Tag Archives: Sustainable livelihoods

Connecting the Sustainable Development Goals

Last week a short article of mine – Sustainable rural livelihoods and the SDGs – was published in an excellent new edition of the International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth’s (IPC-IG) journal, Policy in Focus. Along with a number of other articles – including ones on poverty, labour, migration, gender and land access– it made the case for rural poverty issues to be central to discussions around the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

To go beyond the siloed, box-ticking of too much activity around the SDGs, an integrated approach is needed. I made the case for a politically-informed livelihoods perspective linking across goals. This could draw on the sustainable livelihoods approaches that became central to rural development debates in the 1990s, but learn lessons from their limitations.

This is an argument I have also made recently in a lecture at Sussex (available here) and in an IDS podcast conversation with my colleague, Marina Apgar. The podcast discusses the book Sustainable Livelihoods and Rural Development (a 20 percent discount on the paperback is available via this link, using the code SLRD20), which makes the case that linking sustainable livelihoods approaches with critical agrarian political economy can move the debate forward.

These are the themes picked up in the Policy in Focus article, an edited excerpt of which follows (for the full piece, including references, check out the issue here):

Negotiating pathways to sustainable development

“The emergence of the SDGs as an overarching approach to development, agreed across the United Nations system, suggests that a grounded and integrative approach is urgently needed if implementation is to deliver the type of radical transformations envisaged. Sustainable rural development will not be realised if policymakers and practitioners proceed goal by goal, target by target, governed by elaborate monitoring and evaluation (M&E) and impact protocols. Instead, a return to a more integrated approach is required, allowing debates to occur about synergies, connections and trade-offs across the SDGs.

Achieving sustainability across environmental, economic and social spheres is centrally about political negotiation between different actors and interests. The pathways that emerge, and the directions that social and technical innovation takes, necessarily involve some people winning, while others lose out. What is ‘best’ for a particular place cannot be decided through technocratic diktat but must emerge through inclusive, participatory deliberation that allows for dissent, disagreement and inevitable conflict. Such processes must involve political negotiations, and require people and institutions, at local, national and global levels, to broker, facilitate and allow all voices to be heard, and alternative pathways to sustainable development to be uncovered and realised.

Power and political economy: extending the livelihoods approach

Some of the very legitimate critiques of the early versions of the sustainable livelihoods framework—and particularly the versions that were adapted for use by development agencies—focused on the lack of attention to politics, power and political economy. Some argued that the approach was too deterministic and too technocratic and contestation, dispute and patterns of winners and losers were not made clear. Politics of course appeared in discussions of the ‘institutions and organisations’ acting as mediating between resources and activities, and so affecting outcomes; but in many of the more operational applications, this element became side-lined in favour of a rather mechanistic institutional or policy design focus, rather than attention to the contestations around access and control, as originally intended.

The short book, Sustainable Livelihoods and Rural Development, aimed to link the original framework with a wider concern with agrarian political economy, making politics, power and control central. The result was an extended framework diagram, articulating key questions in agrarian political economy.Following Henry Bernstein (and his superb book in the same ‘small books for big ideas’ series – Class Dynamics and Agrarian Change), four core questions are asked:

  • Who owns what (or who has access to what)? This relates to questions of property and ownership of livelihood assets and resources.
  • Who does what? This relates to the social divisions of labour, the distinctions between those employing and employed, as well as to divisions based on gender and age.
  • Who gets what? This relates to questions of income and assets, and patterns of accumulation over time, and so to processes of social and economic differentiation.
  • What do they do with it? This relates to the array of livelihood strategies and their consequences as reflected in patterns of consumption, social reproduction, savings and investment.

In addition to these four, we can add two more, both focused on the social and ecological challenges that characterise contemporary societies:

  • How do social classes and groups in society and within the State interact with each other? This focuses on the social relations, institutions and forms of domination in society and between citizens and the State as they affect livelihoods.
  • How are changes in politics shaped by dynamic ecologies and vice versa? This relates to questions of political ecology, and to how environmental dynamics influence livelihoods. These in turn are shaped by livelihood activities through patterns of resource access and entitlement.

Taken together, these six questions – all central to critical agrarian and environmental studies – provide an excellent starting point for any analysis across the SDGs, when seeking to link rural livelihoods with the political economy of agrarian change in any setting.

Long-term, historical patterns of structurally-defined relations of power between social groups are central, as are processes of economic and political control by the State and other powerful actors, together with differential patterns of production, accumulation, investment and reproduction across society. Such an analysis allows analysis to move beyond mere empirical description of multiple cases to explanations rooted in understandings of wider structural relations, patterns and processes.

Taking a differentiated view of rural livelihoods in any context, we see that rural dwellers may be farmers, workers, traders, brokers, transporters, carers and others, with links spread across the urban–rural divide. Classes are not unitary, naturalised or static. Given this diversity of hybrid livelihood strategies and class identities, accumulation—and, therefore, social differentiation and class formation—takes place through a complex, relational dynamic over time.

Indeed, only with a longitudinal perspective, rooted in an understanding of the political economy of agrarian change, can longer-term trajectories of livelihoods be discerned. Rural livelihoods are not isolated and independent, amenable to narrow development interventions, but tied to what is happening elsewhere, both locally and more broadly. For these reasons, a wider political economy perspective is essential for any effective livelihoods analysis, and indeed any assessment of SDG interactions.

Making political economy central to the SDGs

It is essential to rescue the SDGs from a graveyard of technocratic-bureaucratic approaches, where goal-specific indicators, monitoring and impact assessment take over, locked into a sectoral view of the world, where the politics of interactions, connections and negotiations are ignored.

This requires new ways of thinking and working, and a revived livelihoods approach, rooted in an understanding of political economy can offer a way forward. By examining diverse pathways of change in a particular area, the contests between SDGs come to the fore, with winners and losers identified. Asking the six questions highlighted earlier shows how accumulation by some affects others, and how benefits and their distribution are contested over time.

Only with such an analysis can we get to the heart of the politics of the SDGs, and establish the platforms that are required for real transformative change. This will require new integrative institutions, with new people with new skills of more integrative analysis and practice. Reinventing, revitalising and resuscitating sustainable livelihoods approaches, but adapting and extending them for new demands, presents an urgent challenge for rural development and the SDGs.”

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

 

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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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