Keywords: consumption, inequality, lifestyles, sustainability, valuation, sustainable development, land, labour, anthropology of work, sustainable livelihoods, environmental policy, social policy, market economy
Land, labour and the anthropology of work: towards sustainable livelihoods
As the debate about the meaning of sustainable development matures, the links between environmental and social sustainability are becoming clearer. Environmental degradation frequently leads to social instability and vice-versa. Recent studies of past civilizations show a disturbing and apparently common pattern of colonisation of a new area, rapid expansion, increasing pressure on natural resources, and eventually environmental disruption and social collapse. If we are to move towards formulating and implementing policies to achieve a sustainable way of living on a finite planet, environmental and social policies must go hand in hand. We argue in this paper that the dominant paradigm in economics, and the market economy it describes, treats both nature and humans as commodities whose sole purpose is to meet the needs of an imperfect market. We argue further that the concept of sustainable livelihoods is a way to address the major social and environmental problems we face. By addressing directly how humans work, live and consume, we can begin to move towards a way of life that is more environmentally friendly and more socially rewarding.