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Livelihood Approaches

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  • Shaji John K
    =======[jivika]======== Two thought-provoking pieces on why livelihoods approaches have lost ground and how they can be re-energised. Rajesh 1. Practising what
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 31, 2009
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      Two thought-provoking pieces on why livelihoods approaches have lost
      ground and how they can be re-energised.


      1. Practising what we preach?
      The failure to apply sustainable livelihoods thinking where it is most
      needed - in the North

      Robert Chambers
      Participation Power and Social Change
      Institute of Development Studies
      University of Sussex, Falmer
      Brighton BN1 9RE, UK

      `Sustainable livelihoods' are two words put together initially without
      an explicit meaning. This has the advantage that the phrase can be
      appropriated and given meanings by different actors to suit their
      conditions and purposes.

      A disadvantage, however, has been that meanings or implications which
      are complicated, inconvenient or threatening can be ignored. With this
      in mind, three aspects stand out for their importance and potential.

      The first aspect concerns other qualities of livelihood and wellbeing.
      Other adjectives, apart from `sustainable', have been applied to
      livelihoods including `secure' and `decent'.

      `Secure' is captured by the interpretation of sustainable livelihoods
      that pays attention to shocks, stress and resilience. `Decent' implies
      social acceptability, self-respect and a livelihood that is not
      demeaning and does not involve excessive physical hardship. Beyond
      this, there is also the quality of experience and fulfilment gained
      from livelihood activities.

      The second issue is the concept of `net sustainable livelihoods
      effects'. This means a new livelihood, or a greater degree of
      sustainability for an existing livelihood, may come at the expense of
      others. However, it could also create or enhance other livelihoods and
      their sustainability. For policies and programmes to contribute fully
      to equity and to achieve international development targets, the
      concept of net effects may be vital. It is better to think through,
      estimate and include important externalities than to exclude them
      because the means to measure them are lacking.

      There are international and global dimensions to net livelihoods effects:

      -War and civil disturbance are often devastating for livelihoods.
      -International trade agreements and freer trade can strengthen and
      create livelihoods for poor people but they can also weaken or
      eliminate them.
      -Agricultural subsidies in the North as well as the long-term trends
      of declining prices for primary products from the South have negative
      effects on a prodigious scale.
      -Much of the world economic system is skewed to diminish and destroy
      the livelihoods of poor people.

      The third issue is the failure to apply sustainable livelihoods
      thinking to the North and to those who are rich in the South. This is
      disappointing. Sustainable livelihoods was quite readily accepted as a
      concept applying to `others' – to poor people and to the South. It is
      conveniently overlooked that the least environmentally sustainable
      livelihoods and lives are `ours': those of the better-off and
      relatively richer people.

      Environmentally the very concept that works so well for poor people
      can be applied to the rich. Some major international advocacy
      non-governmental organisations are concerned with aspects of this, but
      there are no signs of personal carbon accounting, for instance,
      becoming a common practice.

      The challenge is both personal and public. Are we – those who read
      this, the relatively rich and well-off – prepared to adopt the wider
      definition of sustainability for our livelihoods and lifestyles? Are
      we willing to make our livelihoods and lives more sustainable in their
      effects, both economically through fairer trade relations and
      environmentally? What degrees of short-term irresponsibility,
      inconsistency and hypocrisy are we prepared to allow ourselves? At
      whom do we point the finger?

      2. Re-energising livelihoods approaches
      New focus, new priorities?

      Ian Scoones
      Knowledge Technology and Society, Institute
      of Development Studies,
      University of Sussex, Falmer
      Brighton BN1 9RE, UK

      Livelihoods perspectives offer an important lens for looking at
      complex rural development questions. So why are they seemingly not as
      prominent today compared to a decade ago?

      Key issues with which livelihoods approaches have failed to engage
      sufficiently include:

      -processes of economic globalisation
      -power, politics and links between livelihoods and governance
      -long-term environmental change
      -long-term shifts in rural economies and wider questions about agrarian change.

      These failures mean that the research and policy focus has shifted
      away from the contextual, multidisciplinary and crosssectoral insights
      of livelihood perspectives, often back, predictably, to macro-economic
      analyses. To be responsive to new contexts, livelihoods perspectives
      need to include concerns of knowledge, politics, scale and dynamics.

      Whose livelihoods count? Who is to say that subsistence farmers,
      poachers or sex workers are pursuing inappropriate livelihoods?
      Livelihoods analyses offer a way of uncovering complexity and
      diversity, but the important question is: what happens next? Which
      option is best, and for whom? Attention to the processes through which
      livelihoods knowledge is negotiated and used is required. Through
      this, opportunities to deliberate on the political choices inherent in
      livelihoods analyses can emerge.

      Livelihoods analyses of complexity and context must be located in a
      relational understanding of power and politics which identifies how
      political spaces are opened up and closed down. Such analyses must
      examine both structure and agency, and the diverse micro- and
      macro-political processes that define opportunities and constraints.
      They need to be informed by an explicit theoretical concern with how
      class, gender and capitalist relations operate, asking who gains and
      loses and why.

      As global transformations continue, attention to scale must be central
      to the reinvigoration of livelihoods perspectives. The challenge is to
      develop livelihoods analyses which examine networks, linkages,
      connections, flows and chains across scales, but remain firmly rooted
      in place and context. Such analyses must illuminate the social and
      political processes of exchange, extraction, exploitation and
      empowerment, and so explore the multiple consequences of globalisation
      on rural livelihoods.

      Another challenge for livelihoods perspectives is the ability to
      address longterm change, such as climate change. While the term
      `sustainable livelihoods' implies that livelihoods are resilient in
      the face of both external shocks and internal stresses, in conditions
      of extreme vulnerability, resilience cannot always emerge through
      local adaptation. Instead, more dramatic reconfigurations of
      livelihoods may have to occur.

      Livelihoods perspectives could be significantly enhanced by engagement
      with literatures on resilience of socio-ecological systems and on
      transitions in socio-technical systems, converging as they do on key
      ingredients of sustainable livelihoods, including adaptive capacity,
      institutional flexibility and diversity of responses. These are
      challenging agendas, both intellectually and practically. For those
      convinced that livelihoods perspectives must remain central to
      development, this is a wake-up call.

      The vibrant and energetic `community of practice' of the late 1990s
      has lost focus. There is an urgent need to rethink, re-tool and
      re-engage, and to draw from other areas of enquiry and experience. The
      themes of knowledge, scale, politics and dynamics offer an exciting
      agenda of research and practice to enrich livelihoods perspectives for
      rural development into the future.
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