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Understanding Poverty and the Environment: Analytical frameworks and approaches

14 October 2015
Fiona Nunan Fiona Nunan is a Senior Lecturer in Environment and Development and Director of the International Development Department. Her interests and experience focus on natural resource governance and management in developing country settings, particularly within inland fisheries and coastal locations in East and Southern Africa, and on exploring the links between poverty and the environment.

Fiona Nunan explains her motivation for writing a new unique textbook for people studying and researching environment and development, human-environment interactions and sustainable development. The book is published by Routledge.

What was the motivation behind the book?

Researching, teaching and working in projects for many years in the area of environment and development made me frustrated that poor people are often blamed for environmental degradation in a very direct, narrow way. Farmers are accused of clearing trees, pastoralists of grazing too many livestock and fishers of overfishing. Viewing poverty as being in a direct, mutually destructive downward spiral, or ‘vicious circle’, relationship with the environment has led to policies that force farmers to grow unsuitable trees, pastoralists to settle in one place and livelihoods to be harmed.

What is needed is in-depth analysis and understanding of the context and nature of relationships between poverty and the environment. I knew that a wide range of frameworks and approaches exist that have been, or could be, used to investigate poverty-environment relationships, but they hadn’t been brought together in one, accessible place.

Understanding Poverty and the Environment

This accomplished work by one of the leading scholars of human-nature relationships will be of interest to anyone interested in how poverty and the environment affect each other. Drawing from a range of intellectual efforts, Nunan provides an erudite yet accessible book for students and advanced researchers alike. One of the most comprehensive and balanced studies available on the subject.
— Professor Arun Agrawal, School of Natural Resources & Environment, University of Michigan, USA
The relations between poverty and environmental change are important but complex. Understanding Poverty and the Environment is an antidote to simplistic assumptions, and a welcome guide to intelligent thinking.
— Professor Bill Adams, Department of Geography, University of Cambridge, UK

What is novel about the book?

There are at least three novel contributions that this book makes. Firstly, no other book brings together the combination of frameworks and approaches that this book does. The chapters introduce:

  • Political ecology
  • Institutional analysis
  • Gender, development and the environment
  • Livelihoods and wellbeing analysis
  • Social network analysis
  • Analysing governance

In introducing these areas of literature, the book is situated within the field of development studies, but the literature and examples used are taken from many parts of the world and disciplines. A note of caution in the final chapter acknowledges that frameworks and approaches within all of these areas may be used with other theory, concepts and frameworks and that there are new adaptations and developments all the time. An introduction to the thinking behind the frameworks and approaches enables readers to better appreciate and critique such adaptations and further developments.

The second contribution the book makes is in providing provide a way into diverse and diffuse literature. It can be hard for someone new to a subject to know where to start with journal articles and to grasp the key points and underlying assumptions. The book provides a way into many literatures by bringing out key concepts and characteristics, examples of application and of questions that could be addressed by the frameworks and approaches. Recommended reading draws on published material from the last thirty years as well as key contemporary publications, giving readers a steer towards essential texts and authors within each subject area. Important classics in relevant literature are highlighted such as Ostrom’s Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action, Leach and Mearns’ The Lie of the Land: Challenging Received Wisdom on the African Environment and Adams’ Green Development: Environment and sustainability in a developing world are highlighted as important texts.

Finally, in addition to reviewing frameworks and approaches, I also identify and reflect on key themes running through the book including power, access, gender, narratives/myths, institutions and scale. This provides the reader with a broader appreciation of these important concepts running through many of the frameworks and approaches.

The book finishes with a brief reflection on key methods for the collection and analysis of data to investigate poverty-environment relationships, suggesting that an ethnographic perspective, mixed-methods and participatory approaches are particularly important for study in this area.

Who is it for?

The book is for anyone studying environment and development, human-environment interactions and sustainable development. Although the book has poverty in the title, the material included will be of interest to anyone studying human-nature interactions. The book includes frameworks and approaches that have been used mainly in countries of the ‘North’, such as Ostrom’s Institutional Analysis and Development framework, and the subsequent Social Ecological Systems framework, and Social Network Analysis. Many of the other frameworks and approaches were initially developed through research in the Global South, such as frameworks to analyse decentralisation of natural resource governance, analysis of formal and informal institutions through critical institutionalism and natural resource-based livelihoods. They have since been widely applied in many countries and have scope to be used in many settings to bring deeper, more nuanced, understanding of people-environment relationships.

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