This article considers the potential contribution of social anthropology to understanding poverty as both social relation and category of international development practice. Despite its association with research in communities and countries now considered poor anthropology has remained disengaged from the current poverty agenda. This disengagement is partly explained by the disciplinary starting point of anthropology which explores the processes though which categories come to have salience. It is accentuated by the relationship of anthropology as a discipline to the development policy and the research commissioned to support it. An anthropological perspective on poverty and inequality can shed light on the ways in which particular social categories come to be situated as poor. It can also reveal the social processes through which poverty as policy objective becomes institutionalised in development practice and in the social institutions established to monitor, assess and address it.