The political dimensions of sustainable livelihoods are explored here, drawing on the livelihood adaptation literature in India and Sub-Saharan Africa.
The focus is on adaptation to short-term shocks and the negative consequences of longer-term change in livelihood strategies. Relationships of social exclusion, in particular gendered relationships with the state, formal and informal civil society, are found to be key in determining the effects of interventions into livelihood systems for different stakeholders.
The very different configurations of public action, civil society and community involvement in reinforcing livelihood activities are compared, to see whether there are useful lessons to be transferred between the regions. The complexity of these relationships and the importance of societal differences between the two regions indicate that no single model offers an optimum relationship between the state and civil society in livelihood adaptation.
However, many policy initiatives are advocated for Sub-Saharan Africa as a result of their success in India, without considering differences in formal and informal institutional arrangements. Attention needs to be paid to these underlying institutional arrangements, and to the outcomes of public or social action on livelihood activities for different stakeholders.