In the early 1990s, the donor community was faced with dwindling foreign aid and debated its options to increase official development assistance (ODA). By the end of the decade, aid was on the rise while the United Nations, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development had converged on a development agenda that targeted poverty as its main objective. This convergence was institutionalized in the Millennium Development Goals, a series of eight goals that provide a roadmap to eradicating extreme poverty in its multiple dimensions of income, illiteracy, disease, and environmental degradation. What explains the convergence of these diverse multilateral institutions with diverging mandates on poverty? Why did they converge on poverty reduction and not some other normative goal, such as reducing inequality or promoting 'good' governance? What political forces and motivations made this convergence possible?
My dissertation, A World Without Poverty: Negotiating the Global Development Agenda answers these questions through a theoretical framework that integrates constructivist and realist theories. Conventional constructivist accounts of norm emergence focus primarily on the role of actors, in particular norm entrepreneurs and their institutional platforms or transnational advocacy networks. As a result, such analyses privilege agency over structure thereby undermining the role of material, state, and institutional interests. Based on archival research at the United Nations and the World Bank, document analysis, and fifty interviews with high-level governmental and non-governmental officials, I instead show that state interests and institutional agendas were key to constructing the antipoverty consensus. In contrast to conventional wisdom, I also show that it is not the clarity of the antipoverty norm but rather its multidimensionality that helped it succeed. Through an examination of the form and substance of the individual MDGs, I further argue that the quantification of development goals helped solidify the antipoverty norm while simultaneously shifting the debate from what is needed to what can be counted, from long-term solutions to short-term quick fixes.