discrimination against the religion. While this approach has been used in almost all struggles to overcome discrimination against minority groups, the new concept of aporophobia or peniaphobia — the fear of poverty or poor people — begs the question: is there such a thing as discrimination against poor people? More fundamentally, is it helpful to look at the issue this way? Do the poor define a social situation that requires from the better-off ‘a change in perspective’ and ‘a re-examination of stereotypes’?

From a critical viewpoint, might such an apparently well-intentioned concept further intensify the ‘culturalisation’ of poverty (making poverty a cultural attribute of the ‘target groups’ that should be respected), as much as the (very neoliberal) dissociation of the notion of poverty from the issue of unequal distribution of wealth? As Daniel Zamora recently pointed out,

“Indeed, the solution to xenophobia is to ensure that everyone, whatever their beliefs and origins, can exercise their rights freely. This does not work in the case of poverty. Few voices call for poverty to be celebrated and preserved in the name of diversity. According to the campaign against aporophobia, ‘We must fight poverty, not the poor!’. It would hardly be appropriate to campaign under the slogan ‘We must fight homosexuality, not homosexuals!’[1]

In Brussels, the non-profit organisation Le Forum bruxellois de lutte contre la pauvreté has published a collection of essays entitled Pauvrophobie[2], whose objective is to deconstruct, in a well-argued way, preconceived ideas about the poor, with a view to ‘providing a more accurate definition of a phenomenon that affects one Belgian in five’. The idea seems to be that we have to deconstruct these preconceived ideas before we can come up with non-discriminatory solutions to poverty. That being said, we may wonder how the approach based on the notion of aporophobia will really contribute to ending homelessness?

Apart from this risk of culturalising poverty, it is hard not to notice the absence of input from people directly affected by poverty. This is important, as the introduction of such a concept is likely to have a huge social impact. What do destitute people think about it? Do the targets of these preconceived ideas see the need to introduce this concept? What do the victims of aporophobia have to say to the aporophobes? Do we know, for example, whether the emergence of this concept has brought any benefits to those who – on a daily basis – suffer from the unequal distribution of wealth?

These are all questions that need to be addressed in the context of the much needed update of the ‘software’ of the fight against extreme poverty.

[1] ZAMORA, D., ‘Vive la pauvrophobie !’, in Le Vif, No 42 (18 October 2018), pp.66-67.
[2] LE FORUM – BRUXELLES CONTRE LES INÉGALITÉS (essay collection), Pauvrophobie (Aporophobia), Brussels, Éditions Luc Pire, 2018.

Thursday 13 June 2019 from 12.00 to 14.00

At DoucheFLUX, Rue des Vétérinaires/Veeartsenstraat 84, 1070 Brussels.

Please reserve your place by emailing Serena Alba (sandwiches provided).