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Understanding poverty traps in biocultural landscapes
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Stockholm Resilience Centre. Stockholm Resilience Centre.ORCID iD: 0000-0002-0265-5356
2015 (English)Licentiate thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Over one and a half billion people live in poverty, with some 795 million suffering from chronic malnourishment. For many of these people this perilous situation has persisted for decades or more, in what is popularly characterized as a poverty ‘trap’.  Some of the poorest areas in the world, commonly held up as examples of poverty traps, also boast exceptionally high levels of agricultural and cultural diversity.  This same diversity (which we call biocultural diversity) underpins both the present and future social-ecological resilience of the communities that reside in such landscapes. The way that poverty traps are conceptualized, however, as part of the design and implementation process of conventional development interventions, can mean that these interventions may inadvertently result in the reduction of the very diversity that may be so vital to future development pathways and the long-term prosperity of the people in rural landscapes. The specific question addressed in this licentiate thesis is: How are poverty traps conceptualized in rural development?  The aim is to contribute to a more nuanced conceptualization of poverty alleviation that explicitly takes biological and cultural diversity into consideration, thereby maintaining future potential sources of resilience. In doing so the licentiate thesis seeks to provide a more powerful heuristic basis for identifying and assessing the drivers and mechanisms of persistent poverty.  Paper I offers an example of a specific case (Central Romania) representing the problem of persistent poverty in a biocultural context and addresses barriers to rural development using ‘traps’ as a conceptual framing. The findings of the paper demonstrate that multiple barriers to rural development are often interacting and mutually reinforcing, and therefore need to be tackled simultaneously, and with an additional focus on the interactions themselves, as well as each of the barriers. Paper I highlighted some of the current shortfalls of the concept of traps, namely a somewhat inconsistent literature which motivates the need for a synthesis of traps in development economics and sustainability science. Paper II provides an overview of trap conceptualisations in the broader literature (across all disciplines that address ‘trap’ dilemmas) and specifically the interplay between trap conceptualizations and causal mechanisms of traps in rural development contexts. The paper concludes that in the transition out of rural poverty, development practice may benefit substantially from a broader, more nuanced and holistic conceptualization of trap dynamics in resource dependent contexts. This argument is based on appreciation of four propositions from social-ecological thinking: (i) scale-mismatch, (ii) a more explicit recognition of the external drivers of traps, (iii) historical path-dependency, and (iv) biological and cultural diversity. In summary, the licentiate thesis contends that the way development scholars have conceptualised poverty traps may influence the way poverty is alleviated (or not). Overcoming poverty is more complicated than even multidimensional wellbeing thresholds due to unintended consequences on biological and cultural diversity, for example. Through maintaining a limited poverty traps conceptualization, we may be obscuring the ability to see the interactions that could lead to alternative, more resilient, development trajectories.


Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Stockholm University, 2015.
Keyword [en]
biocultural, poverty trap, development
National Category
Environmental Sciences
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-117942ISBN: 978-91-7649-218-5OAI: diva2:817782
2015-09-21, 312, Kräftriket 2B, SE-114 19 Stockholm, Stockholm, 10:00 (English)
European Research Council under the European Unions' Seventh Framework Programme (FP/2007-2013)/ERC grant agreement no. 283950 SES-LINK
Available from: 2015-06-06 Created: 2015-06-06 Last updated: 2015-06-06Bibliographically approved

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Haider, L. Jamila
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