SPRU - Science Policy Research Unit

Towards a Relational Approach to Agency for Mapping Pathways Into and Out of Poverty

In the 21st century, global poverty is compounded as climate-related events, political-religious conflicts and growth-inequality nexuses add to persistent forms of social exclusion based on gender, race, and class.

In this uncertain and unpredictable context, the world requires new ways to understand complex pathways into and out of poverty that direct attention to poor people's collective capacity to bring about transformative change.

A new project, involving Dr Saurabh Arora and Professor Andy Stirling, aims to develop the concepts and methods of an innovative 'relational agency pathways approach'. The new approach will draw on theories from Science, Technology and Society studies and the STEPS Centre's 'pathways approach' to poverty reduction and social justice, which emphasise interactions between social, technological and environmental change, in order to better understand and map poverty alleviation trajectories.


The new relational agency pathways approach to poverty will be developed in the empirical context of the Green Revolutions in agriculture, focussing on the experiences of smallholders and the landless. The fieldwork will adopt a two-pronged approach, by mapping:

a)      how small farmers and farmworkers adopt and adapt new technologies on the farm, transforming their cultivation practices, also in relation to environmental change.

b)      how farmers turn a harvested crop into a commodity for the market, negotiating their relationships with traders and retailers.

Arguably these farmer-led transformations on the farm and the market were critical in the Asian 'Green Revolutions', from the 1960s onwards, when technology, markets and government support were used to intensify agricultural production.

The project team will use mixed methods (ethnographic life histories, archival data, multi-criteria mapping) to trace and assess relational pathways into and out of poverty constituted by changing technologies, natural resources and social worlds, as experienced by people of different genders and castes, in Tamil Nadu, India. The approach will be tested and further developed in the field in Machakos County in Kenya, where several attempts have been made to get a Green Revolution off the ground, but none are considered successful.

Impact and Outreach

The project will be of interest to:

a)      government institutions attempting to intensify smallholder agriculture through better use of natural resources and new technologies;

b)      rural development organisations (including non-governmental ones), active in organising initiatives for poverty alleviation;

c)       academic researchers working on agricultural sustainability and poverty issues in the global south;

d)      environmental NGOs at international and grassroots levels;

e)      farmers' associations such as the East African Farmers' Federation.

Partners and Links

Principal Investigator:    Dr Saurabh Arora (SPRU)


Funded by the ESRC-DFID Joint Poverty Alleviation Scheme. Read more on the STEPS Centre Relational Pathways project page.


Image courtesy of C. Schubert (Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security), via Flickr.