Tag Archives: Robert Chambers

Why is IDS a special institution?

ids timeline

The Institute of Development Studies (IDS) at the University of Sussex is celebrating its 50th birthday this year. I have been working here for a shocking 40% of this time, and in the week of a major anniversary conference, I thought I should jot a few thoughts down on why IDS has been and remains special.

In 1966, the Institute was founded with Dudley Seers as the first director. It was designated a ‘special institution’ by the UK government, with a particular mandate for research and training. In the period following the end of colonialism, Britain had a special role and needed a special institution. The project of ‘development’ in the ‘Third World’ back then was not supposed to last 50 years. But today with a different focus and new challenges the need for critical, engaged research and training is needed perhaps even more than ever.

Critical traditions

But what for me is special, and why have I remained committed to IDS for now more than 20 years? There have been many tributes, reflections and summary histories offered, but none for me capture the importance of IDS’ radical, critical traditions: the ability to challenge orthodoxies, to speak truth to power, and to translate this into action. Being neither a purely academic institution, nor a NGO or think tank, but a hybrid, not fettered by the constraints and limitations of either, is very important. It can be uncomfortable; but that’s the point.

When I first came to IDS in 1995, there was always a classic set-piece debate between Michael Lipton and Robert Chambers at the beginning of each academic year. They represented two different views on development, held productively in tension. Of course they agreed more than the performance suggested, but it was a useful highlight of how a common normative commitment to progressive change could be looked at through very different lenses: between top-down and bottom-up, between macro-structural and micro-people focused analyses, between economics and wider social sciences, and so on. Using diverse approaches, encapsulated in the 1993 classic, States and Markets, IDS research over many years has challenged what became the dominant neoliberal paradigm, encapsulated in its most extreme ideological form by the ‘Washington Consensus’.

In the last 20 years, these debates have continued in different forms. There have been many excellent contributions that have taken the stance represented more by the Lipton side of the debate – from looking at industrial clusters and value chains to the economic role of the rising powers – as well as many that have emphasised more the Chambers-type perspectives – including the on-going work on participation, citizenship and popular politics.

But actually the most challenging contributions have been when such perspectives have been in dialogue. This is only possible in a cross-disciplinary institution, where the drag of narrow disciplinary specialisms – and the horrific metric-dominated assessment approaches that go with this today – do not limit interaction and creativity. Let me highlight a few of these areas (of many), where I think IDS work (and crucially that of its global network of partners) has been especially exciting.

Livelihoods

One area that I have been fairly centrally involved in, and I think is quintessentially IDS, is work on livelihoods. Indeed with both Chambers and Lipton involved, this was from the beginning a syncretic endeavour. When I produced the 1998 IDS Working Paper on the sustainable livelihoods framework, both reviewed it. And indeed the framework – with its long back history involving many people from Jeremy Swift to Susanna Moorhead to Richard Longhurst, among others – was the result of just these conversations: an approach explicitly aimed at involving economists, yet not forgetting the social, political and institutional. More recently I have reflected on the limitations, particularly as applied in development practice, and argued for a more structural, political economy perspective as central to livelihoods approaches.

States and citizens

This tension between wider structural, political-economic analysis and more locality-focused, participatory understandings was perhaps best illustrated during the 2000s when IDS hosted two of the early DFID Development Research Centres – one on the state and one on citizenship, led by two formidable political scientists – Mick Moore and John Gaventa. With IDS by then exclusively reliant on external, tied support from different donors, inevitably projects had to respond to the contours of the funding environment, and this slightly odd division reflected that in DFID at the time. But hosted within one institution it allowed for a productive, if at times tetchy, debate. Does citizen action construct states, or do states construct citizens? And what do states and citizens constitute anyway? Both centres provided an important challenge, once again, to the neoliberal versions being touted elsewhere.

Gender and empowerment

Work on gender empowerment has been a central feature of work at IDS and Sussex since the 1970s, and the classic contributions of Kate Young and Annie Whitehead. Naila Kabeer, Anne Marie Goetz, Andrea Cornwall and many others followed the tradition, offering challenging scholarship rooted in real struggles. But here too the important tension between structural change versus collective organisation from below played out again. In feminist analyses of course the personal is always political – and vice versa. However in discussions of ‘empowerment’ we see different strands, ranging from those focusing on economic empowerment and formal rights, versus those emphasising individual agency, the politics of the body and sexuality. Debating these dimensions has been a massively important contribution.

The politics of knowledge

Whether taking a more structural view or one more focused on individual or collective agency, knowledge framings matter. The politics of knowledge has been especially emphasised in IDS work on the environment, which really took off in a big way from the early 1990s. As Robert Chambers memorably asked: whose reality counts? The now classic 1996 book, The Lie of the Land, edited by Melissa Leach and Robin Mearns, asked why it was that so often environmental management and policy in Africa – from the colonial era to the present – does not respond to realities on the ground, and systematically ignores local knowledges. The answer of course is politics – and how experts, embedded in institutions, understand the world.

Environment and sustainability

This theme of the politics of the policy process has been a central theme of IDS work on environment and resources over 20 years. Building on strong connections with IDS’ sister institution at Sussex, the Science Policy Research Unit (SPRU), also celebrating 50 years this year, we jointly launched the STEPS Centre in 2006, with ESRC funds, and with Melissa Leach and Andy Stirling I have had the privilege of jointly directing the Centre since then. Here a highly productive synergy between the concerns of development studies and science and technology studies has unfolded over the past decade. With knowledge, politics, and power central, we too have struggled with understanding ‘pathways to sustainability’ that at once capture the relational agency of diverse actors and the wider conditioning effects of political economy. Once again a cross-disciplinary engagement has been absolutely essential –and immensely exciting, intellectually and practically.

Making a difference

None of these research efforts, often lasting long periods, with multiple funders, and diverse research teams at Sussex and beyond, is aimed solely at producing outputs from esteemed academic journals (although there have been plenty of these). All IDS researchers are committed to change: generating ideas to make a difference. In the world of often pointless impact case studies and metrics this may sound glib; but political engagement matters not just to analysis, but also to practice.

The first two images of the official but rather selective IDS 50th anniversary timeline are one of Stanmer House, a very English country house in the South Downs, near the campus of the University of Sussex where IDS was first based, and a Warhol-esque picture of Chairman Mao. It is these sort of contrasts, tensions and yes contradictions that keeps IDS on its toes, and makes it, despite the funding pressures, an exciting place to work – and really does make IDS a special institution.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

 

 

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Sustainable livelihoods: taking agrarian political economy seriously

My book, Sustainable Livelihoods and Rural Development, has just been published by Practical Action Publishing and Fernwood. It appears in the ‘short books for big ideas’ agrarian and peasant studies series, and tries to offer a readable overview of the key debates, as well as suggesting important new directions. Being short, accessible and on a massive topic that I know quite a bit about, it was very difficult to write, and took quite a while to come to fruition. You can buy it here for a bit of discount at under £10.

It’s based on years of work, much of it in Zimbabwe. Over the past few decades, livelihoods perspectives have become increasingly central to discussions of rural development. They have offered a way of integrating sectoral concerns and rooting development in the specifics of different settings, being centred on understandings of what people do to make a living in diverse circumstances and differentiated social contexts. This has been at the centre of work on livelihoods after land reform in Zimbabwe, as well as my long-term work that preceded this. As I mention in the acknowledgements, the book would not have happened without that experience, and the conversations and interactions with many in Zimbabwe over the past 30 years.

From classic studies of seasonality, livelihood change and vulnerability in the 1980s and 90s, to the presentation of more synthetic frameworks in the 1990s, first from. Robert Chambers and Gordon Conway’s classic IDS discussion paper of 1992 that was followed by my 1998 paper that proposed a Sustainable Livelihoods Framework, based on work on-going at the time with colleagues in Bangladesh, Ethiopia and Mali, and led by Jeremy Swift.

These perspectives contributed to a major change in aid programming and funding approaches, and many agencies adopted various forms of a ‘sustainable livelihoods approach’. There followed multiple responses: huge numbers of studies, consultancies, trainings and communications efforts, as the interest in livelihoods approaches took hold.

But what has happened since? Livelihoods is no longer the buzzword. The fickle faddism of development has been taken over by others since. But the underlying arguments of livelihoods analyses still have relevance, this short book argues. The message is clear: livelihoods approaches are an essential lens on questions of rural development, poverty and wellbeing, but these need to be situated in a better understanding of the political economy of agrarian change. As Henry Bernstein of SOAS, University of London comments, the book “makes a potent argument for reinstating an expansive perspective on livelihoods, informed by the political economy of agrarian change, at the centre of current concerns with overcoming rural inequality and poverty”.

In his review, Simon Batterbury of the University of Melbourne observes: “Nurturing sustainable livelihoods for the poor is not just about recognising their exceptional skill at making a living, which includes diversifying livelihoods, jumping scales, and nesting home places within productive networks, but also mitigating their vulnerability to land grabs, drought and floods, natural disasters, corporate greed and venal politics”. Drawing on critical agrarian and environmental studies, some new questions are posed that challenge and extend earlier livelihoods frameworks.

Four dimensions of a new politics of livelihoods are suggested: a politics of interests, individuals, knowledge and ecology. Together, these suggest new ways of conceptualizing rural and agrarian issues, with profound implications for thinking and action. As Tony Bebbington of Clark University in the US comments, the book “places livelihood thinking in context, explores its applications, explains its limits and – perhaps most important of all – persuades the reader that being political and being practical are absolutely not mutually exclusive options in development, whether writing about it or working within it”.

You can read more comments about the book, check out the table of contents and buy it for a discounted price for a limited time here. I hope it proves useful to researchers, practitioners and students, and helps to revive livelihoods thinking and approaches, in a new more politically oriented guise, for a new generation of research, policy and practice. Let me know what you think!

This post was written by Ian Scoones and first appeared on Zimbabweland

 

 

 

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Nutrition puzzles: the shit factor

A few years ago I posted a blog titled ‘Nutrition Puzzles’. Today, the puzzles seem a bit nearer to resolution. And the answer may be shit.

The earlier blog was prompted by the huge and massively expensive nutrition survey that was sponsored by a range of international aid donors. It showed to everyone’s surprise that, despite the crisis, nutrition indicators across Zimbabwe, including in rural areas, were not as disastrous as expected. Indeed, they were better than most neighbouring countries, including South Africa.

Why was this? I suggested a number of reasons. First, the availability of food was higher than many had assumed – and this was due to underreporting, and especially the production that was occurring in the new resettlements. This line of argument was reinforced in the discussion about the mismatch between ZimVac assessments of food insecurity and realities on the ground, commented on in another blog.

Second, and perhaps most intriguingly, it could also be due to the level of sanitation in Zimbabwe, reducing the effect of diarrhoea, but also crucially many other often subclinical and continuously debilitating faecally-transmitted infections, including environmental enteropathy, other intestinal infections and parasites. In a 2009 article in the Lancet, Jean Humphrey, working in Zimbabwe, argues that a combination of poor sanitation and poor nutrition can have major effects, resulting in effects on growth, even though nutritional intake remains high. The massive investment in toilet building – dating from the colonial period – has meant that protected toilet coverage is large in Zimbabwe, including in rural areas. The famed ‘Blair toilet’ -nothing to do with Tony, but the product of Zimbabwe’s Blair Institute from the 1970s (and the work of Peter Morgan) has had a major impact, providing cheap, sanitary toilet options across the country, reducing open defecation to a minimum.

Shit makes a big difference to nutrition, as work by the Community Led Total Sanitation (CLTS) initiative and others is showing. As Robert Chambers puts it “shit stunts”. CLTS is a global movement pioneered by Kamal Kar to encourage community-led behaviour change around sanitation. It has facilitated major unsubsidised investments in toilet building, and changed behaviours around shitting outside on a massive scale across particularly Asia and Africa.

Asia in particular is an enigma. Despite the Green Revolution, growing incomes and better metrics on all sorts of counts, nutritional deprivation is widespread. This, Chambers and colleagues argue, may well be due, in significant part, to poor sanitation. The puzzle for southern Africa is different. Zimbabwe may be an enigma in its own region but in reverse: it has higher nutrition indicators than perhaps would be expected. But the explanation may be the same: shit (or the lack of it) counts. Zimbabwe’s sanitation revolution has happened over many decades. Maybe the impacts on nutritional status are being seen in its seemingly anomalous comparative statistics.

The CLTS research, published as an IDS Working Paper by Robert Chambers and Gregor von Medeazza, argues that nutritional indicators have to be understood as a combination of food intake and health status. 5 As must be addressed – the traditional indicators of food availability and access. But also three other less understood As: absorption, antibodies and allopathogens. Clearly genetics matter too, and often confound some of these data (including I suspect in Zimbabwe, given the anomalies in height to weight ratios in different parts of the country). But taking only ‘environmental’ influences for now, the focus on food intake (quantity and quality – and so availability and access) may miss a big part of the story. If nutritional uptake by the body – and so how tall, fat/thin, and healthy you are – is significantly affected by environmental enteropathy, as well as micro-parasites and pathogens, then forgetting this dimension is a big mistake.

The paper has a striking graph from India correlating the percentage of households practising open defecation in different Indian States (both urban and rural) and stunting (below 2 SD).

shit blog

This focus on food availability and access, rather than a more holistic assessment of food, environmental health, sanitation and nutrition is almost universal. Take the Global Nutrition Report, a new initiative from IFPRI, and involving my home institution IDS too. This compiles reams of statistics on every country, inevitably of varying quality (they seem to draw from the joint UNICEF, World Bank and WHO database, and so Zimstat data, for Zimbabwe). The report presents the data in a series of graphs and tables, but does not offer an integrative analysis.

A comparison across countries though is instructive – although it may be influenced by uneven data. For example, if we compare Zimbabwe with its now economically successful neighbour Zambia, nutritional indicators are better for Zimbabwe. For example, stunting of under 5s is 29-36% for the data shown in Zimbabwe (from 1994-2012), while in Zambia it ranges from 46-58%. And this despite Zimbabwe’s lower GDP growth rates, an ailing economy and assumed food insecurity rife across the country.

As before, both explanations may be required: there’s more food than we thought, and there’s less shit. But as with the wider commentary about nutrition, the Global Nutrition country reports don’t make the link and stick to an aggregate picture. The bigger puzzle lurks within and across these data. Work on shit and nutrition suggests an important hypothesis though, but despite the obvious policy implications this has largely been ignored. Maybe Zimbabwe is more like Kerala, and Zambia more like West Bengal (see graph above)? According to the data presented in the Global Nutrition country reports, 43% of people have unimproved facilities or openly defecate in Zambia, while this figure is 33% in Zimbabwe.

I heard recently that new work on nutrition in the new resettlement areas of Zimbabwe is being proposed as an extension of the earlier ZHRDS survey carried out from the 1980s. This is excellent news, and will fill an important gap to our knowledge of the impact of land reform, exploring a dimension that our team hasn’t been able to tackle. Earlier work on old resettlement areas showed intriguingly that, despite improved indicators of production, income, asset ownership and the rest, resettlement households often had poor nutrition indicators compared to their communal area counterparts. The research put this down to higher household sizes and the need to share food and income among more people. This is certainly a plausible explanation – and one that we have discussed for new resettlement households. But perhaps there was another reason – a lack of toilets and poor sanitation.

In our work in Masvingo and Mvurwi we have looked at toilet building since settlement. Certainly in the early years as people carved out homesteads and villages toilets were few and far between, but the numbers have grown rapidly (completely unsubsidised by government, donors or NGOS, and often using the classic Blair design). 83% and 63% of households in the A1 sites in Mvurwi and Masvingo had built a toilet by 2014 and 2012 respectively in our sample. Because these facilities are often shared in villages, basically everyone has access to a toilet. Resettlement households definitely value toilets. Toilet building has been a key part of the investments in new resettlements. Based on estimates of the cost of building (materials, not labour), we worked out that households in our sample had spent on average the equivalent of around US$150 since settlement on toilet building.

The impetus of CLTS programmes is not it seems needed to build them, and people have recognised the importance of sanitation over many, many decades of exposure to various programmes. I have no idea whether this cultural and social history of toilets has affected attitudes to shit in different ways to other countries in the region, but it’s an interesting question worthy of some comparative research, along the lines of the India study mentioned earlier.

As new work on nutrition in new resettlements is undertaken I hope the ‘shit factor’ is added into the hypotheses and research design. Working this out and establishing the evidence base may have major implications for policy – not only in Zimbabwe, but also the region. If addressing poor nutrition is a goal for sustainable development – as it should be – then building more toilets may be as important as growing more food.

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared first on Zimbabweland

 

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