In Southern Africa, theories of adult education have remained modelled on imported paradigms. The urgency of particularly the first of the Millennium Development Goals, ‘to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger’ generally translates into policy and provision of skills training based on purely economistic considerations. In practice, lifelong education and learning occurs most commonly as part of other social practices and in the guise of community development. This article outlines the livelihood approach as a conceptual and methodological tool for a locally grounded understanding of what constitutes ‘work’ particularly in the context of poverty and high-risk environments. It argues that the principles of interconnectedness, relationality and agency are central to understanding livelihood practices and that participatory processes of data collection, dialogue and analysis should inform education and training policy. Programmes and curricula that fit in with the livelihood strategies of people have a greater chance of being supported and the process that leads to such understanding could provide a democratic model for adult education elsewhere.
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