A sustainable livelihoods framework for the 21st century

Nithya Natarajan, Andrew Newsham, Jonathan Rigg*, Diana Suhardiman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

56 Citations (Scopus)
3 Downloads (Pure)


This paper proposes a reformulation of the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework (SLF) fit for the 21st century. The article explores the rise and usage of the original SLF, highlighting how its popularity among development practitioners emerged both from its practical focus, and its depoliticization of wider shifts in the development landscape at the time. Distilling the various critiques that have emerged around the use of the SLF and sustainable livelihoods approaches, the article highlights problems of theory, method, scale, historical conceptualisation, politics, and debates on decolonising knowledge. It further explores two key shifts in the global development landscape that characterise the 21st century, namely the impacts of climate change on rural livelihoods, and the shifts wrought by globalisation, before highlighting the structural and relational turns in critical development literature. In speaking to both historical critiques and more recent debates, we present a SLF for the 21st century, foregrounding a structural, spatially-disaggregated, dynamic and ecologically-coherent approach to framing rural livelihoods. We offer a framework and not an approach, hoping that that our SLF leaves open the possibility for different theoretical traditions to better work with emerging rural livelihoods.

Original languageEnglish
Article number105898
Early online date28 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2022


  • Development
  • Livelihoods
  • Relational
  • Sustainability


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