‘Character matters’ – how do measures of non-cognitive skills shape understandings of social mobility in the global North and South?

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The paper highlights growing interest in measures of non-cognitive skills which are shaping debate on poverty and social mobility in the global North and South. I use examples from an entrepreneurship programme in South Africa and the 'Character and Resilience manifesto' in the UK to argue that non-cognitive skills are being incorporated in a narrative of the shortcomings of 'the poor'. The characteristics of the poor, or their ‘non-cognitive skills’, are measured in ways that are ethnocentric and insensitive to class. The results of these measurements are presented as an explanation of their poverty, drawing attention away from the political and economic systems in which they are embedded.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)68-79
Number of pages12
JournalSocial Anthropology
Issue number1
Early online date26 Feb 2015
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2015


  • Non-cognitive skills
  • poverty
  • measures
  • education
  • UK
  • South Africa

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