Simon Maxwell on Robert Chambers

Simon Maxwell mulls on the future of ‘development studies’ here. This post is not on that subject. One of the links in the article is a tribute to Robert Chambers written in 1993, worth reading in full, many times over and from time to time. Some excerpts –

…Robert’s vision of poverty is not the poverty of simple GDP figures or poverty lines.  He has focused always on the individuals who underly the statistics: on their isolation, their powerlessness, their vulnerability to shocks like illness, their coping strategies. He has emphasised that the poor are found mostly in environments which are complex, diverse and risk prone, the so called CDR environments.  He has reminded us that there is a pronounced seasonal pattern to poverty in the developing world. It follows that when Robert Chambers has sought solutions to poverty, he has focused not simply on increasing income, but rather on the empowerment of the poor, on a reduction in their vulnerability, on helping them to exploit the diversity of their environments.  In brief, Robert has sought, on behalf of the poor, secure and sustainable livelihoods…  

…The second theme in Robert’s work that I wish to stress follows from the first.  It is about “listening” and the importance of empowering poor people themselves in seeking solutions to their poverty.  This theme emerged early in Robert’s work, in his research on indigenous technical knowledge, and in the question “whose knowledge counts?”. It was developed in his work on rapid rural appraisal and is now the dominant theme of his work on participatory rural appraisal.  This represents an astonishing contribution to development studies, which is beginning to revolutionise the way that research is carried out…

…Robert has argued that the role of the state is not to provide simple, technical solutions to poor people, but rather to provide opportunities and offer choices.  This is exemplified in his work on agricultural research, where he argues that what farmers need are not “packages of practices” prescribed by agronomists, but rather “baskets of choices” from which they can choose…

Robert continues to inspire generations of development students and professionals. Here is Ravi Kanbur on Robert


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