A Critical Realist Livelihoods Approach
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A Critical Realist Livelihoods Approach Conference Paper-RC21 – ISA Conference, San Paulo, Brazil, August 2009. Citation with PERMISSION only By Tara van Dijk
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Abstract: Given the mainstreaming of the livelihoods approach in IDS over the past 15 years and its current decline it is time to review its shortcomings, biases and gaps when it comes to moving us from `correlates to causes` in poverty and inequality studies. It is time to assess what aspects to revise and which aspects to transform. To better uncover the social aspects of poverty and inequality at the level of everyday life emphasis needs to be kept at the livelihood level however this can be managed without anchoring ourselves to methodological individualism and conceptualizations that are illequipped to point out the structural, institutional mechanisms at play. It is argued that a livelihoods approach rooted in critical realism resolves some of its limitations and critical realist definitions of key livelihoods concepts are offered and a critical realist livelihoods framework is outlined.
Key Words: Livelihoods Approaches, Ontology, Epistemology, Methodology, Critical Realism, Structure-Agency
To have mastered “method” and “theory” is to have become a self-conscious thinker, to be at work and aware of the assumptions and implications of whatever he [or she] is doing. To be mastered by “method” or “theory” is simply to be kept from working, from trying to find out about something going on in the world. Without insight into the way the craft is carried on, the results of the study are infirm; without a determination that study shall come to significant results, all method is a meaningless pretense ~ C.Wright Mills
Introduction The philosophy of social science focuses on the logic that exists (or not) between a scientific inquiry’s necessary components—its explicit or implicit ontology, epistemology, theory, methodology, and methods. While this can be a purely intellectual exercise, it is of critical importance in the real world. How we presume social reality to be (ontology) affects our concepts and what we think counts as knowledge about them (epistemology), affects how we design our projects and infer from findings (methodology), which impacts our data collection (methods), all of which limits the types of theories perceivable, which in turn limits the policy and/or political stances research can support or dispute. “An ontology without a methodology is deaf and dumb and a methodology without an ontology is blind” (Archer 1995, p.28). The second part of this papers breaks down the livelihoods approach (LA) into components we are taught solid modes of inquiry should have to see if they are all present (implicitly or explicitly) and how consistently they hang together. Thus a process of disambiguation is carried out so that we can better evaluate the ability of the LA to get to issues of causality. It is found wanting in several areas in which adopting a critical realist grounding resolves in order for LAs to better promote the alleviation of problematic inequalities. Since critical realism (CR) is used in part to judge the LA and also to amend
it, we begin with a sketch of CR1 central concepts and tenets. This is necessary but perhaps somewhat tedious.
Critical Realism Society Social reality is stratified, marked by emergence and forms out of continuous morphogenetic cycles of social-cultural interaction.2 It exists separate from us and irrespective of our ideas or identification of its various parts and attributes. Additionally, all knowledge we have of it is mediated via the concepts at our disposal both individual and cultural—there is no unmediated access and all knowledge claims are partial, positional and always fallible. What does this mean? Abstractly the social world has three strata: real, actual, and empirical-sensory. The most accessible layer is the empirical level of observations and experiences. The level of the actual includes events that occur (whether one is aware of them or not such as legislation, asset bubbles, and elections). Next is the level of the real – non-empirical or only indirectly empirical aspects of things including structures, institutions and agents—in other words the mechanisms and reasons behind observable events and experiences (Sayer, 2000). While the level of the empirical is tied to the criterion of perceptibility (directly or via the accounts of another) the level of the real is tied to the causal criterion. Achieving the causal criterion requires answering the question: what needs to exist in order for X to appear in this manner, what is helping to produce, manifest, or enable an event such as a household moving out of a poverty arrangement? Answers to this question can contain readily empirical things (more cash, new job), non-observed events (FDI in petty manufacturing sector) and/or non-empirical things (shift in dominant ideology from neoliberalism to well-being, increase in agents reflexivity, relaxing gender norms enabling the wife to work outside the home) Unlike positivism, causes are not based on regularity of occurrence or constant conjuncture, but are about first what a thing can due given its properties and related powers and susceptibilities and secondly about what things are actually manifesting in-tandem in a particular place and time. The first is an ontological issue the second is a theoretical & empirical question focusing on what is it about this thing or set of things in a particular context that brings about a particular result. Social reality is stratified because it is an open system comprised of things capable of interacting in ways that produce emergent entities. Emergence happens when an entity has properties, powers, or susceptibilities that are not possessed by its parts or “more specifically it has properties that would not be possessed by its parts if they were not organized in a particular whole” (Elder-Vaas 2008a).3 For example structures (class or caste relations), arise from human activity and interaction but then escape from them and take on properties irreducible to individuals—namely the ability to constrain and enable future actions in ways individuals cannot (Archer 1995, chapter 1). My gender disposition is related to my parents’ actions but not reducible to them. Similarly, low productivity resulting from a particular division of labor is related but not reducible to individual workers. Structures, social institutions, and agency are (unfixed) emergent properties of an open social system. Resultant 1
My understanding of CR is shaped by the works of Archer (1995, 2000, 2003) Sayer (1984, 2000, 2004), Elder-Vaas (2007, 2008), and Fleetwood (2005, 2008, 2009). Their work is leveraged extensively in this section. 2 Rather than flat and marked by reducibility (being able to explain everything by reference to its component parts, in this case of empiricist social science, individuals operating in the present tense and also rather than being epiphenomena reducible to discourses and culture as in the case of postmodern social science. 3 Water is the classic example of emergence as it has properties not possessed by hydrogen or oxygen and needs to be given separate but related ontological status.
properties come from the aggregation of the properties of parts, while emergent properties depend on the relationships between parts—on their organization into a particular totality. This is important because it shows the shortcomings of methodological individualism in social science—many things we are interested in such as poverty, inequality, privilege, mobility cannot be reduced to the actions, attributes, and recollections of individuals. They need to be afforded ontological status in their own right and methodologies constructed that can discern their composition, powers and susceptibilities. Not doing so risks missing the forest for the trees.
Structures, Institutions, Culture and Agency Saying that the bedrocks of social science are emergent properties of human interaction does not tell us much in itself. We need to say more about what they substantially are and delve into their properties, powers and susceptibilities as well as the internal and external relations implied. This requires being clear about what is meant by these constituent elements.
Things, Properties, Powers and Susceptibilities Any thing that can affect behavior or influence something exists (Fleetwood 2008a). There are at least four varieties of things: physical (weather, water, oil), cultural-conceptual (discourses, language, symbols, beliefs, theories) social-relational (employment, friendship, gender), and artefactual— technology broadly conceived (computers, houses). Things can be a synthesis or shift from one type to the other. Social agents for instance are a synthesis of social, physical and conceptual things. Water can be bottled and sold and become a commodity changing from a physical thing to an artefactual synthesis between physical – the actual water and social- the relations necessary to turn it into a commodity. Causes of an event (for example the skill levels of Dalit women) can be multiple and consist of different types of things. Discourses exist that draw our attention to the skill-level this group has in a manner that downgrades them. These discourses could lead to discrimination in welfare programs—being sorted into low skill – no skill employment activities. We could say that this discrimination is discursively caused. However, non-conceptual things are also exercising causality. Many Dalit women are low skilled or non-skilled for reasons such as caste-structure, informality, and dependent care along-side discursive factors. Which factors are active and primary or secondary in particular context is an empirical and theoretical issue that cannot be determined a priori. Things have properties. People have the properties of being warm-blooded, conscious, habitual, occupying various roles etc. Corporations have the properties of employees and means of production. The properties that make up a thing can instantiate certain powers (what a thing does or could do); people can think, labor, and lie and so on. They also have susceptibilities or the ability to be influenced in certain ways by certain things in certain contexts. People are vulnerable to shaming, maiming, and conditioning and so on. Powers and susceptibilities arising out of properties can be actualized or potential. People can be violent but this capacity is normally dormant. What powers and susceptibilities are active or dormant is related to both its internal compositions (quantity, quality and organization) and external factors—other things present in a particular situation that support or motivate the actualization and duration of powers or conversely constraint or stifle powers from becoming active and effective. Present internal and external configurations and relations and their impact on powers and susceptibilities in question is a theoretical-empirical issue.
Processes Whether powers or susceptibilities are realized is contingent, depending on the external relations with other objects’ powers and susceptibilities. Powers and susceptibilities exist in different states ranging from dormant to actualized with some reaching realization with empirical dimensions. They can act counterfactually or transfactually. The event or events that the properties of a thing have the power to instantiate may never be instantiated—powers and susceptibilities can remain unactualized or unrealized. Powers are acting counterfactually when something did not happen that could, would, or might under differing conditions given the ontology of the thing(s) in questions. Transfactual refers to a situation when powers or susceptibilities have been actualized but expected consequences have (as-yet) not materialized empirically. This points to possible sources of mediation or resistance that are often unobservable. Particular norms have been instantiated (are acted in accordance with by others) but have not had an appreciable impact on everyone. This is a transfactual condition that does not mean that gender norms (for example) have no powers or do not exist because some women do not exhibit their influence. According to Fleetwood (2009) drawing upon Bhaskar, there are eight phases of tendencies along causal chains (processes): Some tendencies are closer to transfactually bringing about some event than others. What makes the difference are the conditions operating inside and outside the thing possessing the tendency [powers or susceptibilities]… (1) the intrinsic enabling conditions of the thing possessing the tendency; (2) the external enabling conditions; and (3) the external releasing conditions (2010 p.3)
The closer a thing’s internal, external and realizing conditions are to being met the more likely it is to result in an event. For example, upon being born humans have power to speak but initially this power is dormant because the basic internal conditions have not been satisfied (brain development). Eventually the internal conditions are satisfied and this power is actualized because they can speak but are not yet speaking. If the external necessary conditions are not satisfied (being regularly exposed to language, no one to talk to) then the event of this person starting to speak language is thwarted. Understanding a process—understood as the relation between transfactually and counterfactually acting powers, susceptibilities and their consequences requires (1) thorough conceptualizations of things’ properties and the relations between them which allow for its powers and susceptibilities to exist (2) identifying what external enabling conditions seem necessary to bring about a particular event, while keeping in mind that events and effects ride also on the tendencies of other things they are in contact with in their environment—things that can obstruct, overrule, amend, or strengthen tendencies: There is therefore a double contingency involved in the movement from causal powers to susceptibilities to effects. Causation is unlikely to be linear. We should expect agents NOT to be masters of their own plans. Voluntaristic accounts of social construction are implausible: what is constructed is always likely to diverge from what was intended, so it is unsurprising that agents are not masters of their own plans…A key notion of critical realism is that systems are open—arrangements are likely to unravel, unless steps are taken [institutions put in place] to keep them from doing so. And much of the activity of agents (individual or organizational), is taken up with struggling to keep things which are favorable to them at least roughly intact in the face of internal and external change (Sayer 2004 p.??).
Relations The structure of something is comprised of properties in particular and necessary internal relationships that make a thing what it is rather than something else. During the conceptualization phases of research, CR recommends structural analysis to separate contingency from necessity. This highlights the order of CR’s interests (1) things (what are they; what can they do) and then (2) events (what actually manifests, where, and how often). This is important if the goal is to explain why things where not otherwise and also how they could be different under different internal and external relations and relata. Structural analysis requires separating substantive relations from formal relations and then necessary from contingent relations and then symmetrical from asymmetrical. Let’s take the example of clientelism and subject it to Sayer’s (1992) questions for uncovering structure: What does the existence of Clientelism in this context presuppose? Can it exist on its own? What cannot be removed without clientelism disappearing? What is it about clientelism that can enable inequality and poor development? Clientelism presupposes clients, patrons and resource transactions. Externally we would expect to find weak formal citizenship rights, inequalities in resource access, and norms rationalizing this activity. You cannot have clientelism without clients or patrons and the relation between them. Additionally, it seems that if there was nothing to be gained (resources) via this relationship that it would become extinct. Clientelism requires social stratification to function; it is in the vested interests of patrons to maintain high levels of inequality particularly where access to basic needs is concerned. Relatedly, resources are not likely to be distributed in a needs based way so it is not surprising that areas with high rates of clientelism are more likely to be underdeveloped. Regarding formal vs. substantive relations, the substantive and necessary relationship is between clients and patrons. We could find that most patrons in a city are between 40 and 50 years old, this would be a formal relationship that has nothing to do with the intrinsic components and organization of clientelism. The relationship between resources and clientelism is asymmetrical for resources would continue to exist if clientelism ceases but not the other way around. The relations between clientelism and the external context are contingent. Operating in circumstances of power imbalances and norms rationalizing weak citizenship rights enable clientelism to continue but do so contingently. This exercise shows that if we focus on occurrences of clientelism we may miss that which by necessity and contingency sustains it and we may confuse one of its components (patrons, clients, unequal exchange of resources) for the whole.
Structures: Demographic, Social, Cultural, and Agential (See Figure 1) Structure refers to any thing’s internal composition- the internal and necessary relations between and within a thing’s component parts that have the power to make an entity what it is rather than something else. Importantly, relations alone cannot cause anything—it is the particular combination of relations and things needed to produce properties which bring about powers component parts do not possess in isolation or in different formations (Elder-Vaas 2008a). Societal structures are not fixed but are susceptible to influences emerging from the interacting social, cultural, and natural realms.4 Demographic structures—the present stock of positional related material benefits and penalties deposited by prior distributions of resources, opportunities, and problems “deserve ontological status as they facilitate or frustrate various policies and agential projects” (Archer 1990 p. 184). They can be seen as past actions deposited in form of today’s resource situations which account for what there is to be distributed and the shape of current distributions thereby objectively defining the context for 4
This will be discussed in detail at the end of the section.
succeeding occupants. Everyone is involuntarily placed, by virtue of being born in a particular time and place, in the intersection of numerous demographic structures which hold vested interests and opportunity costs. We are quite literally born into life chances which are defined by prior distributions of material resources…Alterations entail changing situations and this is not a matter of untrammeled choice but of confrontation and extrication which carry costs...(Archer 1995 p.202) Vested interests refer to the objective requirements and aversions rooted in the resources and shortages embedded in different structural positions.5 Vested interests are relational because of real or perceived scarcity and past unequal distributions—they are not equally reachable. These produces certain demands to be dealt with and certain benefits to be retained – both activities cost things and these costs are not constant and equal across spheres of social life and hierarchies of positions. Opportunity costs- what is likely to be risked or gained by a course of action—influence what vested interests are addressed and in what order. These two properties effectively pre-group people into collectivities of similar life chances that can be put into categories of vary degrees of predisposition to be benefited or hurt by the status quo. They are the means through which structures influence future action. The word “influence” is important because people can misdiagnose or attempt to ignore these situational factors or be thwarted by the actions of others. Demographic structures through vested interests and opportunity costs influence but do not determine action and outcomes. Social structures refer at the most basic level to people and the substantial relations between them both necessary and contingent. More broadly they refer to the nature of the range of existing roles present in different areas or sectors of social life and the type and proportion of positions available to differently vested groups (men, women, Muslims, white, peasants etc) and the benefits and costs embedded in different positions. Key properties of social structures are that while they are dependent upon human interaction they pre-exist present agents and are independent from them. No one acts in the present-tense in situations of their own making, rather we are acting in situations reflecting the intended and unintended consequences of past human interaction sometimes of those long dead (Archer 1995). Social structures co-act with demographic structures in the distribution of vested interests and opportunity costs. Cultural Structure refers to all ideas, theories, and beliefs—anything with the dispositional capacity of being understood by someone in a society. It too comes from human social interaction and interaction with natural world but it is not dependent upon general human awareness. These things and the congruence or incongruence between them exist regardless if one is aware or uses them. It is in the realm of social interaction that they become susceptible to people’s awareness and uses in particular activities of interest promotion, denial, concealment, containment or manipulation. They enter into social structures because agents draw upon (habitually or reflexively) the social register of ideas, theories, beliefs when making sense of their situation, when asserting or articulating their vested interests, and when legitimating their actions in relation to opportunity costs. This social register is also drawn upon to question or delegitimize one’s or other’s vested interests and opportunity costs. Cultural structure thus shapes people’s future actions and the outcomes of these via vested ideological interests. Demographic, social and cultural structures are both encompassing (global distributions, national class structure, capitalism, religion) and can refer to households, local party offices, or action groups and the relations between component parts. They are not only of concern to macro-focused issues as no one enters into relations without engaging with societal structures. How would survival, interaction, 5
It is a vested interest of owners of means of production to protect this resource from being appropriated by others and to be averse to increased unionization or peasant movements in their area. It is a vested interest of small shop owners to be averse to superstores.
development, economy and socialization be possible if structures where not present and enabling certain actions while constraining others? The consequences of these “parts” of society are mediated by “people” who confront, whether they are aware of it or not, positionally differentiated vested interests and opportunity costs that become influential during the pursuit of some activity or goal however large or small. In the end, people fallibly perceive and interpret their situation during their activities. It is the thoughts and activities of people that both activate structural properties causal efficacy and mediate their impacts. Here it is important to remember that people are engaging indirectly with structural properties and powers by directly and indirectly dealing with other people and groups of people doing the same whose relative success or failures regarding their vested interests also impact the situations agents face daily. This again points to the openness of social reality and why X hardly ever always leads to Y in the empirical realm. It is important to note while it is analytically critical to treat these structures distinctly that in practice the boundaries are grey. How could there be social structures without cultural ideas rationalizing them? Demographic structures can be seen as the material outcomes of past social-cultural structural interactions via social agents. To better distinguish where an influence or resource is coming from they need to be separable.
Directional Guidance The above focuses on the important properties of structures-distributions of vested material and cultural interests and opportunity costs that pre-shape situations. They also have the power to shape in-tandem how one is likely to proceed—configurations of social, cultural and demographic structures impart directional guidance (Archer 1995). To better speculate on trajectories research must look at second-order structural powers or the “relations between the results of the results of past human action” which shape institutions in particular fields of activity (kinship, community, economy, polity etc) and the level of congruity or incongruity within the institutional context and between it and one’s situation. An institution being: a system of established rules, conventions, norms, values and customs [tied to particular relations]that become embodied in agents as habits or habitus via processes of habituation to assist in rendering relatively predictable, the intentions and actions of others of agents who draw upon, reproduce or transform them in the process” (Fleetwood 2008 p.254). Established social structures interacting with cultural structure (via agents) develop institutions which guide the behavior of those positioned within. Here it is good to focus on institutions dominating the more encompassing social structures (gender, caste, class, religious, citizenship, ethnic) if one wants to better assess the possibilities of change and who the potential agents of that change may be. Relations of tension or coherence between one’s situation and institutional context influence actions of actors by providing ‘good reasons’ to opt for some sets of actions over others and thereby shape actor trajectories; while relations between encompassing institutions influence the trajectory of the society by shaping the spaces of elaboration (Archer 1995, p.213-218). In general the higher the level of incongruence (contradictions or tensions such as those between dencentralization and bureaucratization) at the situational or institutional level the more potential opportunities for elaboration exist. Conversely the higher the level of congruence (mutuality such as those that exist between Hinduism and caste-stratified work) the more potential for reproduction of existing structures and related institutions. Archer (1995 p. 217) lists 4 main types of directional guidance coming from the relation between one’s situation and the institutional mix they find themselves: defensive, concessionary, competitive, or opportunistic. These are not guiding interaction directly with structures, but interactions between and within groups which come to
underpin social elaboration or stasis. Interactions between and within groups are impacted by distributions coming from pre-existing structures because this determines their objective bargaining power which impacts their negotiating strength with other groups. One’s vested interest + opportunity costs equal one’s objective bargaining power (access to resources) at a particular time that comes to bear upon interactions and transactions. Demographic analysis revealing high levels of inequality and concentration of resources points to few groups possessing the bargaining power to strategically negotiate for social changes even in situations marked by contradictions. Thus we can proceed with the hypothesis that in this situation structural-institutional changes that do occur can be traced back to those with high access to resources vis a vis distributive structures especially those who dominate in more than one resource field. Additionally, “the degree of concentration helps determine the volume and kinds of demands which can be transected from different parts (privileged, underprivileged) of society” (Archer 1995 p.298) Bargaining power is an individual characteristic and having access to resources is not the same as using them successfully in social dealings. Dealings involve at least 2 actors (in a particular situational and institutional context) thus success or failure is a relational product. When it comes to understanding outcomes of transactions we need to look at each party’s negotiating strength. For example, clients have votes, labor, and loyalty while patrons have access to various sought after resources (protection, access to utilities, jobs etc). Issues of reciprocity, demand, necessity, and monopoly need to be fleshed out to understand unequal and/or long-term exchanges across differently positioned and resourced groups. Groups and organizations (of different status and scope) are focused on here as the altering or protecting of vested interests is not a product of isolated individual struggles but are products of the relationships between groups (Archer 1995 p.297).
Agential Structure Agency is made up of stratified and multi-dimensional parts. Agency is multi-dimensional including the person, the actor and the agent (Archer 1995, Chapter 7). Persons possess a continuous sense-ofself (personality) that can be divided into a personal and social self because our humanness is prior to and co-exists with our social identity rather than being completely produced or extinguished by it. Our actions and motivations cannot be reduced to the interacting “parts” of society; there is nondeterminate creative remainder (Archer 2000; 2003) Actors are persons occupying particular social roles (mother, wife, employee). The level of investment in different roles and the way they personify them gives rise to social identity to the degree we can say that social identity emerges from the interaction of persons enacting roles. While persons and actors refer to individuals, agent refers to collectivities with similar life chances but not with one particular shared identity (slum-dwellers for example). Moving from individual to collectivity under the same umbrella term requires some explanation. Access to resources upon which life chances depend rest upon relations of: property, influence, and discrimination which to be socially effective are relations between collectivities that only substantially and durably change when relations between collectivities change. Agency then refers to how being part of structured groups influences life chances and life changes. Prior context produces collectivities with similar life chances and it is within this context they must live. The distinction between agent, actor and person is temporal and analytical but very useful for separating what one does or could do in response to constraints and enablements and why. Agency is also stratified with strata ranging from biology to neurology to psychology to sociology. As the focus is explaining actions in the social world and how the social world shapes livelihoods, we will limit our focus to habitus and reflexivity. Habitus refers to people’s ‘auto-pilot’ mode rooted in one’s
tacit6 knowledge of social institutions. Via observations and experiences in one’s environment certain dispositions or habits (was of acting/perceiving) become second-nature and allow us to navigate a variety of situations without having to stop and ponder how and why. Since people grow up in preexisting collectivities with differential access to property, influence, and status, habitus’ are marked by gender, class, race, ethnicity etc. It is the agential product of socialization composed of habits that act as mechanisms linking institutions to agency (Fleetwood 2008b. p. 184). Habitus by definition is durable but can alter when people find themselves in contradictory circumstances which throw their habits into question and require reflexivity. Reflexivity refers to people’s ability to deliberate on what they want to accomplish in relation to the circumstances they find themselves in. People are able to discuss (primarily internally but also with others) their needs and concerns along with the constraints and opportunities they face to come up with projects for addressing them. While implementing projects people must deal with structures (vested interests and opportunity costs) and other people who enable or constraint their path which can hasten or reduce chances of another reflexive process. It is not an either or issue, they co-exist and when or why one is more active than the other is not an ontological issue but an empirical and theoretical issue. Also given differential constraints, reflexivity and the starting of projects that may alter one’s situation and thus over time one’s habitus are differentially viable for differently positioned agents and actors. Also some habitus’ may be more prone to reflexivity (academics and politicians for example). Reflexivity is susceptible to structural and institutional factors. It is not an asocial entity especially when it comes to acting on the outcomes of our deliberations. In short, reflexivity is the mechanism linking structure to agency. In the last instance, what we are most interested in livelihoods research is not that people can act reflexively but what this reflexivity leads to. The likelihood of people being highly reflexive but caught in seemingly inescapable inequalities or that the resourcing of reflexivity is structurally shaped combined with people’s reflexivity possibly leading to misdiagnosis of the situation show the problems with stopping analysis at only whether reflexive deliberation is present. We must focus on “post-reflexive choice”: One’s habitus may restrict and condition a proportion of choices; social change may be facilitating reflexivity which penetrates the fog of structured dispositions; but identities are formed in the ability to translate the choices which emerge from this complex interplay into meaningful realities…it is important to document aspects of social experience that are relatively impenetrable to agent’s demands, despite high levels of reflexivity. We need to emphasize what comes after reflexive awareness to see which choices are resourced…because some [will be] marginalized by a social structure empowering the reflexivity of others (Adams 2006 p. 522-523). It is not that everyone and every group acts that is at issue, but what form their actions take, for what reasons, and with what variable influence upon their situation and upon larger social institutions and structures. Agential influence at an abstract level can be divided into corporate and primary. Corporate agents refer to organized interest groups (promotive and/or defensive)—those who know what they want, can articulate it successfully to themselves and others, and who engage in determined action to alter or retain interests or issues of value to them. These properties imply a capacity to command (rather than attract) attention and decision making. Corporate agents’ strategies are context shapers. Conversely, primary agents are not direct context shapers. They have inarticulate demands and have not organized for their pursuit of their own vested interests. They normally only exert aggregate effects of those similarly placed who act in similar ways given shared context” (Archer 6
Things we know how to do or be but we don’t readily know how we know. I know how to be a woman, but I cannot pinpoint exactly how and where I obtained this knowing.
2000). For example, the poor are often primary agents but this does not mean that the numbers and needs of the poor do not impact the projects of corporate agents. If development is a goal than it is important to distinguish between the role habits and reflexivity are playing in both categories of agents to better plan interventions. For LAs it is important not to conflate action with agency thereby enabling the process of making poor households more responsible for their livelihood arrangements and outcomes than present pre-existing conditions and directional guidance show as potentially possible if appropriately acted upon while carrying out projects.
FIGURE 1: Societal and Agential Structures (Under Construction) Structure The inner composition or architecture Social Structure Nature of existing role array in different social areas and the proportions of positions available do different categories of people/groups
Demographic Structure The present stock of resources, opportunities, and problems.
Cultural Structure Things with the dispositional capacity of being understood by someone
Properties & Dimensions Internal and necessary relations between and within a things component parts. People + Relations Temporal Priority over Present Agents Activity Dependent but not awareness dependent Vested Interests Opportunity Cost Directional Guidance Negotiating Strength Past Distributions Temporal Priority over present agents Activity Dependent not Awareness Dependent Vested Interests Opportuntity Costs Physical Distribution Vertical and Horizontal status, influence and coverage relations
Propositional Register (Oral, Written and Symbolic) o Contradictions and Consistencies o Activity Dependent not Awareness Dependent Interactions Between Cultural Agents
Agential Structure Actions at the micro level produced by the interactions of the personality, habitus, and reflexivity. Actions at the meso level and beyond are produced by personality, reflexivity and habitus of collectivities
Individual: Habitus, Reflexivity and Personality Organized Group: Habitus, Reflexivity and Personality
Powers Makes an entity what it is rather than something else.
Involuntary placement in terms of status, influence, room to maneuver Shape situations by exerting various constraints and enablements that affect which projects are more likely to be conceived, entertained, and sustained
Involuntary Placement Bargaining Power o Exert constraints and enablements on agential projects
Constrain what can or can’t be expressed in a particular language, introduces new issues via the relations between theories& ideas, between these and present context Accessible to agents Vested Cultural Interests and Opportunity Costs
Influence themselves and immediate others Influence structures and institutions
Susceptibilities Influenced by social, cultural, and natural change and stasis. Influenced by social, cultural, and natural change and stasis
Influenced by social, cultural, and natural changes and stasis
Influenced by social, cultural, and natural change than successfully challenge the legitimacy or usefulness of a belief or theory.
Influenced by social, cultural, and natural changes and stasis
Analytical Dualism and Morphogenetic Approach to Social Change (see Figure 2) Contra to methodological individualism CR posits that society is made up of “parts” and people with neither being reducible to the other. Contra to structuration theory which conflates structure and agency, it insists on analytical dualism for non-agential structures and agential structures (agency). While agents and actors need structures and structures cannot exist without them they are different in their composition and modes of operation. Structures are products of past human actions deposited as the present social situation. Actors interact directly with other actors and agents, whereas structures can only act through actors or agents via constraints and enablements embedded in vested interests and opportunity costs. Analytical dualism offers: A means of identifying structures independently of their occupants and incumbents, yet showing its effects upon (establishing the reality of structures via the causal criterion), whilst coping with the intervention of other contingent relations, and accounting for eventual outcome which reproduces or transforms structures (Archer 1995 p.167)
Archer succinctly outlines a methodology for explaining structural change or stasis in her Morphogenetic Approach7 (1995) premised upon the theory that (1) structure pre-exists actions which may alter it and that (2) structural change manifests after actions that set it into motion. In material terms outcomes of past interactions create distributions, roles, positions and institutions whose necessary and internal relations the next generation of agents confront when devising and carrying out projects. Morphogenesis involves three phases: (1) structural or cultural conditioning, (2) socio-cultural interaction, and (3) social, cultural and/or agential elaboration. Social change (morphogenesis) occurs if new emergent structural properties form or once dormant susceptibilities or powers become active or vise verse in pre-existing ones. If change has not occurred after these three phases than the status quo prevails. Accounts of both need to include an explanation of how it came to exist that covers these three phases. This methodology encourages a historicizing of emergence and/or of the activation of powers and susceptibilities. Once a cycle has been demarcated and the structural conditions modeled, the middle-phase (interaction) takes precedence as this where structural opportunities (chances to increase or maintain resources and/or social mobility) are missed, mobilized or thwarted. This is done by looking at bargaining power, negotiating strength and projects of corporate agents in relation to the present situational logic and the aggregate effects of primary agents. This approach is superior to the popular Structuration Theory8 in that it does not presume a dynamism and change in structural elaboration but considers this to be an empirical-theoretical question with propositions being generated by tracing the history of emergence or lack there of. It doesn’t reduce structures to rules and resources and agents to knowledgeable utilizers of resources and rules. Structure casts off during projects reasons for different actors to use various rules and resources but they are more than this. Additionally this reductive conceptualization cannot account for the ability of structures to differentially constrain different actors and why different actors are differentially 7
Archer (1995) admits the “unloveliness” of this terminology but uses it because morpho reflects that society has no essential state and genetic reflects how the forms it takes are the outcome of the unintended and intended consequences of past human activities. 8 For more thorough comparisons see Mouzelis 2000 Archer 1995 (Chapter 4); Archer 2010, Jessop 2005.
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susceptible. These limitations stem from structuration’s conflation of structure and agency and seeing them as inseparable and locked in synchronicity. It is impossible for it to make propositions regarding when and under what circumstances change is more likely and to what extent causes lie with ‘parts,’ ‘people,’ and a particular configuration between and within them. It also precludes structures being emergent properties with relative autonomy and abilities to influence beyond present-tense activities of actors. It denies their pre-existence and post-existence by casting them as atemporal and virtual rules and resource that only come into play when instantiated by actors. It denies that they have properties with some powers that do not rely on actors present-tense instantiation. It is an actioncentric social theory with all the problems that entails (voluntarism, epistemic fallacy, discounting of habitus, marginalizing impacts of inequality, ignoring transfactuality and counterfactuality).
Figure 2: Critical Realist Morphogenetic Cycle
(Adapted from Archer 1995)
Breaking Down and Building Up the Livelihoods Approach We will begin with covering the stated goals of LA before moving on to their stated or implied: ontology, epistemology, methodology, and theory. Since concepts reflect all of these components, detailed evaluation will be given to the core components of livelihoods approaches. Throughout gaps, biases, and contradictions will be highlighted. 13 | P a g e Draft
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Goals [need to add sustainability] One goal is to highlight the strengths of the poor—their activities and assets to purge the victim role and repackage the poor as active, innovative and resourced agents able to affect change in their lives. This translates into the policy goal of “strengthening people’s own inventive solutions, rather than substituting, blocking or undermining them (Moser 1998, p. 1.) This goal is based on the normative position that the poor know better and make optimal decisions. This opinion is presented as a fact and issues of positionality and why subjugated knowledge is superior are not addressed. The possibility of the poor being victims of circumstances beyond their control or of having dispositions impacted by their objective surroundings is ignored. Basically the poor’s fallibility is concealed. A related goal is to provide an analytical tool for picking out important parts of the process of livelihood formation and outcomes (Rakodi 2002 p.) “A framework that contributes to the development of more appropriate analytical tools to facilitate those interventions which promote opportunities, as well as removing obstacles” (reductionist?) (Moser 1998 p. 1.) These beg 2 questions that we will return to later: (1) does it pick out the important parts and (2) does the way they are conceptualized allow for better inferences? It also raises an ontological issue: do poor individuals and poor households possess the power to instigate the structural changes necessary for reducing obstacles and increasing opportunities? Primarily livelihoods frameworks seems concerned both with methodology—the design of research into livelihoods—by preselecting units of analysis, areas of interest, and what inferences should be based upon—and with theory as it pre-selects the primary factors affecting livelihoods and sketches out the relationships between them.
Ontology and Epistemology LAs ontological underpinnings are not explicit which raises concerns of blind methodologies and theories—not really knowing the intrinsic properties of what it is that you are observing and running the risk of mixing together what should be separate and thus misattributing powers of structures to agents or assets and vice versa. All of which increase the chances of misdiagnosing empirical events. However, LA’s ontological position can be inferred by what it downgrades and upgrades. While mentioning that institutional processes, shocks, policies and organizations play a role in the assets households have and what they can do with them this receives only cursory and ambiguous treatment. The focus is clearly on individual poor households: what they think, have, and do. This implies that actors takes primacy over structure and that what households perceive maps unproblematically to reality or is more important than reality. This leads to an epistemological fallacy of collapsing transitive thought objects with the intransitive real objects they are referring to (Sayer 2000). People’s statements about their perceptions refer to “a particular way of talking/thinking about something in a conceptual system and not to real things directly” (Sayer 1984 p.) LAs anchoring to individual households implies that what is most socially efficacious for the purpose of removing obstacles and increasing opportunities are household activities. This proposition is given no empirical support. However, given that LA’s ontological positions are not expressed specifically its ability to systematically gate-keep methodology and theorization is debatable. While the upgrading of perceptions corresponds with relativism, knowledge production in LA is empiricist. Empirical regularities (instances of x following y or of x and y co-existing) and the frequency 14 | P a g e Draft
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of regularities count as knowledge about livelihoods. This position helps us to unpack the implicit ontological position of a one-dimensional empirical reality (where all important properties are visible) operating in a closed system where it can be safely assumed that the mechanisms behind x leading to y are the same regardless of context. Issues of emergence and powers and susceptibilities being dormant and or active (transfactuality) and what mechanisms moved the realization process along are missing. Methodology The mode of inference is framework guided induction stemming from people’s own perceptions, experiences, and possessions taken from methods organized to fill in content for the main concepts of the framework. Methodological individualism underpins the research process. Individuals are taken to be the important constituents of social reality. What is important about them (belongings, knowledge, and preferences) are empirical and independent of societal structures meaning you don’t have to take into account the impact of social structures when researching and inferring about these aspects. Its empiricist epistemology requires associational thinking –attaching significance to empirical regularity or associations rather than to necessity and contingency. Theory Household accumulation and use of assets is of primary importance to poverty reduction/elimination in LA. This implies that households + assets are the main agents of poverty alleviation and thus also of impoverishment. Additionally, it purports to “present the main factors that affect people’s livelihoods, and the typical relationships between these” (DFID FS 2). As conceptualizations and relations between them are theoretical things this is where we will find out more about LA’s biases, gaps, and contradictions as well as the conceptual problems incurred by not having a solid ontological foundation.
Livelihood A livelihood comprises capabilities, assets (including material and social resources) and activities required for a means of living (Chambers and Conway 1992) A livelihood is sustainable when it can cope with and recover from stresses and shocks and maintain or enhance its capabilities and assets both and now and in the future, while not undermining the natural resource base” (Carney 1998 p.4) The first conceptualization implies that a livelihood is a resultant property which includes a household’s capabilities, assets, and activities – which added together provide a means of living. It seems that livelihood and means of living are synonyms raising the specter of tautology. The second conceptualization implies that sustainable livelihoods are an emergent property – an emergent structure households operate in but which cannot be reduced to them. Sustainable livelihoods have the powers to enable households to “cope and recover” and to “maintain or enhance capabilities and assets.” This conceptualization offers powers – what livelihoods can do and properties—capabilities, assets and activities. It does not talk about these component’s quality, quantity and organization. The structure of the livelihood remains ambiguous. Looked at in relation to the LA as a whole it sees 15 | P a g e Draft
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livelihoods as mainly a product of households and ‘good’ livelihoods as outcomes of a households “optimal utilization of the abilities and resources they possess,” (Kamat 2004 p.169) rather than also being outcomes of the optimal utilization of the abilities and resources state and private sector corporate agents command or control. This conflates structure with agency as capabilities, assets and activities have necessary structural dimensions. This conflation downgrades how livelihoods are also products of structures and directional guidance; thus it participates in the de-responsibilitization of state and private sector organizations. This poses a conceptual obstacle to separating activities from agency issues and both of these from structural issues to better diagnose antecedents of actualized and thwarted livelihood powers and susceptibilities. Relational issues of contingency, necessity and the like are missing. The following structural analysis questions need to be addressed: What does the existence of a livelihood presuppose? Can it exist on its own? What cannot be removed without a livelihood disappearing? What is it about livelihoods that can enable poverty or sustainability? Livelihoods presuppose: actualized capabilities, opportunities to creatively or habitually draw upon capabilities for productive/reproductive purposes, resource needs, unequal access of distributed resources, exchange relations. A livelihood cannot exist on its own – it requires human activity and societal structures and institutions. The contingent aspects of livelihoods are: exchange relationships and unequal direct access to resources, the rest cannot be removed with a livelihood becoming something else. It is the quality, quantity, and organization of the necessary components in relation to those of other households and to the relative bargaining power and negotiating strength of collectivities and organizations that enable poverty or sustainability. Additionally, a sustainable livelihood is a reified concept. A non-human entity cannot do anything in and of itself. It is not the livelihood that is coping but the actors within an intersection of societal structures that are enabling them with tendencies to navigate shocks, stresses and opportunities advantageously (or not) with the various resources at their disposal. A provisional CR conceptualization is that: A livelihood is an emergent property of the web of societal structures and directional guidance households operate within when carrying out projects (rooted both in resource needs and wants) and the capabilities, opportunities, and assets they can draw upon. All components consist of both potential and actual powers and liabilities with both potential and actual utilities/values that are enabled, disabled, or strengthened by a variety of internal and external-contingent relationships and events related to vested interests, opportunity costs, and negotiating strength, and directional guidance. The projects and strategies of resource governing organizations households must enter into arrangements with are of particular importance.
Vulnerability Context The LA framework depicts a process resulting in livelihood outcomes. It begins with the vulnerability context: [Vulnerability] is the insecurity of wellbeing of individuals, households, or communities in face of a changing environment. Environmental changes threatening well-being can be ecological, economic, social, or political…with these changes often come increasing risk or uncertainty and declining selfrespect…(Moser 1998 qtd in Rakodi 2002 p.14) 16 | P a g e Cite with Permission OnlyDraft
Vulnerability Context frames the external environment in which people exist. People’s livelihoods and the wider availability of assets are fundamentally affected by critical trends as well as by shocks and seasonality – over which they have limited or no control. (DFID FS 2) Vulnerability and vulnerability context appear to be external reasons (risks, uncertainties) for insecurity of well-being in terms of assets and self-respect. The empirical events bringing about these risks and uncertainties are listed as being trends (population, economic, resources, governance, and technological), shocks (unexpected events that directly impact wellbeing such as illness, death, social strife, natural disasters) and seasonality of prices, work, and food. The non-empirical mechanisms and structures bringing about these trends and bringing some of these to bear upon certain livelihoods in certain places in particular ways are not discussed. Some of this must remain open to be filled empirically and theoretically after field research however there are unnecessary ontic gaps that could be filled in with vested interests, opportunity costs and directional guidance—the means through which social context shapes situations people find themselves in and the ways they will try to get out of bad ones. Agential properties of habitus and reflexivity certainly mediate the impacts of trends, shocks, and seasonality. There are agential and non-agential external and internal elements that can combine together in a number of contingent ways to produce a particular vulnerability context that possesses powers individual events do not. The scale, duration, and magnitude of shocks, trends, and seasonality also impact the content, powers, and susceptibilities of vulnerability contexts. Also relational issues of contingency, necessity and the like are ambiguous. Its existence presupposes: resource scarcity (real or contrived), unequal access, livelihoods susceptible to externalities, rationalizing institutions, trends, seasonality, and actors and agents. Beyond individual episodic shocks (death, illness) it cannot exist separate from societal and agential structures as it is an emergent property of past interactions shaped by pre-existing conditions deposited in the form of today’s constraints. By necessity today’s vulnerability context includes the following components: scarcity, pre-existing unequal distributional structures and stratified social structures, directional guidance, livelihoods susceptible to externalities. Products of this context in the form of shocks, trends, and seasonality are contingent as the vulnerability context remains regardless if these events manifest regularly or not. The actions and beliefs of today’s actors and agents influence the events and outcomes which manifest from the vulnerability context but do so contingently. An asymmetrical relation exists between livelihoods susceptible to externalities and unequal societal structures. If these susceptibilities did not exist structures would be irrelevant. A tentative CR definition of vulnerability context could be: Today’s vulnerability context consists of pre-existing societal structures marked by unequal access and the susceptibilities of differentially positioned and resourced actors and agents. This context—depending on the contingent relations with directional guidance, geographic factors, aggregate effects and the relative negotiating strength of organizations and the character of their projects—can generate shocks, trends, and seasonality whose benefits and penalties will be unevenly experienced.
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Livelihood Assets Assets are central to the LA, it is arguable that the approach is asset-based rather than people based. Assets represent household strengths and opportunities (DFID 2000). Livelihood improvement is directly connected to the quality, quantity and organization of assets and a household’s ability to convert them into improved livelihood outcomes. They appear as the independent variable when it comes to increase in quality and/or quantity leading to more and better selection of livelihood strategies and to better livelihood outcomes. They have the power to influence structures and processes and to cope with trends, shocks and seasonality. They have the power (if sequenced appropriately and if trade-offs are well managed) to enable more and better livelihood strategies leading to better outcomes. They are also susceptible to ‘structures and processes’ and to the ‘vulnerability context.’
assets are a stock of financial, human, natural or social resources that can be acquired, developed, improved and transferred across generations. It generates flows or consumption, as well as additional stock. In the current poverty-related development debates, the concept of assets or capital endowments includes both tangible and intangible assets, with the capital assets of the poor commonly identified as natural, physical, social, financial and human capital (Moser 2007 p.5 emphasis mine). Assets available constitute a stock of capital: ‘stuff that augments incomes but is not totally consumed in use’ (Narayan & Pritchet 1999). This capital can be stored, accumulated, exchanged or depleted and put to work to generate a flow of income or other benefits. Social units need to call on stocks of all types of capital (human, social, political, physical, financial, and natural), although their ability to do so varies and there are trade-offs between the different types.
‘Livelihood Assets’ is an overstuffed and contradictory concept. The agency assets are endowed with is problematic. Only humans can act directly. Assets, stuff, resources or capital are mobilized and utilized by agents while carrying out projects—they are animated or thwarted by people—who are differentially resourced by societal structures, differentially guided by social institutions, organizations and the physical environment. Livelihood Assets are never in-play outside of structures discernable action necessitates. Their applicability and accessibility to a project are contingent upon the situation one is in and one’s habitus and reflexivity relative to others and their projects. The above definitions secret in actors and structures by stating that assets are “called upon” or “stored, accumulated, exchanged or depleted….’ Additionally, it is problematic to use assets, resources and capital interchangeably as their internal composition differs while their activation is contingent upon different external factors (van Dijk 2011). Whether a resource becomes an asset, liability or a capital is an empirical-theoretical question. The stocks of these present and the various ways they can strengthen and weaken each other exists potentially and/or counterfactually. It is how agents draw upon them (fallibly) and which ones are accessible (structural-institutional & organizational issue) for different projects that activates them often transfactually. These definitions do not discuss that ‘livelihood assets’ are also composed of substantive, relational and embodied properties whose 18 | P a g e Draft
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internal composition impact their ability to increase the powers and susceptibilities of actors undertaking various projects within various contexts (van Dijk 2011). A CR structural analysis of ‘livelihood assets’ is needed. In this context this concept presupposes: tangible and intangible stuff, people (requirements and actions), societal structures (exchange relations, employment), social institutions (ownership, usership). The only aspect that cannot be removed without it becoming something else is ‘tangible and intangible stuff.’ This is also what can pre-exist, however to become useful to people the other aspects are needed but they are contingent not necessary components to their existence. Stocks of ‘livelihood assets’ contribute to a household’s wellbeing in and through their deployment in projects undertaken in situations of relative scarcity and inequality comprised of others whose projects may compete or coexist with theirs. A tentative CR definition would be: Present distribution of tangible and intangible stuff comprised of substantive, relational, and embodied dimensions. This stock exists separate from people’s awareness of it and ability to utilize them in projects. When taken up by actors in projects they have the ability to help households carry out successful projects. However their ability to help actors is contingent upon several factors: habitus/reflexivity, other actor´s projects, vulnerability context and differences in directional guidance, bargaining power and negotiating strength.
This definition clarifies how livelihood assets are related to but separable from structure and agency
Organizations, Processes, Institutions, and Structures Structures in the framework are the hardware – the organizations, both private and public – that set and implement policy and legislation, deliver services, purchase, trade and perform all manner of other functions that affect livelihoods. They draw their legitimacy from the basic governance framework. Structures exist at various levels. This is most obvious in the case of governmental organizations. These operate in cascading levels with varying degrees of autonomy and scope of authority, depending upon the extent and nature of decentralization…Structures are important because they make processes function. Without legislative bodies there is no legislation. Without courts to enforce it, legislation is meaningless. Without traders, markets would be limited to direct trades between buyers and sellers. An absence of appropriate structures can be a major constraint to development… If structures can be thought of as hardware, processes [policies, legislation, institutions, culture, and power relations] can be thought of as software. They determine the way in which structures – and individuals – operate and interact. And like software, they are both crucial and complex: not only are there many types of processes operating at a variety of different levels, but there is also overlap and conflict between them. (DFID FS2, 2000).
The institutions (structures or organizations) are both public and private. Processes are what influence or transform how organizations and individuals interact and may be informal or formal. They include policies, laws, social norms, rules of the game and incentives. They embody power relations and have 19 | P a g e Draft
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significant impact on the access of the poor to all types of assets and on the effective value of those assets…(Rakodi 2002 p.15) Both these definitions offer quite a laundry list of everything external that can impact asset stocks and usefulness. They conflate many related but separate structural, institutional, organizational and agential things. This leads to unnecessary ambiguity that reduces their individual analytical usefulness and limits theorizing how they work in tandem. Everything with structure is not a societal structure. It would be better if the box were entitled “Structures and Social Institutions” with demographic, social and cultural structures and social institutions being listed out separately and with organizations being considered: an agential entity as it consists of a purposively networked group of individuals engaged in the fruition of a particular project(s) whose status, influence and coverage are shaped by how preexisting structures and social institutions have grouped and positioned them. Organizations intentionally develop policies, laws, regulations and practices thought to facilitate fruition of projects thus these are properties of organizations with contingent relations to structures. These properties produce the organizational directional logic households face transmitted in the form of authoritative labeling and rules of entitlement. Organizations possess variable degrees of what de Certeau (1984) termed strategy—the ability to mark out a space—via policies, laws, regulations, and practices—which serves as a point from which relations with external organizations and the aggregate effects of primary agents can be administered. This strategy, ability to create places and terms of engagement, allows them a level of autonomy to acquire advantages the strategy makes possible and to plan ahead with minimal risk from primary agents. This division and labeling of space allows for objects within it to be qualified and quantified – controlled and included within the purview of the strategy to satisfy the conditions necessary for the organization to reproduce itself and meet its goals. Managing places to the benefit of organizational vested interest is never easy or finished as these projects may be thwarted by other organization’s projects or bogged down by the tactics used primary agents to “make do” in the present organizational matrix. Process in this context better refers to: combining the dialectic-synchronic relations between structure, institutions and organizations at particular points in time and the temporal sequence of empirical events along with the mechanisms these presuppose. While understanding what did not happen, but could have based on the initial dialectic-synchronic relations between these elements, can be fleshed out via transfactual and counterfactual reasoning. Leveraging the tenets or CR discussed earlier we can carry out structural analysis of these emergent properties of social-cultural interaction. Social institutions (rules, conventions, norms, values and customs) in this context presuppose human interactions and societal structures related to the creation, distribution, and reproduction of ‘livelihood assets.’ They exist separate from present actors but are the products of past actors. Also if there weren’t societal structures to navigate social institutions would be irrelevant whereas one can imagine social structures with no social institutions however inefficient this would be. They have the potential to influence people and organization’s behaviors if they become habits and are susceptible to elaboration by agents. A tentative CR conceptualization for social institutions could be: 20 | P a g e Draft
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established rules, conventions, norms, values and customs that become embedded in social structures and organizations (via roles) as habits via processes of habituation that have the power to render relatively predictable, the intentions and actions of other role incumbents or organizations who may or may not draw upon, reproduce or transform them (Fleetwood 2008). Their activation is contingent upon the directional guidance, negotiating strength and the composition and relative strength of habitus vis á vis reflexivity when creating and carrying out projects. Demographic structures (present distribution of resources, opportunities and problems) in this context presupposes: relative scarcity and unequal access between organizations, rationalizing social institutions and cultural structures at a particular point in time. Their shape and impact is conditioned by social institutions and cultural structures contingently however they would not exist if things were evenly distributed in situations of no scarcity. They can influence organizational behavior and success rates by the bargaining power embedded in different placements depending on courses of action selected. A tentative CR conceptualization could be: Pre-existing distributions of resources, opportunities, and problems can influence organizational behavior and successful completion of projects because of the relative bargaining power between differently placed organizations. Their influence on organizational bargaining power is contingent upon the social institutions and cultural structures that can be drawn upon in the course of projects. Social structures in this context presuppose: the past human interaction and activities between different groups which resulted in unequal distribution of status, influence, and coverage area via the array of roles and positions within differently placed organizations (economic, state, community, kinship), social institutions and registers (culture) guiding role incumbents within social structures and organizations. They cannot exist separate from past human interaction and remain inert unless faced by organizations undertaking various projects that put them in relations with others thus bringing up issues of vested interests, opportunity costs and relative negotiating strength. A tentative CR conceptualization of social structures could be: Pre-existing unequal distributions of status, influence, and coverage area via the array of roles and positions organizations across different spheres of social life command. Role and position incumbents are guided by the social institutions and social register of ideas, beliefs, and theories instantiated by past and present organizations. The construction and carrying out of organizational projects are shaped by vested interests and opportunity costs which become active when organizations come in relation to others whose projects may be in competition with theirs or require its termination.
Cultural structures in this context presuppose: instantiated components of the social register of beliefs, theories, and ideas, symbolic or cultural stratification—certain organizations instantiated ideas, beliefs, theories having more status, influence, and coverage (discursive penetration) than others. They are related but not necessarily to issues of cultural stratification, however to be of significance they need to be parts of the social register that have been instantiated by the actions of an organization. They are able to shape organizations’: policies, regulations, and laws by constraining 21 | P a g e Draft
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what can or cannot be easily asserted by different organizations vis a vis others because of vested cultural interests and opportunity costs for asserting or downgrading parts of the social register. It is in this way they shape the projects taken up by organizations and how they proceed. Instantiated components are susceptible to events that bring them into question if these opportunities are ceased upon. A CR conceptualization of culture for LA could be: instantiated components of the social register of beliefs, theories, and ideas which organizations when forming and carrying out projects can be constrained or enabled by that are contingent upon the distribution of vested cultural interests and related opportunity costs plus the composition of organizational habitus and reflexivity.
Livelihood Strategies Households make decisions about how their assets are used: for example, for earning, by disposal, to fulfill kinship obligations and responsibilities, to develop mutual support networks, or by changes to diet. The strategy open to a household depends both on the [assets] held and on the household’s capability to find and make us of livelihood opportunities (Rakodi 2002, p6) The ability to avoid or reduce vulnerability depends not only on initial assets, but also the capacity to manage them – transform them into income, food, or other basic necessities…(Moser 1998 p.5) EPs
They denote the range and combination of activities and choices that people make/undertake in order to achieve their livelihood goals (including productive activities, investment strategies, reproductive choices, etc... People’s access to different levels and combinations of assets is probably the major influence on their choice of livelihood strategies. (DFID FS2 p23).
The focus on logging livelihood strategies is to see “which combinations of activities [sequencing] appear to be ‘working’ best? Is there any discernible pattern of activities adopted by those who have managed to escape from poverty?” (DFID 2000, p24) to better inform policy makers and practitioners. The focus is empirical and selections of what is “working best” are based on associational thinking. The internal composition of assets and how they impact each other’s power and susceptibilities which is contingent upon a particular array of external mechanisms leading to a particular positive outcome do not figure in. Issues of contingency and necessity regarding a particular sequencing of events and tactics leading to a positive outcome cannot be determined via association thinking alone. These definitions reflect both LA’s limited conceptualization of human beings and its downgrading of structure. The role that LA is most interested in is a person’s role as ‘asset manager.’—their ability to successfully transform what ‘livelihood assets’ they have into sufficient income, consumption and subjective well-being. This ability is implied to be an exclusive agential property with some being better able at sequencing choices and actions than others. This focus on asset management choices burdens individuals with too much responsibility and situational control. The only structure that sneaks in is presumably demographic via “people access” That people’s activities are crucial to understanding present tense inequality is not in question; however the components of choice, 22 | P a g e Draft
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household, and structure need to be filled in more and kept separable to better understand the strategies which emerge from the quality, quantity and organization of these components and the possible impact of their results. First, the term strategy is problematic at this level as it implies the likelihood of reducing obstacles and increasing opportunities, and privileges reflexivity. It belongs better indirectly to the present configuration of societal structures and social institutions via the directional guidance they bring to bear and to organizations whose make up enables them to instigate strategy by making policies, laws, regulations that qualify and quantify people and places. It is better to discuss household projects and their tactics for carrying them out. Household projects are emergent entities—forming out of the organization of people’s livelihood assets, habitus and reflexivity. Assets are shaped by societal structures as are habitus and reflexivity so projects are in part structurally induced and are great entry points for disambiguating non-empirical structural and institutional aspects. Tactics refer to the realm of interaction in structured relations— what people do in response to different obstacles and opportunities they encounter (fallibly) while attempting to carryout various projects. Those denied what is necessary to create a relatively autonomous place of their own (primary agents and unorganized collectivities): must play on a terrain imposed on it and organized by distant powers. They do not have the means to keep to themselves at a distance in a position of withdrawal, foresight, and selfcollection…They do not have the options of planning a general strategy and viewing the adversary as a whole with in a distinct, visible, and objectifiable space. They operate in isolated actions, blow by blow. They take advantage of “opportunities” and depend on them being without any base where they could stockpile winnings, build up positions and plan raids…They must vigilantly make us of the cracks that particular conjunctures open in the surveillance of the proprietary powers [organizations]…in short, a tactic is an art of the weak” (De Certeau 1984 p.37) Tactics allow weaker (non-organized) actors to forge spaces within the web of organizational strategies that allow for creativity, survival, and subterranean resistance. One’s general approach to projects needs to be analyzed in relation to directional guidance generated by the structuralinstitutional-organizational landscape which pre-exists one’s choice of projects and shapes how they are executed. Tactics are emergent properties comprised of vested interests, opportunity costs, bargaining power, habitus, reflexivity and personality. Projects and tactics are always fallible as people are likely to misread situations or read them correctly but be unable to compete with others’ projects, tactics or strategies or to actualize opportunities due to agential aspects (asset use, habitus and reflexivity) and/or deprivations of bargaining power and negotiating strength.
Livelihood projects in this context presuppose: structurally and institutionally shaped needs and wants, reflexivity, habitus, obstacles (people, scarcity, inequality and organizations), and opportunities (assets and activity fields). It is difficult to imagine the necessity of projects related to assets if things were otherwise. They are susceptible to human fallibility and to contingent relations with other people and organization’s (fallible) projects, tactics, and strategies differentially endowed by the institutional and structural situation. The following is a tentative CR conceptualization for livelihood projects: 23 | P a g e Draft
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The array of livelihood projects perceivable at a given time are the emergent property of: structurally and institutionally shaped needs and wants, personality, reflexivity, and habitus. Selection of projects to pursue are contingently related with other people and organization’s (fallible) projects, tactics, and strategies differentially endowed by the vulnerability context. Tactics presuppose: situations largely shaped by organizational strategies, power-relations, vested interests and opportunity costs, habitus and reflexivity. The necessary components are organizational strategies and uneven power-relations that make tactics necessary. These components are contingently related to vested interests, opportunity costs, and agential habitus and reflexivity. Tactics have the power to move projects closer to realization but are susceptible to human fallibility (missing or misreading a situation) and to changing projects/strategies and tactics of other differently endowed actors and agents. A tentative CR conceptualization of tactics could be: Tactics are on-going and iterative (fallible) agential maneuverings tied to the execution of livelihood projects. They are emergent properties comprised of vested interests, opportunity costs, bargaining power, habitus, reflexivity and personality. Tactics play out in situations populated by other actors and organizations, whose tactics and strategies can obstruct, overrule, amend, or strengthen the furthering of projects.
Livelihood Outcomes Livelihood Outcomes are the achievements or outputs of Livelihood Strategies. Once again, the important idea associated with this component of the framework is that we, as outsiders, investigate, observe and listen, rather than jumping to quick conclusions or making hasty judgments about the exact nature of the outcomes that people pursue. In particular, we should not assume that people are entirely dedicated to maximizing their income. Rather, we should recognize and seek to understand the richness of potential livelihood goals. This, in turn, will help us to understand people’s priorities, why they do what they do, and where the major constraints lay DFID 1999 p.) If the outcomes of livelihood strategies adopted by poor people are to be positive, they should improve incomes, increase wellbeing, reduce vulnerability, improve food security, and make more sustainable use of resources (Rakodi 2002 p.16)
Livelihood outcomes represent the end of a process or the end of a household or individual’s last morphogenetic/stasis cycle. They are directly related to the way assets were successfully used or not. The goal to repackage the poor is clear in the top statement that disciplines against evaluating or judging strategies by outcomes but rather to help facilitate their success. This again puts too much responsibility and epistemological weight on the perceptions of the poor. It would be helpful to sketch out the possible array of projects the existing structural institutional, and organizational condition allows for different collectivities and to compare that with what projects are selected (under what circumstances) and then to transfactually or counterfactually reason out reasons for non-chosen 24 | P a g e Draft
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projects and unutilized tactics. This process requires individual perceptions and assessment but is not limited to them. Assessing the value of livelihood assets and plotting out ways to increase them or to make them more resilient to negative susceptibilities and open to positive processes of change requires realizing that actors orient themselves to the directional guidance of a particular field(s) of action and to other actors and organizations when employing tactics to achieve particular ends. Livelihood assets themselves are in part fragile products of the dialectic and synchronic relations between structures, institutions and organizations and households. Tallying them up at different intervals and associating them with projects will fail to give us insights into causality of emergent projects, tactics and outcomes. The double contingencies of livelihood assets’ powers and susceptibilities means that causation (what leads to lesser or more livelihood powers or negative susceptibilities) is unlikely to be linear or simple because voluntaristic presumptions of action and social construction are not possible—people are not the masters of their livelihood trajectory (pace Sayer 2004). Livelihood outcomes in this context presuppose: a cut-off point, qualifiable and/or quantifiable outcomes that can be reasonably attached to (1) one’s choice of project and the tactics applied overtime for its fruition and (2) external factors (regardless of person’s acknowledgement) shaping project trajectory and tactics. Outcomes are susceptible to transfactual powers and susceptibilities (hard to tell when positives or negatives will empirically materialize). Livelihood outcomes do not necessitate our ability to qualify or quantify them but our ability substantially link them with particular projects and tactics under certain conditions does. A tentative CR conceptualization for livelihood outcomes is: Quantifiable and/or qualifiable outcomes of a morphogenesis/morphostasis household cycle that result from projects and tactics and the external structural, institutional, organizational, and agential context they are carried out in. Care should be taken to contribute outcomes to their right primary and secondary antecedents to not overestimate the role livelihood projects (actors) play or to underestimate the role organizational strategies, directional guidance and pre-existing conditions play.
Figure 3 below offers a conceptual scheme connecting the CR conceptualizations of livelihoods analysis which will help point out its differences and similarities with the LA.
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DISCUSSION This framework attempts the ontological task of sketching out the social world individuals, households, or collectivities live in and the methodological task of pointing out the most important components for understanding livelihoods and how to study them. Organizations9 (corporate agents) are put in the center as historically they are the instigators of societal change or stasis and are direct context shapers via their policies, laws, practices, and regulations. Individual and household projects and tactics exert contingent aggregate effects on the projects and strategies of organizations but they cannot impart structural or institutional change via individual everyday jostling. Of course members of organized interest groups are also members of households but it is important to keep these roles and situations separable. The framework starts with the vulnerability context at Time 1 which represents how today’s organizations and households are involuntary placed by pre-existing demographic, social and cultural structures. No actions take place in situations of their own intentional making. Different placements result in pre-grouped collectivities with different vested interest and opportunity costs which become issue of bargaining power in selection of projects, strategies, and tactics. This means that at Time 1 we can already group collectivities and organizations in terms of those relatively benefiting from the status quo and those relatively deprived by it. Whether or not actors realize these as structural properties is irrelevant to their existence and potential powers and susceptibilities. The results of the results of past human action take the shape of the set of institutions (established rules, conventions, norms, values and customs) underpinning interaction action in the economic, political, community, and kinship spheres (mediated by habitus and reflexivity). They provide directional guidance for projects, strategies, and tactics all fallibly in tune with how best to navigate institutional mutualities and tensions. Households pick projects and later (and regularly) tactics in situations directionally guided by institutions and strategies of organizations who directly or indirectly shape their capitals, assets and resources (CARs). Directional guidance is not received directly; these clues are processed fallibly by their habitus and reflexivity when deciding upon projects and tactics suitable for their execution. Organizational and household selection of projects, strategies or tactics happen between Time 2 to Time 3 (which corresponds to Archer’s middle time of real-time interaction). This is when the projects and strategies of organizations (contingently influenced by the aggregate results of primary agents livelihoods (projects, tactics, met and unmet needs/wants)) materializes into structural, institutional, organizational and/or group elaboration— Time 4 Vulnerability Context. Understanding why a certain time period ended up changing or sustaining the vulnerability context for organizations and households requires a methodology focused empirically and theoretically (via causal criterion) on the active properties, powers and susceptibilities of structures, institutions, organizations, and households and how they intermingled during project execution to produce a set of outcomes. Better understanding of how things could be otherwise (useful for political and policy work) requires first retroduction (what active mechanisms (empirical and non-empirical) does this situation presuppose) and then transfactual and counterfactual thinking to flesh out why certain powers and susceptibilities remained unactualized or unrealized. Epistemologically, this twoprong methodology leverages the empirical but is not limited to it and leverages the perspectives of households but is not limited to them either. Analytical dualism purports that here is no reason to 9
Including organized interest groups
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privilege the perspectives of households when it comes to studying structural, institutional, and organizational constraints and resources. The appropriate time and place for the correct identification of social emergent properties is not social interaction transmitted by the fallible partial appreciation of people. Retroduction “asks what else needs to be the case, what else must be present for X to be so, and not what people think, notice, tell, or believe is the case” (Archer 1995. P) Retroduction gets us around committing epistemological fallacy of confusing objective constraints and enablements with people’s mental reception of them thereby, “falsely privileging discursive penetration of agents and depriving us of any means of understanding their distorted perceptions, its sources, and the interests it serves” (Archer 1995 p.)
Compared to Other Livelihood Approach Reforms Commonly accepted shortcomings of the LA: apparent and ambiguous of treatment of ‘vulnerability context’ and ‘transforming structures and processes’ boxes, limited incorporation of social and cultural resources, and localism, have been recently addressed by those wanting to revamp the waning LA (see Scoones 2009). Wellbeing and Developing Countries (McGreggor 2004) sought to improve it by leveraging structuration theory to better understand agency, by leveraging Comparative Welfare Regimes Model (Wood and Gough 2009) to better understand the role institutions play in wellbeing and social change, and by privileging social and cultural resources. The CRLA leveraging of the morphogenetic approach is superior because it doesn’t liken structure to language leading to an unsubstantiated voluntarism that the limiting of structure to present tense rules and instantiation does. Likening structure to language also puts an unsubstantiated causal power on knowledge levels presuming that via reflexivity agents become more knowledgeable and thus better able to instantiate rules to their advantage. Structures and institutions exist separate from agents and have the power to influence beyond one’s present-tense instantiation of rules. The CRLA better accounts for how the same structures and institutions can be differently perceived and differentially constraining in ways that extend beyond one’s reflexive knowledge. Additionally this framework only has structures influencing agents’ present-tense perceptions and intentions regarding resources. The ‘needs’ and ‘resources box’ is left untouched by them, whereas the CRLA has the ‘vulnerability context’ influencing these via vested interests, opportunity costs, and directional guidance. However, it is secreted in again by their conceiving of resources as being socially and culturally constructed meaning that a thing “only becomes a resource in their instantiation in relationships” (McGregor 2004 p.347). They offer no details about what it is about the pre-existing particular socio-cultural landscape resources came from that leads particular things to become resources instantiated in certain relationships between relata and not others. The CRLA positioning of CARs as contingent properties of household livelihoods whose uses are shaped by habitus, reflexivity, personality and those of others reduces some of the ambiguity surrounding the process of socio-cultural influences. The Comparative Welfare Regimes Model by insisting that household wellbeing needs to be seen via the arrangements they have with ‘institutional wellbeing matrix’ is an improvement from the relatively atomistic placement of households in earlier LAs. However in conflates structures, social institutions, and organizations limiting its analytical purchase. WeD is empirically focused on: what people have, what they can do with what they have, and their feelings about these issues (Mcgreggor 2004) which reduces its ability
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to distinguish structural-institutional factors from agential ones perpetuating ill-being and limits it to associational reasoning. De Haan and Zoomers (2005) attempt to strengthen LA’s treatment of access by an ontology of ‘Livelihood Pathways’ and a ‘livelihood trajectory’ methodology to better understand the role power-relations play in the regularities present within different groups’ livelihoods. Pathways show how people do not make livelihoods in situations of their own choosing and that behavior is a mix of strategy and habit: Livelihoods emerge out of past actions and decisions made within specific historical and agro-ecological conditions, and are constantly shaped by institutions and social arrangements…Pathways are best defined as patterns of livelihood activities which arise from a co-ordination process among actors. This co-ordination emerges from individual strategic behavior embedded both in a historical repertoire and in social differentiation, including power relations and institutional processes, both of which prestructure subsequent decision making (43). They also use habitus to flesh out how social differentiation shapes behavior “via dispositions acquired via practice…with strong class characteristics.” This definition resembles somewhat how the CRLA conceives of the vulnerability context, but with some particular ambiguities and problems. It lists historical repertoire (presumably cultural structures) social differentiation, power-relations and institutional processes without separating cause from effect, necessity from contingency or discussing them in terms of their powers or susceptibilities via each other and actors in relations with others. Beyond invoking habitus; how different livelihoods (patterns of events) emerge from a set of collective actions and decisions is not addressed. A “co-ordination process among actors” is ambiguous; what mechanisms facilitate this co-ordination and is it an intended or unintended consequence of resultant or emergent properties and whose interests does it serve? Their ‘pathways’ social ontology is paired with the livelihood trajectories methodology, “for examining individual behavior embedded in a historical repertoire and in social differentiation”—their way of unpacking structural and institutional influences on livelihoods over time. They acknowledge that: The identification and discerning of income opportunities and constraints, which are taken for granted, of social norms, which are respected unconsciously or intuitively, and of undisputed power-relations, not routinely reported is difficult. Depicting livelihood trajectories can perhaps best be described as unraveling a historical route through a labyrinth of rooms, with each room having several doors giving access to new livelihood opportunities; but the doors can be opened and the room of opportunities successfully entered only with the right key qualifications. As a result, some doors remain unopened and rooms of opportunities not accessed; while new rooms of opportunities are sometimes successfully exploited, a person often ends up in a room that very much resembles the one from which he or she was trying to escape. Informants may report accurately on the opportunities that they have successfully or unsuccessfully exploited; however, it is much more difficult — but vital — to understand why some opportunities were not even considered. These are usually opportunities that informants did not even think of for reasons of convention, that is, elements of access like social norms, institutions, power etc. The only way to reveal them is through systematic comparison of actors’ decisions in different geographical, socio-economic, cultural or temporal contexts. Thus livelihood trajectories 29 | P a g e Draft
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should explicitly focus on matters of access to opportunities, especially mapping the workings of power, starting with ‘power within’, via ‘power to’, and, finally, to ‘power over’. More emphasis should be placed on comparative research, or a systematic comparison of livelihood decisions in different geographical, socio-economic, cultural or temporal contexts, so that patterns can be recognized as pathways which go beyond the specific case.
This inductive approach to describing livelihood trajectories (agency) in relation to various pathway constraints (structure) will likely paint a detailed empirical picture of the types of livelihoods tending to emerge from different collectivities. However, focusing on the empirical patterns of actual realized instances of power within, to, with, and over will not move us closer to understanding how and why in this time and place this group realized X, Y, and Z but not A B C. They acknowledge the problem of determining the influence of structure via people’s self-reporting but then say the only way to solve this is with more empirical research of a comparative nature. This will lead us to swaths of formal relationships between correlates but does not help us separate necessity from contingency or help us pinpoint which powers we want to strengthen and which we want to minimize. CRLA agrees that livelihoods are emergent properties irreducible to individual actions and resources and that they are pre-structured. Pathways do exist in the form of involuntary placement in pre-grouped collectivities with similar life chances (shared vulnerability context) tending to exhibit similar patterns of projects and outcomes. However, focusing on empirical patterns (via associational reasoning) rather than retroducing mechanisms of pathways can point to livelihood correlates but not causes. Transfactual and counterfactual reasoning to unpack issues of unactualized and unrealized powers are arguably as important empirical patterns. CRLA structurally analyzed structural, institutional, organizational and agential concepts that highlights their properties, powers, and susceptibilities allows for a more nuanced and penetrating analysis of livelihood pathways that are more likely to capture structure-agency relationships overtime. Conclusion The CRLA overcomes many of the LA’s ontological, epistemological, methodological and theoretical obstacles to picking out the important components of livelihoods, how they interact and how to influence their powers and susceptibilities. Leveraging CR gives us the tools to better separate necessity from contingency when looking at the vulnerability context. The conceptualization of structures, institutions, organizations, processes, and agency as emergent properties requires a different methodological approach than what is used to capture people’s reception of them. Retroduction and counterfactual-transfactual reasoning enabled by analytical dualism—adequately linked but not dominated by empirical data—makes the CRLA better positioned to move us from correlates to causes. Not conflating structures, institutions, processes, organizations, policies, powerrelations, or culture together or using them interchangeably reduces ambiguity enabling more astute theorizing about the connections between them and the vested interests, opportunity costs, negotiating strength and directional guidance they face households with. It moves away from the compunction to place household actions, perceptions, and resources as the most important variable and to cast them as optimal agents who know best why things are they way they are and what to do about them. Corporate agency is something that should not be attributed to households from the start as this imbibes them with powers they likely do not possess and allows us to minimize the 30 | P a g e Draft
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constraints present in their situation. People are fallible, susceptible to externalities, possess habits and reflexivity differently resourced and penalized by the vulnerability context and others operating within it. There is no substantive evidence supporting the superiority of lay-person´s perceptions. Our focus on them should be for the purpose of retroducing institutional and organizational guidance, bargaining power, and negotiating strength by looking at the composition and interrelations between a collectivity’s CARS, habitus, reflexivity, idiosyncrasies and the projects they form, the tactics they use to execute them and to what outcomes. This information would be of use for making policy and political recommendations to organizations who (1) shape access to CARs and their value and utility and (2) who have the corporate agency necessary to engage in projects and strategies that can result in social change. These powers are also why they are positioned in the middle of the CRLA framework.
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