Spatialising livelihoods: Resource access and livelihood spaces in South Africa

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74 Scopus citations


The livelihood concept remains consistently utilised within a number of research fields, including development studies, political ecology and conservation. Although there are differences in theory and application, these fields draw upon livelihood frameworks to understand how political and economic structures impact decisionmaking and present opportunities for social actors. Several themes have emerged from livelihoods research, including the importance of institutional frameworks and examinations of the conflicts surrounding resource access. While these have been valuable contributions, there has been less attention directed to the reciprocal relationships between space and livelihood. This article draws upon insights from human geography to show how the production and reproduction of livelihoods are interlinked with the processes producing and reproducing space. In order to accomplish this, the article details research completed in South Africa that examines the diversified resources individuals and households combine to generate livelihoods. It is argued that historical and contemporary geographies shape particular livelihood trajectories and social networks for rural residents, thereby making an explicitly spatial analysis necessary for understanding the processes driving social and environmental change. This article asserts that spatialising livelihoods is critical for understanding multiple issues central to livelihood studies, including the significance of diversification, intra-community differentiation, the structure and agency of livelihoods, and the effects of decisionmaking upon social and environmental systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)297-313
Number of pages17
JournalTransactions of the Institute of British Geographers
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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