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Towards an analytical livelihoods perspective in critical development research


Geiser, Urs; Müller-Böker, Ulrike; Shabaz, Babar; Steimann, Bernd; Thieme, Susan (2011). Towards an analytical livelihoods perspective in critical development research. In: Wiesmann, Urs; Hurni, Hans. Research for Sustainable Development: Foundations, Experiences, and Perspectives. Bern: Universität Bern, 257-271.

Abstract

By the early 2000s, the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach/Framework (SLA or SLF) had emerged as a promising and challenging re-orientation of development research and practice. It also inspired our own research, launched around 2002, in the context of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) North-South, a research partnership network linking research organisations in the South and Switzerland. The present article reflects on roughly eight years of insights gained into this livelihoods focus. It shows that the framework was initially a crucial facilitator of research cooperation across various disciplines, and that it provided, for example, students at the PhD and Master’s levels with a guided approach to analysing the ‘real-life’ problems and opportunities of rural people. Accordingly, the SLF was partly perceived as a new ‘theory’ of rural change and development. Gradually, however, we realised that its strength was limited to a kind of checklist for people-centred studies, with an inherent risk of leading to rather encyclopaedic listings of quantitative and/or qualitative data. Thorough debates among researchers involved were instrumental in revising the framework. The outcome was that the SLF indeed helped to focus research on core livelihood issues, but that (i) it is not an analytical framework which, on its own, makes it possible for researchers to grasp the complexity of interrelationships constituting livelihood realities; and that (ii) normatively, it tends to support a specific understanding of rural development along more neo-liberal lines. For a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by people, much more thorough theorising is required, as well as interlinkages with ongoing debates in the social sciences, parallel to – but separate from – the ‘development-oriented livelihoods community’. This specifically concerns theories dealing with power, inequality, and everyday social practices. Such re-theorising leads to a challenging livelihoods perspective in critical development studies.

By the early 2000s, the Sustainable Livelihoods Approach/Framework (SLA or SLF) had emerged as a promising and challenging re-orientation of development research and practice. It also inspired our own research, launched around 2002, in the context of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) North-South, a research partnership network linking research organisations in the South and Switzerland. The present article reflects on roughly eight years of insights gained into this livelihoods focus. It shows that the framework was initially a crucial facilitator of research cooperation across various disciplines, and that it provided, for example, students at the PhD and Master’s levels with a guided approach to analysing the ‘real-life’ problems and opportunities of rural people. Accordingly, the SLF was partly perceived as a new ‘theory’ of rural change and development. Gradually, however, we realised that its strength was limited to a kind of checklist for people-centred studies, with an inherent risk of leading to rather encyclopaedic listings of quantitative and/or qualitative data. Thorough debates among researchers involved were instrumental in revising the framework. The outcome was that the SLF indeed helped to focus research on core livelihood issues, but that (i) it is not an analytical framework which, on its own, makes it possible for researchers to grasp the complexity of interrelationships constituting livelihood realities; and that (ii) normatively, it tends to support a specific understanding of rural development along more neo-liberal lines. For a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by people, much more thorough theorising is required, as well as interlinkages with ongoing debates in the social sciences, parallel to – but separate from – the ‘development-oriented livelihoods community’. This specifically concerns theories dealing with power, inequality, and everyday social practices. Such re-theorising leads to a challenging livelihoods perspective in critical development studies.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Book Section, refereed, original work
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography
Dewey Decimal Classification:910 Geography & travel
Language:English
Date:2011
Deposited On:30 Apr 2012 15:00
Last Modified:05 Apr 2016 15:46
Publisher:Universität Bern
Series Name:Perspectives of the Swiss National Centre of Competence in Research (NCCR) North-South
Number:6
ISBN:978-3-905835-31-1
Additional Information:Ist gleichzeitig in der Reihe Geographica Bernensia erschienen
Official URL:http://www.nccr-north-south.unibe.ch/publications/Infosystem/On-line%20Dokumente/Upload/12_Geiser_Livelihood
Permanent URL: https://doi.org/10.5167/uzh-61719

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