The shaping of San livelihood strategies: Government policy and popular values

The importance of understanding the livelihood strategies of poor people has received a fresh impetus over the last few years with the emphasis by many Western donors on poverty reduction. This article examines the livelihood strategies of San people in three villages on the northern peripheries of the Okavango Delta in Botswana. Their economic marginalization is compounded but their ethical background; a stigma that also marginalizes them politically and socially. The analysis presented here not only challenges stereotypes commonly associated with San by demonstrating the interconnectedness of different means of 'looking for life', but it also brings to the fore the importance of considering institutional factors that regulate livelihood strategies. The article focuses on some of the unexpected consequences of the wider policy environment, and on how the values associated with different ways of life affect material subsistence strategies. These are particularly pronounced for people with a heritage of hunting and gathering living in a society that regards such practices as "backward".

Last Updated
January 27, 2021
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