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Centre for Development, Environment and Policy (CeDEP)

Socioeconomics of Rural Livelihoods

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This module is about understanding the livelihoods of rural people, particularly poorer rural people who live in poorer rural areas. We place particular emphasis on insights gained from the study of the livelihoods of peasants. These are normally defined as people who gain their livelihoods from farming and a range of other activities, and their livelihoods are often the predominant livelihoods in poor rural areas. However, peasant livelihoods are also of wider interest as we look to deepen our understanding of non-peasant livelihoods, as the study of peasant livelihoods is rich in insights into critical features of the life of poor people whose livelihoods are largely situated in and dependent upon diverse activities in the informal economy. The module therefore examines what is meant by rural and peasant livelihoods. We use insights from economic and other social theory to analyse different aspects of these livelihoods, with the overriding aim of developing understanding of the situations that peasants and other poor people face, and the reasons they behave as they do.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

By the end of the module students should be able

  • To define rural livelihoods and discuss their characteristic features and environments.
  • To summarise a range of theoretical explanations of peasant behaviour and critically appraise their usefulness and limitations.
  • To use analytical tools and techniques to identify and assess the opportunities and constraints affecting rural livelihoods.
  • To apply the module material to gain understanding of and insights into the implications of a range of issues and policy areas affecting rural livelihoods.

Scope and syllabus

The module begins by looking at the reasons why we would wish to study rural livelihoods as a specific topic. The importance and features of poor rural livelihoods are highlighted and it then moves on in subsequent units to examine some of the differing theories that have been expounded to help explain peasants’ and other poor rural people’s behaviour. The module examines some of these theories, the insights they can give, and their shortcomings.

Units 1 and 2 define terms, look at reasons for being interested in rural livelihoods and examine the features and defining characteristics of peasant livelihoods and their environments.

Unit 3 introduces two contrasting theories of peasants: Marxian and neo-classical economics and discusses the policy insights they provide and their weaknesses.

Units 4 and 5 examine household decision making through the use of household models.

Unit 6 introduces New Institutional Economics and looks at how this school can provide understanding and insights of peasant behaviour, using land tenure as an illustrative subject area.

In Units 7 and 8 begin to develop skills for the analysis of specific livelihood systems. They focus in particular on accounting and budgeting techniques that can be used to help analyse the constraints and opportunities facing particular groups of people and the activities and livelihood strategies that they pursue.

The last two units consider specific issues in rural livelihoods where the theories introduced in the module can provide particular insights. Unit 9 takes, as examples, questions about the relative efficiency of peasant agriculture as compared with larger scale, commercial production, about sustainability, and about technical change in peasant livelihoods.

Unit 10 looks briefly at dynamic livelihood pathways, and the implications of global changes affecting livelihoods, using climate change and food price rises as our examples. It seeks to examine how issues covered in earlier units can assist understanding of how such pressures may impact on rural poor people and how they might respond.

Module sample

P535 module uses a core text which is specially written and will take you through your self-directed study. Exercises, assignments and other activities, such as self-assessment questions, film clips and animations are included to help you with learning. Most module study guides are now provided in electronic format on a USB flash memory stick, but can also be downloaded from the online learning environment. Click the linked image below to view a sample of our e-study guide: