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Livelihoods and Development

New Perspectives

Edited by Leo de Haan

This books aims to further develop theory and practice on people-centred development, in particular on the livelihood approach. It focuses on four contemporary thematic areas, where progress has been booked but also contestation is still apparent: power relations, power struggles and underlying structures; livelihood trajectories and livelihood pathways: house, home and homeland in the context of violence; and mobility and immobility.
Contemporary livelihood studies aim to contribute to the understanding of poor people’s lives with the ambition to enhance their livelihoods. Nowadays livelihood studies work from an holistic perspective on how the poor organize their livelihoods, in order to understand their social exclusion and to contribute to interventions and policies that intend to countervail that.

Contributors are: Clare Collingwood Esland, Ine Cottyn, Jeanne de Bruijn, Leo de Haan, Charles do Rego, Benjamin Etzold, Urs Geiser, Jan Willem le Grand, Griet Steel, Paul van Lindert, Annelies Zoomers.

Clare Collingwood Esland

The starting point for this paper is understanding livelihoods in politically tense, contested landscapes. It is based upon PhD research conducted in the Middle East in 2010, within the field of humanitarian mine action. It explores the impact mines and cluster munitions, and their clearance, had on 63 households across two communities in southern Lebanon. These communities lay within 20 kilometres of the United Nations delineated Blue Line: the militarised Lebanon/Israel border. The paper has three primary aims: given the research context of military actors, un peace-keeping troops and conflict-affected communities, it seeks to highlight how fundamental principles and thinking associated with livelihoods can alter when situated in insecure, contested and violent contexts of the Global South. Consequently it argues there is value, in such empirical contexts, of bringing the livelihoods approach into conversation with discourses on the political economy of conflict, post-colonialism, and critical geopolitics. There is a need to understand livelihoods as resilient and resistant. The findings that emerged when this approach was adopted within the research are discussed. They highlight the links between contamination, bio-politics and bare life; the links between contamination, geographies of fear and the control of space; coping with, and adapting to, contamination as a means to reclaim both identity, home and homeland and to challenge the reproduction of dominant political relations; and perceiving clearance not only as an amelioration of risk and unblocking of assets, but emancipating with a regaining of freedom(s). In this research, the non-material, emotional impacts of contamination and clearance on livelihood were significant. Moreover, through broadening and reorienting livelihoods analysis, they could be effectively examined and grounded. This unsettles the assumptions upon which the conceptualisations of impact, and hence how it is primarily examined, have traditionally fallen within humanitarian mine action.

Leo de Haan

Livelihoods studies aim to contribute to the understanding of poor people’s lives with the ambition of enhancing their livelihoods. This introductory chapter starts with a brief overview of the origin and gist of livelihoods studies. It shows that the livelihoods approach grew out of the frameworks and toolboxes of the 1990s with little historical and theoretical depth. Nowadays livelihoods studies work from a theoretically informed holistic and critical perspective on how the poor organise their livelihoods. At present, persisting and rising inequalities represent the main global social problem instead of ‘poverty as such’. Therefore the essence of livelihoods studies has moved from poverty to understanding how the poor can be ‘included’. This in turn requires a thorough understanding of the exclusionary processes the poor are subject to. These can best be examined through a layered analysis: a first layer of access to resources and opportunities; a second, underlying layer of power relations and power struggles; and a third, even deeper layer of impeding structures. The metaphor of a livelihoods journey, an historical trajectory through an enormous labyrinth of rooms, corridors and other spaces serves as an illustration of this layered analysis. Finally, the chapter points at four key dimensions in contemporary livelihood studies – power, pathways, violent conflict, and acceleration of mobility – on which this volume offers conceptual innovations.

Benjamin Etzold

People’s movements and their immobilities are both structured and structure-specific livelihood trajectories and the places at the crossroads. This chapter connects livelihood studies to recent geographical research and draws on Bourdieu’s theory of practice as conceptual frame analysing the relations between (im)mobility, translocality and place-making in three steps. First, I argue that migrants and refugees are permanently positioning themselves in translocal social fields and that their trajectories are often marked by conflicts and fragmentations. The ‘turbulent’ journeys of sub-Saharan migrants to Europe show that spatial and social trajectories are neither direct nor unilinear, particularly when people are confronted with restrictive migration regimes and militarised borders. Second, mobility can contribute to the livelihood security of, then, translocal households. Other examples from the European border space and from Bangladesh do, however, indicate that translocal social networks can become a burden or cause new vulnerability. Third, any analysis of translocal livelihood trajectories is incomplete when it fails to consider the structure of the places that serve as ‘crossroads of migration’. Transient places are permanently transformed through different rhythms and forms of mobility, i.e. flows of people, capital, goods and ideas. While such transformations open up further options for translocal livelihoods, they pose challenges to established structures of territorial regulation and evoke new contestations over space.

Griet Steel, Ine Cottyn and Paul van Lindert

This chapter examines how multi-locality and digital rural–city connections impact on livelihood transformation in sub-Saharan Africa. Drawing on empirical cases from Cameroon, Rwanda and Sudan, the chapter addresses the way rural- and urban-oriented households use physical and digital connections as a livelihood asset and as a strategy for achieving socio-economic stability and improvement. It is argued that because of new and intensifying forms of connections, livelihoods are becoming more diverse in terms of activity, spatially and temporality. Socio-economic scope and spatial organisation of livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa are increasingly characterised by multi-local arrangements across sectors and spaces. Mobility is considered a resource that is differently accessed and experienced. It may also have disruptive effects by putting pressure on family labour in rural livelihoods. In this way, mobility and immobility are regarded as interrelated instead of unconnected opposites. Digital connections and mobile phones facilitate the maintenance of social and economic relationships and networks without people needing to be physically mobile. Yet, not every individual or household has equal access to mobile phones and digital connectivity. This results in information asymmetries and related negative consequences for livelihood dynamics. There is a real threat that the new connections between rural and urban areas create new dependencies and new exclusions.

Leo de Haan

This chapter discusses – in terms of four key dimensions – the prospects for further conceptual innovation in livelihood studies which are offered by the contributions to this volume. First, with respect to power, the guidance offered by Bourdieu’s theory of practice is widely acknowledged. Moreover, the prevailing distinction between apolitical and political positions does not hold any longer. Instead, bringing the distinction between ‘power to’ and ‘power over’ through a renewed attention to agency and structure is shown to be much more productive. The concept of political arena can provide space for such a bridging analysis as it is embedded in both Foucauldian and Bourdieusian notions of power. Second, livelihood trajectories and livelihood pathways proved a solid method to identify regularities and patterns in livelihoods, including exclusionary processes, as a step towards more general conclusions and generalisations beyond the local and the case level. In addition, fruitful entries to connect the local to the global were revealed and the holistic nature of contemporary livelihoods studies was reconfirmed. Third, fundamental threats to human security such as extreme violence and fear and their repercussions to people’s livelihoods were innovatively conceptualised by integrating notions from political economy, postcolonialism and bio-politics. Fourth, unprecedented acceleration of mobility gives rise to translocality implying that livelihoods are organised in social fields which stretch over borders and connect different places and social contexts. Moreover, mobility is inextricably bound up with immobility: mobility of the one engenders immobility of the other. Besides, physical mobility is being replaced with more intangible forms of mobilities. Finally, social exclusion became apparent on all four dimensions and so were directions to countervail it.

Charles do Rego and Jeanne de Bruijn

This chapter analyses the (transitional) livelihoods of Portuguese immigrants, mostly with a poor farmers background and primarily from Madeira. They came to Curaçao as workers for the oil refinery and later as ice vendors, street sweepers and for other low-skilled jobs. They soon became known as hard working and committed workers. The chapter explains how in due course these marginalised Portuguese immigrants rose to become a fully included business elite. Their gradual inclusion in society showed different phases of integration – including bonding and bridging – which corresponded with consecutive livelihood trajectories and pathways. Two mutually supporting theoretical contexts are used for this analysis, that is the system theory of Luhmann, with its focus on inclusion and exclusion; and the livelihoods perspective. Through a longitudinal study this chapter scrutinises how some livelihood opportunities were denied to the Portuguese immigrants and how they were able to successfully access other livelihood opportunities, unveiling in this way processes of exclusion and inclusion. This study is based on the careful collection of historical material both in Curaçao and in Madeira. Significant were 83 interviews held with first- and second-generation Portuguese, as well as 14 interviews with key non-Portuguese people. The chapter offers original material throwing new light on the history of Portuguese migration and integration in Curaçao. The livelihoods perspective leads to a better understanding of their occupational and professional change over time, for example, from oil workers via owners of toko-fruterias and supermarkets to business elite.

Jan Willem le Grand and Annelies Zoomers

This article aims to provide a bottom-up understanding of livelihood transformations in rural communities in the Andean valleys of Bolivia. Since the early 1990s, extensive policy reforms contributed to new livelihood opportunities and gave way to new household livelihood trajectories. Looking at the long-term patterns of livelihood transformation, it appears that many communities and households – even though being extremely heterogeneous in terms of agro-ecological circumstances, livelihood and demographics – show similar trajectories. By analysing community pathways and the commonalities and differences among them we also aimed to look at the aggregate level, whether people were better off than before and what capitals and capabilities they used to build sustainable livelihoods. The pathways were clearly influenced by different feedback mechanisms and turned out to be closely related to two structural variables, that is, population growth and water availability or irrigation potential. Rather than being principally determined by capital assets and capabilities at the household or individual level as is suggested in the original sustainable livelihood approach, sustainable livelihoods are increasingly a matter of the critical mass and collective ability to position communities and establish effective translocal connections. Having access to networks – and being rooted in various places simultaneously seems to be a crucial factor for people’s capacity to build more sustainable livelihoods.

Urs Geiser

Linking an analytical understanding of why people suffer from inequalities with the sphere of policy trying to fight such inequalities is a core ingredient of the livelihoods approach. However, its application is increasingly criticised for being apolitical and inspired by neo-liberalism. The present chapter argues, though, that these critics risk throwing out the baby with the bath water. Its core focus is to propose that the challenge is not the absence of attention to power or politics in livelihood-centred studies, but how power and politics are conceptualised in these studies, and how power and politics are then addressed in the sphere of interventions. Using Bernstein’s ideal-type juxtaposition of residual and relational ontologies in development studies, it shows that both, indeed, do address issues of ‘power to’, ‘power with’, and ‘power over’ – though in distinct ways. But mainstreamed readings of the residual (i.e. neo-liberal) and the relational ontologies (i.e. orthodox Marxist) – though both claiming to be political – equally fail to unravel the everyday production of inequality. Empirical insights from rural Sindh in southern Pakistan illustrate that both these takes operate with pre-conceived typologies of the rural social universe (the ‘small farmers’, the ‘state’, ‘the peasants’) and that both neglect a differentiated engagement with the actual practices of social relations as experienced by marginalised people in their everyday life. Therefore, the chapter calls for a re-energised critical relational livelihoods perspective that gives due attention to agency and structure, to a more differentiated and site-specific stratification of the rural populace as well as the heterogeneity of ‘the state’, and a context-specific understanding of inequality as an outcome of multifaceted social power relations between the multitude of social groups and the heterogeneous state system. Such an analysis also calls for more differentiated policies and practices to challenge inequalities, beyond the development industry’s mainstream.