Social connectedness

The concept of social connectedness emphasises the importance of relations, respect and freedom from humiliation.

In research that asks poor people what matters to them, people often talk about how important relationships and social connections are for their lives. Social connectedness is highly valued by people, and especially poor people, for many different reasons.

People value relationships because they bring them comfort, provide love, allow them to confide in people or feel part of a group, or because they are important for achieving other goals, such as finding a job, or learning new skills.

The most important thing is being able to live with others, because if one is poor, relating with others can reduce one’s poverty. (Woman in Mozambique)

I like money and nice things, but it’s not money that makes me happy. It’s people that make me happy. (Middle-aged woman from Etropole, cited in Narayan and Petesch, 2002, p258).

Economists, too, are increasingly recognising the importance of connectedness.

…currently available results suggest that those interested in maximizing society’s welfare should shift their attention from an emphasis on increasing consumption opportunities to an emphasis on increasing social contacts. (Kahneman and Krueger, 2006, p22)

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Social connectedness is both intrinsically important to people, because they ‘have good reason to value not being excluded from social relations’ (Sen, 2000, p4), and instrumentally important, because not being able to interact freely can result in other deprivations, such as being excluded from employment opportunities. Indeed, social relations are so fundamental that certain deprivations in social connectedness have been argued by Amartya Sen and others to be a core component of the idea of poverty.

Aspects of shame (such as the stigma of living in poverty or having HIV/AIDS), humiliation, and social isolation can result in deprivations in social connectedness and can have negative effects on psychological wellbeing, corrode social relations, and may lead people to turn away from public services that could benefit them. Yet despite the high value of connectedness, there is currently no internationally comparable data on deprivations in social connectedness.