1963-2013 - 50 years of Research for Social Change

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Back | Programme Area: Civil Society and Social Movements

Civil Society Strategies and Movements for Rural Asset Redistribution and Improved Livelihoods

  • Project from: 2000 to 2003


This project surveys and analyses how civil society groups are working to promote policy changes and institutional reforms that improve resource distribution and livelihoods in rural areas.

In the past, the state was considered in most development policy circles to be the main agent of resource distribution in rural areas. In the past two decades, however, market mechanisms (land and labour markets, increasingly liberalized trade) have been increasingly relied upon. At the same time, the role of civil society organizations in campaigning for the livelihoods and rights of the rural poor has gained prominence. This project looks at how these two trends are coming together. It is investigating how civil society groups in diverse rural contexts are supporting the attempts of poor cultivators and wage workers to enhance their productive asset base through land acquisition in market-assisted transaction schemes, improved working conditions and political empowerment.

The project is also emphasizing the ambiguities and complexities inherent in the actions of civil society groups in rural areas. It is examining, in particular, the strategies used by these groups to aid rural producers in asserting their interests more effectively, the obstacles they encounter, and how such experiences might be used elsewhere by people who face similar problems. In the last analysis, the challenge is to build civil society movements that can both address the needs of the rural poor and influence the policies of governments and dominant development agencies in favour of broad structural change.

Research is being carried out on the following themes:

· peasant participation in multiple production activities and implications for organized social action in rural areas;
· rural youth, marginality and social mobilization;
· the influence of civil society groups in debates on the role of the market in rural asset building and redistribution;
· "market-friendly" land transfer schemes and rural activism;
· political, ideological and other factors behind neglect of peasant organizations in international funding of the rural sector;
· the evolution of alliances between "powerful" groups (large landowners' associations, paramilitary forces, merchants and traders, agro-industrial groups) and their impacts on rural social movements;
· the effects of electoral politics and decentralization on perceptions of rurality and peasant backwardness;
· institutionalization of peasant-based and other civil society organizations during the post-reform/transformation period;
· linking rural and urban social forces and movements;
· the role of peasant organizations and political parties in mitigating local differences and contradictions in the interest of fundamental livelihood demands;
· understanding the diversity and originality of political vision and leadership in rural social movements.

Publication plans:

A set of thematic papers are being published as UNRISD Programme Papers and there is a plan to bring them together in an edited volume.

Financing for the work under this project is provided by UNRISD core funds.