‘Eliciting Aspirations’, MSc-thesis by Esmee van Schuppen

Esmee van Schuppen finished her Master International Development Studies with an excellent thesis on the aspiration of youth in Ghana. In her thesis she argued that the aspired livelihood trajectories of youth in Ghana are poorly understood. Her thesis moves beyond the binary representation of rural youth aspirations in academic research, in which these aspirations are portrayed in a dichotomy of rural versus urban and farming versus non-farming.

“Eliciting aspirations: Understanding the role of aspirations and opportunity space in the livelihood trajectories of rural youth in Kwaebibirem and Atiwa-West”, MSc Thesis Rural Sociology by Esmee van Schuppen. See the abstract below.

With a third of Ghana’s population currently between 15-35 years old, efforts to revitalise the agricultural sector in Ghana are increasingly geared towards youth. However, the full range of aspirations of rural youth and the opportunities and constraints that shape them, are often overlooked in policy and academic research.

This thesis aimed to elicit the role of aspirations and the opportunity space – the spatial and temporal distribution of viable options that a young person can exploit to establish an independent life – on the livelihood trajectories of rural youth. A total of 41 life history interviews and eight FGDs were conducted in order to gather data on the aspirations, opportunity space and livelihood trajectories of rural youth in Kwaebibirem and Atiwa-West, in Ghana’s Eastern Region. The results suggest that rural youth especially aspire occupations in waged employment, but that the options for waged employment are limited in Kwaebibirem and Atiwa[1]West. As a result, the majority of youth engages, and aspire to engage, in mixed livelihood trajectories, in which the capital generated from one activity is invested in the farm, and vice versa. This thesis therefore found that even though youth do not aspire to engage in farming full-time, agricultural activities do play an integral part of the livelihood trajectories and aspirations of rural youth. The perennial crops that are dominant in the landscape, cocoa and oil palm, can help youth to claim temporary ownership over the land and can therefore serve as an investment, a means to guarantee a stable retirement and a way to leave a legacy for their children. However, this thesis also found that the opportunity space for farming is narrowing due to a decrease in the availability and affordability of land and an increase in prices for inputs and hired labour. Moreover, climate change and a decrease in the quality of natural resources make farming a risky investment, subsequently making youth hesitant to engage in farming in the future.
This thesis concludes that the opportunity space plays an important role in shaping the livelihood trajectories of youth. It appears that youth re-evaluate their life and their livelihood at the moment an important change occurs, and change the course of their livelihood trajectory as a result. However, this thesis also suggests that aspirations also play a role in the livelihood trajectories of rural youth, by demonstrating that rural youth does have the capacity to navigate through the opportunity space and take steps towards those futures by employing different strategies, such as adjusting their aspirations to fit with the opportunity space, by putting aspirations on hold or for instance by exploiting the distant opportunity space. In pursuit of their aspirations, youth are able to enforce their agency to expand their opportunity space and shape their livelihood trajectory according to their aspirations. As this thesis only captured the perspectives of youth residing in Kwaebibirem and Atiwa-West, where perennial crops are dominant, future research is needed to expose how the aspirations and opportunity space of youth differ from youth in regions where annual crops are dominant. Moreover, due to the oversampling of youth who did not migrate, future research could focus on how the aspirations and opportunity space of migrated youth enabled them to move down a different trajectory than the youth who stayed behind. Policymakers should consider making more comprehensive agricultural policies for youth, hereby not only focusing on improving the conditions for young farmers, but also on the provision of off-farm opportunities, as mixed livelihood activities are central in the aspirations and livelihood trajectories of rural youth.

REMINDER: Assistant Professor Rural Sociology vacancy (Tenure Track) – application deadline 12 September 2022

A month ago we posted a job opening for an Assistant Professor in Rural Sociology (Tenure Track position). If you are interested to apply or know of potential candidates, please be aware that the deadline for submitting applications is approaching. Applications can be submitted up to and including September 12th 2022 via the apply button on the vacancy page.

Workshop The Margins of Insurgent Control: Spaces of Governance

On September 1st and 2nd, the CSPS will host an international workshop featuring anthropologists, ethnographers, rural sociologists, social geographers, social movement scholars to discuss the field of rebel governance, which has been most authoritatively defined as the “the set of actions insurgents engage in to regulate the social, political, and economic life of non-combatants during war.” The workshop is hosted by Francis O’Connor and Joost Jongerden.

Research on rebel governance has dramatically reinvigorated the study of armed conflicts through its increasing methodological diversity and broad range of case studies. Yet, it is arguably characterised by an over focus on the state-like qualities of these movements, seeking out institutionalised patterns of governance that overlook some of the subtleties of how rebel governance emerges and develops in the shadow of existing states and in cohort with other societal actors. This workshop will focus on the margins of the phenomenon, emphasising the social complexity inherent in practises of rebel governance shaped by pre-existing political and cultural ties, reciprocal social norms confronted by structures of state and insurgent violence in contexts of often dramatic social upheaval.

The workshop’s participants will focus on four issues: firstly, they will address the spatial margins, where insurgent presence is more fluid or inconsistent and there is no territorial control but where forms of governance are nevertheless implemented. Secondly, they will consider early phases of insurgent mobilisation where incipient forms of governance are tested and refined but marginal in salience. Thirdly, they will analyse governance provision by actors on the margins of insurgent movements themselves, looking at the role of affiliated but somewhat autonomous groupings like militias or associated social movements. Finally, they will also reflect on the complexity of overlapping realms of sovereignty between rebel movements and state institutions and forces.

In order to conceptually incorporate these issues into rebel governance research, there is a need to bridge the existing literature with other related approaches such as social geography, social anthropology, social movement studies and contentious politics. The participants will take the workshop an opportunity to reflect on how best (or indeed, if it is necessary) to incorporate these approaches into the study of rebel movements’ governance efforts.

The workshop will be structured around the following (non-exhaustive) number of ethical and methodological issues and key questions that could play a role in the further development of the field.

Continue reading

Masterclass: Methodological and Ethical Dimensions of Fieldwork

The Masterclass for PhD researchers, hosted by renowned Visiting Fellow Prof. Zachariah Mampilly focuses on the ethical and methodological challenges of fieldwork. Professor Mampilly has extensive experience in the field, in authoritarian contexts and conflict zones in locations as varied as Sri Lanka, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Masterclass is designed for PhD students, Post-Docs and staff members as an opportunity to collectively reflect on both the pragmatic dimensions of fieldwork, as well as the ethical dilemmas that arise before, during and after periods in the field. It will also be an occasion to discuss the epistemological consequences of the choices made in the field and how that affects the research we produce and the potential ‘real world’ consequences they might entail.

Professor Mampilly will guide a structured discussion, reflecting on his own experiences in the field. The session will then open into an informal exchange where participants are encouraged to reflect on the issues they encountered in past or ongoing fieldwork, as well as anticipated difficulties in upcoming periods in the field.
A number of the participants already present in Wageningen for the The Margins of Insurgent Control: Spaces of Governance (September 1-2nd) workshop will also be in attendance and will serve as valuable sources of interchange and information.

An enhanced understanding of the potential challenges and solutions that all researchers are confronted with in the field. It is also the chance to ask focused questions to experienced scholars about fieldwork in specific places, for e.g. on conflict in Sudan or environmental related research in the Amazon.

Questions and registration
Please address any questions to Francis O’Connor francis.oconnor@wur.nl
Registration is mandatory: please register at the following link as in-person places are limited due to ongoing COVID restrictions. It is also possible to participate online.

When and where
Date: Wed 31 August 2022 14:00 to 17:00
Venue: Leeuwenborch, building number 201

Recommended readings

As the Soil, So the Human: Narratives of Ontological Entanglement and Soil Management in Regenerative Agriculture – MSc thesis report by Levi Kingfisher

The Glen by Travis Shilling

As the Soil, So the Human: Narratives of Ontological Entanglement and Soil
Management in Regenerative Agriculture
‘, MSc-thesis report by Levi Kingfisher graduated as MSc Organic Agriculture, Wageningen University.

Regenerative agriculture is a diverse, highly contested, and rapidly developing sustainable agriculture movement. It has been lauded for its transformative potential, and criticized for its incoherence and susceptibility for corporate co-option. At the heart of regenerative agriculture is an effort to engage with soil life rather than bypass it; this ethos and the messiness of the movement indicate that a range of novel human-soil relations may emerge within this space. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with members of intermediary organizations – research institutes, consultants, and NGOs, among others– that are active in promotion and advocacy for adoption of regenerative practices in order to explore these changing human-soil relations. Interviews focused on conceptualizations of soil (life), forms of analysis and knowledge production around soils, regenerative soil management, and the larger goals of regenerative agriculture, including addressing climate change and improving the economic situation of farmers. Results were subject to narrative analysis, which indicated that respondents acknowledged the fact that soils are living, rather than inert substrates reducible to chemical and physical criteria. Soil biology was understood and engaged with to different extents, and a wide range of analytical tools were used to scrutinize soil, including microscopy, genetic testing, measurement of soil organic carbon, among others. Overall, narratives indicate that a wide range of human-soil relations can be identified within regenerative agriculture, including care, exploitation, and relatively novel mechanisms of commodification and financialization of soil life through the development of soil carbon credits. Further, results indicate that this variation is produced by differences in human approaches to understanding, analyzing, and managing soil life; different approaches to producing knowledge about soils facilitates the creation of different kinds of relations. Building on the narratives, it is argued that the human should be theoretically (re)centered in the social science study of regenerative agriculture and human-soil relations, in order to maintain a uniquely human sense of responsibility to address, among other challenges, climate change. Similarly, the role of alternative ontological outlooks on soils and nature in food system transformation is discussed.