Beyond the pentagon prison of sustainable livelihood approaches and towards livelihood trajectories approaches

Jessica Emma Mclean*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


The Sustainable Livelihoods Approach (SLA) is promoted as a useful way to centre development on the needs of those who are most vulnerable, but is critiqued for inflexibility and ignoring important power relations. In light of the rigidities in using a formulaic SLA, this conceptual paper suggests a practical suite of tools that are in use in livelihoods research and development practice, and refocuses them to include adaptive strategies of vulnerable peoples to resource management pressures. The Pentagon Prison of five capitals can overwhelm both the researcher and researched and while possibly useful in identifying livelihoods gaps, misses all-encompassing power relations, and reduces complexities to quantitative units. In arguing for a shift from the Pentagon Prison of SLA towards a flexible livelihoods trajectory approach, in particular for a research project on livelihood adaptations in Lao PDR, I identify a feasible research and development approach that more meaningfully reflects the lives of those participating in that research. I propose that the livelihood trajectories approach opens up the way data are gathered and can lead to holistic understandings of the complex realities of peoples' adaptive strategies, incorporating strategies from short to long term, and proactive, reactive and inactive techniques.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)380-391
Number of pages12
JournalAsia Pacific Viewpoint
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2015


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