Sustainable livelihoods and political capital: arguments and evidence from decentralisation and natural resource management in India

Sustainable livelihoods and political capital: arguments and evidence from decentralisation and natural resource management in India

Political capital in the Sustainable Livelihoods approach

Looks at the Sustainable Livelihoods (SL) approach as an analytical framework. The potential of SL was examined by applying the framework for analysis in a research project on decentralised natural resource management in India.The SL framework was found to be a useful construct for the analysis of decentralised natural resourcemanagement. The SL framework does not incorporate theories of change or transformation based on political science, and because of this it was found to present a neutral starting point for research. Central to the SL framework is a vision of the community as an outcome of relations based on the interaction between different capital assets. The SL framework is therefore able to avoid making assumptions about what constitutes the community and what motivates collective action, which is a frequent failing in the literature on natural resource management. In the same way, the SL framework allows for an analysis of the factors that contribute towards natural capital.

The study found that the strengths of SL as an analytical framework are compromised by the fact that it does not include political capital as an endogenous asset. The notion of political capital is critical because:

  • ‘rights’ are claims and assetswhich in SL language, ‘people draw on and reinvest in to pursue livelihood options’. Because these rights are politically defended, how people access these assets depends on their political capital. It is therefore critical to understand how these are constituted at the local level and the dynamic interrelation between political capital and the other assets identified in the SL framework
  • Political capital explains where local people are situated – in terms of the balance of power – in relation to other groups. It therefore widens the focus from an examination of endogenous institutional innovation to one that encompasses their links with external institutions
  • The balance of power and location of political capital is not fixed and is under constant political challenge. As is the case with the other five capital assets, an understanding of how political capital operates will emerge gradually and is constantly evolving. Because political capital is analytically posited in relation to other capital assets at the local level, it places the focus on how it is constituted and reproduced. If ‘politics and power’ are left as exogenous to the SL framework, this analysis will be lost, as will the ability to answer questions about politics in the context of a specific project.
  • Not to include political capital also weakens the SL framework as an approach to development and therefore the likely effectiveness of interventions to meet SL objectives. Political capital is important because transforming structures and processes is likely to be met by resistance to change


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