In our seminars, many students seemed to feel removed from the struggle of ‘poverty’ as a whole, and found themselves almost paralyzed due to their inexperience. Questions such as “do we have the experience/knowledge/entitlement to research and represent poverty?” were raised repeatedly. It is now clear that we are not alone in this struggle, as oftentimes people researching and representing poverty and vulnerability do not necessarily share these experiences themselves (Awad 2014). This post will discuss some gained insights with respect to research ethics, specifically in researching the struggle of alcohol dependency. 

1. Reflect on your Positionality

First of all, realize that ‘poverty’ is a very broad and comprehensive term, encompassing material, economic, and social dimensions (Spicker 2007). While you might have not struggled with financial hardship in absolute terms, there might have been times in which you have had to worry about future expenses or about debts, or sensed that others in your direct environment could spend more money than you. Or, perhaps you have experienced the struggle of someone else, for example with substance dependency or debt; what have you learned through these experiences? Next, reflect on how your – potentially privileged – position might shape your research and how you represent poverty. Your education level, socioeconomic status, or ethnic background might advantage you compared to the group you are studying or person you are interviewing – be aware of this advantage (Muhammad et al. 2015). Nonetheless, try to not let this fact paralyze you, but rather use it as a motivational factor and remain self-reflective throughout the research process

2. Acknowledge your Biases

Closely related to the previous point, is the importance of biases we might hold. Preconceived notions can be greatly influenced by e.g. the media; in our case, people dependent on substances were found to be portrayed in a simplified and generalized manner, reinforcing stereotypes and linking drug use to criminality (Taylor 2008). I discovered that I held the assumption that excessive drinking would be associated with lower educational levels and socioeconomic status, but was surprised to learn that this was in fact the other way around in The Hague (GGD Haaglanden 2020). Biases might shape your perception and consequent representation substantially, therefore recognizing those are an important step in the research process. You might uncover biases as you go, but asking close friends or colleagues about things (assumptions) that stand out in your thinking patterns would also be an option. Again, while you might uncover numerous biases, do not let them deter you from pursuing research on poverty, but do remind yourself of them as you go.

3. Be mindful of your Vocabulary

Language matters. When representing the struggle and disseminating information, pay close attention to the words you are using. Whenever you can, try to use person-centered language, such as “the people experiencing alcohol dependency/addiction” rather than “the addicts”. Using the latter term might perpetuate the stigma surrounding alcoholism, while the former is more scientifically accurate as it refers to alcohol dependency as a disease (Richter and Foster 2014). 


Awad, I. (2014). ‘Journalism, Poverty, and the Marketing of Misery: News From Chile’s “Largest Ghetto”.’ Journal of Communication 64(6): 1066–1087.

GGD Haaglanden (2020). “Alcoholgebruik.” GGD Haaglanden Gezondheidsmonitor. At

Muhammad, M., Wallerstein, N., Sussman, A.L., Avila, M., Belone, L., Duran, B. (2015). “Reflections on Researcher Identity and Power: The Impact of Positionality on Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) Processes and Outcomes.” Critical Sociology 41(7-8): 1045-1063.

Richter, L., Foster, S.E. (2014). “Effectively addressing addiction requires changing the language of addiction.” Journal of Public Health Policy 35(1): 60-64.

Seminar 2 (2019). Ethics and Methods, seminar, Human Security: Poverty, Leiden University College the Hague, 1 November 2019.

Spicker, P. (2007). “Defining poverty.” In The Idea of Poverty, pp. 3–10.

Taylor, S. (2008). “Outside the outsiders: Media representations of drug use.” Probation Journal 55(4): 369-387. 

Reflecting on Privilege: Implications for Poverty Research

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