From Knowledge to Recognition: Wresinski and the Fight Against Extreme Poverty – Axelle Brodiez-Dolino

When the Poorest Became Partners in History – June 8, 2017

The work proposed for this seminar is by no means clear for a historian. We are seeking to identify the ways that Father Joseph Wresinski’s ideas and the history of ATD Fourth World can help us think through and develop new courses of action. All past events are, of course, situated in a particular historical time. ATD began in the context of post-war poverty. It originated in a shanty town [in France] after the [particularly harsh] winter of 1954. At that time, the country was slowly putting in place a rather incomplete social protection system. Citizens who were not part of the working class were not experiencing the benefits of the “Trente-Glorieuse” [the period of rapid economic growth between 1945 and 1975]. It was largely thanks to ATD Fourth World, and its tireless work within the arcane world of French decision-making, that the country’s social protection services have evolved into a more comprehensive system. This began with the approval in 1988 of the RMI [a French minimum income program]. Ten years later a law was passed designed to combat exclusion.

Joseph Wresinski’s work and ideas demonstrated that the fight against poverty is not hopeless. No matter what the context, it is always possible to combat poverty. But as this seminar invites us to do, we would like to demonstrate that there is in Wresinski’s thought — but also in the understanding of volunteers and allies who resemble him so closely – a universal understanding that was true of the time in which he lived but is also true today. It will be relevant in the future as well, regardless of the economic, social, and politic context.


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