A FRAMEWORK FOR ANALYSIS OF
GENDER AND OTHER SOCIOECONOMIC
VARIABLES IN Ag&NRM
Constance M. McCorkle
Working Paper #241
Tropical Research &
Dvelopmnt, Inc. Librd
MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY
vAM, .cc I.
A FRAMEWORK FOR ANALYSIS OF
GENDER AND OTHER SOCIOECONOMIC
VARIABLES IN Ag&NRM
Constance M. McCorkle
Working Paper #241
Key Words: Human systems ecology, gender/socioeconomic analysis, sustainable
agriculture and natural resource management, livestock development, Latin America and
Abstract: Practical, problem-solving analysis of gender and other socioeconomic variables
for use in Ag&NRM (agriculture and natural resource management) development has
been hobbled by biological and sociological reductionisms and by analytic disjunctions
between human and biophysical ecologies. As an alternative, this article introduces a
framework for the problem-centered analysis of biosocially defined groups and their roles
in Ag&NRM within producer communities or socionatural regions. The framework goes
beyond simple gendered divisions of labor to also examine intra-household, household,
and inter- and supra-household groups and their access to the natural resources upon
which cropping and stockraising depend; control of the necessary techno-ecological
knowledge in the five major domains of Ag&NRM activity (resource management,
production/extraction, transformation, distribution, and consumption/nutrition);
responsibilities for supervising or administering Ag&NRM tasks in these domains; and
decision-making power in all these realms. Examples from Africa and an extended case
from stockraising in the Andes illustrate the utility of such a framework for the successful
design, implementation, and evaluation of equitable and environmentally sound and
sustainable Ag&NRM development initiatives. The framework's utility for training in
gender analysis is also noted.
About the Author: Dr. Constance M. McCorkle (Ph.D. Stanford) has 20 years'
professional experience in sustainable agriculture, natural resource management, and
rural development, spanning 15 nations of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. An
ecological anthropologist, McCorkle was the first Director of AID's staff environmental
training program. Subsequently, she served as Director of Research and Evaluation for
AID's worldwide gender-in-development project, GENESYS. Currently, Dr. McCorkle
works as an independent consultant and writer; she is the author and/or editor of more
than 150 publications. McCorkle can be reached at 7767 Trevino Lane, Falls Church,
Copyright 1994 MSU Board of Trustees
There seems to be no shortcut to progress
but to go through the pain of... case-
specific analyses... [otherwise] the
answer given is pertinent to the wrong
question (Hjort af Orniis 1992:56,59).
A FRAMEWORK FOR ANALYSIS OF GENDER AND OTHER
SOCIOECONOMIC VARIABLES IN Ag&NRM1
With the United States Congress' passage of the Percy Amendment in 1973,2 the
United Nations Decade on Women (1975-1985), the United Nations World Conference
on Women (1985), and other recent initiatives, women3 (and to a lesser extent, children)
at last began to receive much needed attention via what have become commonly known
as WID (women in development) efforts. But in WID generally and particularly in
relation to sustainable agriculture and natural resource management (Ag&NRM) such
efforts have too often taken an unrealistically simplistic approach. In part, this
simplification was due to an understandable eagerness to correct the exceptionally strong
male bias that traditionally pervaded research and development (R&D) in Ag&NRM.
This same eagerness led to the often premature formulation of universal principles of
"WID-dom." On occasion, too, sex (a biological attribute) was conflated with gender (a
Whatever the reasons, whether in Ag&NRM or other development sectors, early
WID efforts frequently embraced a number of dangerous or obfuscatory reductionisms.
* Focusing solely on females, to the exclusion of males.
* Implicitly assuming that "women" (defined by opposition to "men") represent a
homogenous group, both across and within societies.
* Over-simplifying and over-generalizing gender roles, rights, and relations within a
given society when in fact there is often a good deal of cross-over and flexibility.
* Attempting to address "women's issues"4 in isolation of their specific cultural,
socioeconomic, and ecological context.
* Limiting gender analysis to the household level while giving short shrift to other
socioeconomic groupings to which females (and males) belong.
* Emphasizing the performance of Ag&NRM tasks (e.g., labor) to the exclusion of
other, equally important considerations, such as possession of the techno-
ecological knowledge needed to properly implement such tasks, supervisory and
administrative responsibility, and decision-making power.
Failing to systematically interlink gender and other socioeconomic variables with
the key environmental variables that underpin any successful effort in Ag&NRM.
Clearly, such reductionisms can block the successful design and implementation of
development initiatives in Ag&NRM or for that matter, in any development sector.
Put another way, socially, culturally, and ecologically disembodied notions of females or
males as homogeneous human categories or as unidimensional individuals defined
primarily by biological sex (which, along with kinship and age, is almost infinitely
malleable in terms of the cultural meanings and social behaviors assigned to them) tell
us little that is of practical use to development.
To their credit, gender-and-development scholars soon recognized the need for
more refined analytic approaches. Thus, in academia at least, early formulations of WID
gave way to more sophisticated WAD (women and development) and later GAD (gender
and development) perspectives. Each of these approaches has varying ideological and
development agendas, depending on which aspects of females' statuses are emphasized;
and each produces different mixes of equity, efficiency, and empowerment objectives.5
All, however, grow out of macro political-economic theories of various stripes; and all
take little or no cognizance of insights from human systems ecology. Although GAD is
laudable for its more holistic goal of understanding gender within "the totality of social
organization, economic and political life" (Young cited in Rathgeber 1990:494), notably
lacking in this list is any mention of the natural environment in which this life is lived.
This is a particularly dire omission for research and development in environmentally
sound and sustainable Ag&NRM. Indeed, only in the 1990s has any coherent discourse
on women/gender and environment (or "WED") begun to emerge in development
While it is possible to discriminate a wide variety of academic approaches to
gender analysis, "[a]t the practical level .. they do not have any significant distinctions"
(Boonsue 1992:12), and "the majority of... projects for women that have emerged
during the past two decades find their roots in the WID perspective" (Rathgeber
1990:495). Certainly in Ag&NRM field operations, even the most gender-enlightened
R&D still falls prey to some of the reductionisms outlined above most notably, the
preoccupation with the gendered division of labor and with the household and intra-
household levels of analysis. Few have seriously grappled with gender in the context of
the multiple and dynamic social and economic groupings via which human females and
males operationalize a particular (yet often changing) agroecological adaptation. Small
wonder, then, that a common outcome of WID-type efforts has been little more than
"'gender statistics' . merely to increase figures on the number of female beneficiaries
in rural development projects ... [and] results which are no more than cosmetic"
Given the failure of "big theories and hypothetico-deductive models" (McCay and
Vayda 1992:1) of gender to translate into effective development action, perhaps gender
analysis in Ag&NRM could learn a lesson from human systems ecology as it is commonly
practiced. That is, analysis could adopt an applied, eclectic, context-specific and
problem-driven mode that allows theoretical models to emerge from data through a
process of inductive generalization (after Smith and Reeves 1989:8). In this spirit,
drawing upon the work of one longstanding, worldwide research and development
program in sustainable agriculture, the present article introduces a conceptual framework
of biosociall groups" for the practical, problem-solving analysis of gender in Ag&NRM,
and possibly other development sectors as well.
THE BIOSOCIAL-GROUPS FRAMEWORK
The term biosociall" as it is employed here constitutes a sort of quadruple
entendre.7 "Bio" is meant to denote such biological attributes of human beings as sex,
age, and consanguinity. "Social" references the fact that all such attributes are
socioculturally constructed, interpreted and re-interpreted, and embedded and actualized
within a given social order. Taken together, "bio" and "social" also connote the complex
feedback/feedforward loops between different constellations of human groupings and, via
their socioculturally assigned roles (expected behaviors, activity patterns, rights and
responsibilities), their biophysical ecology.
A biosociall group" can be defined as a category of people characterized in terms
of combined biological and social attributes who, in a specific sociocultural milieu, share
the same or significantly similar statuses and roles. For development purposes, the
groups of interest obviously are those who have roles that are actually or potentially
pertinent to the problem at hand. Note that this definition does not focus solely or
specifically on females of the species Homo sapiens sapiens. Rather, it embraces both
females and males as parties to many different kinds of social relations and as members
of and actors in age sets, kin units, community or common-interest associations, and
other socioeconomic groupings.
"Group" can be taken in two senses here. One is that of emically recognized,
functional units that act conjointly in order to achieve shared objectives. They are the
main focus of this article. However, individuals can also be categorized as a group based
on an etically defined combination of biological and social attributes. For example,
development initiatives in maternal-and-child health or family planning might find it
useful to distinguish biosocial groups such as unwed mothers, wed mothers, and unwed
or wed adolescent females who are not yet mothers. Although such categories may have
no emic or operational reality in the target culture and society, their biosocial
commonalities could well offer a foundation for organizing functional groups to achieve
some common development goal say, establishment of a community maternity ward or
a family planning center. Thus, the framework presented here also makes room for the
analysis of such etically defined groups.
The foregoing concept of biosocial groups originally took shape as a result of
experiences in the Sociology Project of the Small Ruminant Collaborative Research
Support Program or SR-CRSP. Across the life of the program, which began in 1978, the
SR-CRSP has operated in Bolivia, Brazil, Indonesia, Kenya, Morocco, Peru, and the
United States. Like all the CRSPs, its mandate is to contribute to the increased well-
being of smallholders and poor producers through environmentally and
socioeconomically sound and sustainable improvements in plant and animal agriculture.8
Early on during field operations in its first country site (Peru), the SR-CRSP recognized
the need to capture more of the "real life," on-the-ground complexity in gender and other
socioeconomic variables with implications for Ag&NRM in a way that was immediately
relevant to its development mandate. The biosocial-groups framework evolved
heuristically in response to this need, building upon empirical observation and field
experience in Peru and, to a lesser extent, Africa. Subsequently, SR-CRSP researchers
have also utilized a biosocial-groups approach during fieldwork in Asia (e.g., Brown and
Handayani 1993). Thus, the framework has proved to be cross-culturally applicable.9
Overview of the Framework's Application
In its present configuration (Figure 1), the framework is intended mainly as
conceptual problem-solving and modeling tool not a checklist for use in project or
program design. It is applied to, and focuses first and foremost on, a concrete
development problem in a specific human and biophysical ecology. The problem may be
couched as either agricultural or environmental. Of course, the framework itself does
not stipulate the precise problem to be addressed, nor the proposed interventions.
Rather, once these have been tentatively identified in consultation with producers, the
framework is then applied to see how best to attack the problem and to design and
target interventions. For Ag&NRM, interventions might consist of one or more changes
in existing methods of stockraising, cropping, or management of the natural resources
upon which both depend; or innovations in product processing, marketing, or
consumption might be proposed.
With whatever concrete problem and menu of possible interventions that are
chosen, attention is then directed down, around, and through the framework, to identify
each biosocial group and its role parameters as they relate to agroecosystem sectors and
activity domains implicated in the problem. In effect, application of the framework
constitutes part of ex-ante feasibility and impact assessment. Focusing first on the major
resources or species within each sector that are most relevant to the problem, and the
proposed interventionss, this process proceeds qualitatively. That is, full-blown
ethnological investigations or detailed socioeconomic surveys are not required. Instead,
following upon a review of existing datasets and studies, further data collection and
analysis are tightly focused in such a way as to fill any remaining information gaps in the
following question set.
"Who-all" biosociall groups) in the target community has access to, knows,
oversees, does, and decides what (roles) in relation to concrete tasks
(activity domains and subdomains) that are relevant to the AG&NRM
development problem at hand whether this involves the exploitation of
specific natural resources, animals, or plants (agroecosystem sectors)?
Particularly efficient in filling these information gaps are the increasingly
powerful, well-validated, and rapid participatory rural appraisal methods (RRA, PRA)
now available.10 For organizing and analyzing the holistic data thus collected, simple
group-activity-role matrices per resource or species have been found effective (Covington
and Greene 1993, personal communication). The paramount investigative imperative,
however, is empirical identification of the full panoply of biosocial groups operating
within the target area. In essence, they constitute the independent variable in the
framework, thus unequivocably putting people first (Cerea 1991).
Ideally, the framework should always be applied in the field by an interdisciplinary
team that includes: (1) an anthropologist or sociologist who is experienced in the
analysis of rural social organization, knowledgeable in Ag&NRM development issues,
and familiar with the cultural-ecological area; (2) experts in all the technical fields
pertinent to the problem at hand and to the interventions under consideration; and (3) a
socioeconomically (including gender) representative mix of the intended producer-
beneficiaries, who work alongside the social and technical scientists as equal partners.
The framework is discussed below and illustrated at a fairly micro-level of
resolution: a socially- and geographically- bounded community of producers.11 This
level has been chosen for several reasons. First, a higher-level illustration would surpass
the limits on the length of a published paper. Second, the bulk of data and experience
that originally gave rise to the framework was derived at the level of producer
communities. Third, the community is also the level at which most of "the rubber hits
the road," as it were, in the implementation of Ag&NRM projects, programs, and
policies. Of course, implementation takes place within larger regional, national, and
even international contexts.12 But for practical purposes these are incorporated in the
framework by proxy, in the form of other relevant actor groups (such as extensionists or
demonstration farmers, agents of parastatal or private enterprises, merchants or
middlemen, government tax collectors, veterinary or abbatoir officials, etc.) and their
roles (such as conduits of information, inputs, or services, as marketing outlets or
controls, etc.) vis-a-vis the target population.
That said, it must also be noted that there is no theoretical impediment to
applying the framework at a more "meso" level such as a socionatural region (Bennett
1986). Although analysis perforce becomes more complicated as more biosocial groups
and greater agroecosystem variability are incorporated, for certain kinds of Ag&NRM
problems, this may be highly desirable or even imperative. An obvious case is watershed
management, which is typically a cross-community problem. Another is market
distribution of Ag&NRM products, for which it may be helpful to expand the supra-
household portion of the framework (see below).
Components of the Framework
The framework itself consists of four basic components (Figure 1). First are the
three fundamental AGROECOSYSTEM SECTORS:
Natural resources "naturally" include such elements as land and soil, minerals,
water, forests, forages, and other uncultivated flora. Livestock and crops may also seem
like self-evident categories. But these categories can be functionally defined so as to
include any non-/semi-domesticated or managed species of animals or plants that are
exploited for human use. Thus, the framework can accommodate many more endeavors
than are normally included in conventional notions of agriculture which ultimately is
itself really just a more intensively managed extractive pursuit. Examples that come to
mind are: capture fisheries as well as aquaculture; game ranching or herding of semi-
tame species such as reindeer; raising of exotic stock such as alligators, iguanas,
earthworms, butterflies, and other beneficial insects; and the extraction of sylvan
products (timber, fuel, forage, crafting materials, gums and oils, ornamentals, herbs and
medicines, fruits, nuts, comestible roots and "weeds") from forest reserves, wildlands, or
rangelands and fields. Figure 2 displays an example of agroecosystem sectors in an
Andean agropastoral adaptation; the items in parentheses represent additional options
for economic development in such systems.
The second component of the framework consists of five general ACTIVrrY
DOMAINS that represent both the major actions and goals of primary producers.
Ordered more or less sequentially, these domains are:
* resource management,
* product transformation (post-harvest handling, storage, processing, etc.),
* distribution (marketing or other forms of exchange), and
The latter two domains will almost always be involved in applying the framework
because they directly reflect the principal reason for using the framework in the first
place: to anticipate equity and people-level impacts of proposed interventions on
different biosocial groups.3 Resource management, too, will always be included in
analysis, because virtually all Ag&NRM initiatives ultimately have implications for this
sector. But depending on the problem focus, only one or the other of
production/extraction and transformation may require in-depth investigation according to
biosocial groups and their roles.
To illustrate, suppose the proposed intervention is the establishment of a
community-level microenterprise to add value to primary products produced elsewhere.
An example might be mounting a smallscale tannery within a non-hide-producing
community. In this case, assuming a reliable extra-community supply of hides,
application of the framework would start with transformation. But resource management
would also be a concern at the very least, in terms of access to and pollution of the
water needed for tanning. In contrast, for the primary producers and suppliers of the
hides, all domains would be relevant except for transformation beyond the most minimal
steps of, say, slaughtering and skinning the animals and then properly pre-processing and
bundling the skins for transport.
As the foregoing paragraph suggests, for the framework to operate, each of the
relevant activity domains must be substructed into more specific activities or at least
activity clusters or subdomains. This is necessary because rarely is there any one-to-one
correspondence between a sectorally defined activity domain as a whole and a single
biosocial group. Notwithstanding many over-generalizations in the literature to the effect
that males see to livestock production while females do the cropping (or vice-versa), in
most communities of primary producers both genders play some role in
production/extraction, as well as in the other four domains (see note 17).
As before, substruction of activity domains begins with identification of the
activities that are most immediately implicated in the proposed interventions. Working
outwards from this basis will in turn usually suggest potential impacts on other activity
domains and subdomains. This step in large part parallels other approaches to gender
analysis that have focused mainly on the gendered division of labor in the cropping
sector (e.g., Rao et al. 1991). So by way of contrast, activity domains and subdomains
are here illustrated with reference to the livestock sector.
For stockraising, resource management might embrace activities such as cutting
and carrying natural forages or tree pods, sowing or transplanting pastures with preferred
forage species, burning rangelands, fencing, gathering minerals and medicinal plants for
veterinary use, constructing or maintaining wells and waterholes, and controlling natural
predator and pest populations. Production subdomains might include management of
breeding and reproduction (including mating, castration, special care and acquisition of
breedstock), quartering, watering, herding, range management, supplemental feeding,
veterinary care, additional husbandry tasks (such as docking, marking, de-horning), and
all the activities linked to the harvesting of primary products from each species (milk,
fiber, meat, manure and urine, blood, eggs, and young animals), plus ritual events
designed to ensure animal fertility and productivity. Transformation subdomains span
the various storage or processing activities carried out within the producer community for
each of the animal crops harvested. For fiber, for example, these might include sorting,
scouring/washing, bagging and weighing, carding, dyeing, spinning, and weaving. For
dairy products, the list of transformation activities might be even longer; for manure and
urine, it might be quite short, involving little more than periodic collecting, mounding,
and turning. Finally, distribution spans all activities entailed in the marketing, bartering,
borrowing, lending, and gifting of animals and their raw or processed products, versus
their assignment to household use. Consumption/nutrition concerns the final disposal of
animal products in varying forms, qualities, and quantities among defined biosocial
groups (usually members of the producer household).
The five domains can be substructed in whatever way seems most expeditious,
technically informative, or comfortable for informants. Usually it is desirable also to
organize activities in a temporal sequence and to code them by season of the year. This
measure helps developers keep in mind that, as Rao et al. 1991 point out, there are
other domains of on-going human activity outside Ag&NRM. Minimally, these typically
include non-farm related outwork/homework or salaried off-farm employment of
various sorts, maintenance and reproductive tasks to support the producer unit (e.g.,
equipment and building repair, laundry and mending, child- and healthcare, education),
and leisure or other pursuits such as participation in religious or political events. Via
competing priorities and opportunity costs, these other activity domains often condition
people's choices and options for change in Ag&NRM.
Furthermore, it is important to examine activity subdomains from both etic and
emic perspectives. In etic terms, in consultation with the technical experts on the R&D
team, it is useful to note and investigate all conceivable activity subdomains pertaining to
the focal resources and species. Not only does this procedure ensure that no relevant
activity demands on different biosocial groups are overlooked in data collection and
analysis. It also often renders important insights for development design and action, in
that the very absence of certain activities may suggest some solutions to the problem at
hand. For instance, many Andean agropastoralists exercise no control over breeding
among sheep not even via castration; nor do they dock their sheep or give them any
cultivated forages or supplemental feeds (McCorkle 1983b). For a development effort
aimed at increasing ovine productivity among Andean agropastoralists, noting and
correcting for the lack of such activities could prove key.
In emic terms, certain activity subdomains that Western-trained scientists and
developers might not consider significant may nevertheless be seen by beneficiaries as
critical to individual, household, or community success and security in Ag&NRM.
Common examples worldwide include fertility rites for livestock and land, and harvest
festivals. The same is true of rituals related to transformation and consumption such as
the ritualized acts and rules surrounding grain storage, withdrawal, and allocation among
some Sahelian peoples. Such activities entail labor, specialized knowledge and expertise,
supervision, administration, and decision-making, just as do other, more "conventional"
ones. Moreover, they often make manifest precisely which biosocial groups in fact
possess key techno-ecological information or decision-making power in certain sectors or
activity domains. In any case, it is not always possible to disentangle emic and etic,
supernatural and natural in people's Ag&NRM behaviors. Illustrating from the
subdomain of veterinary care, for instance, disease therapies, supplemental feedings, or
strategic herd movements that stockraisers sometimes describe in terms of warding off
evil spirits or meeting ceremonial obligations may in fact constitute effective production
practices, often derived from a profound techno-ecological knowledge.14
Broader or narrower, coarser or finer, subdomain distinctions can be drawn, and
specific tasks can be investigated in depth as needed. Of course, the more detailed the
discrimination of activities within each domain, the better for predicting biosocial groups'
potential participation in and benefits from the proposed interventions and thus the
chances for problem solution. Toward this end, the next step in applying the framework
is to match each activity or subdomain to five basic ROLES and their incumbent biosocial
groups. These five roles represent fundamental functions that producers must fulfill
effectively in order to achieve virtually any Ag&NRM goal.
Access to the natural resources upon which primary production/extraction in the
sector under examination depends.
Application of the requisite techno-ecological knowledge to perform the specified
Ag&NRM activities successfully.
Administrative or supervisory responsibility for seeing that these tasks are done,
and done properly.
Task implementation itself, i.e. labor.
Decision-making power in all these realms.
These roles are conceptually distinct, and the question of who fills them in each
activity or cluster of activities must be answered empirically. The individuals who
actually perform a given task are not automatically the same persons who supervise its
performance or even who control the requisite techno-ecological expertise. For example,
among Andean agropastoralists in Peru, adult women control much of the knowledge of
range flora and grazing sites by season; so they usually decide where herds will be grazed
each day. However, operating under the instructions and supervision of women
householders, children are the preferred implementors of this task.
Although logically the task supervisor/administrator is usually also the expert on
the task, even this may not always hold true. For example, out-migration of key
knowledgeable may saddle non-experts with task oversight as when women and
youngsters are left behind to perform all farming activities while men seek distant off-
farm work. Nor may the task implementor, supervisor, or expert always have direct
access to, or decisioning power over, the natural resources required for task
performance. Instead, these resources may be held communally; or they may be
borrowed, rented, or sharecropped/herded; similarly for the final product of one's labor.
In Kenya, for example, women stockraisers may have to obtain the permission of an
absent husband or of a resident male relative before they can slaughter or sell animals
they have raised (Noble 1992).
Considerations such as the foregoing explain why a focus on labor alone does not
furnish enough information to ensure gender-equitable or efficient and sustainable
development. Put another way, investigations of the sexual division of labor, while
providing great detail about the way people divide their time, do not make for useful
insights into how new technologies or "sociologies" can reorganize that time because they
do not elucidate other roles assigned to producers and even to their products (cf.
McCorkle 1991). By themselves, such studies therefore do little to advance a "relational
understanding" of benefits from Ag&NRM products vis-a-vis groups of people, as a
prerequisite to arriving at workable interventions (after Gatter 1993:168 ff.)
Finally, the five roles enumerated above are filled by human beings organized into
culturally variable types of BIOSOCIAL GROUPS, as defined earlier. Whether they are
emically or ethically constructed, groups are composed of individuals, all of whom have
multiple statuses and roles in multiple arenas. Although WID approaches tend to treat
females (and males) as a largely undifferentiated sex-based congeries of humans, even a
single individual much less a whole sex is not homogeneous. For example, in addition
to being females and males of a given age, individuals are simultaneously spouses or co-
spouses, parents or godparents, children or godchildren, siblings, cousins, and in-laws, in
varying real or fictive kin relationships (Table 1).
Whether in Ag&NRM or other development sectors, it is often helpful to describe
and analyze such relationships from several biosocial viewpoints. For instance, more
and/or different insights into the potential participation of, and the benefits or
disbenefits to, females in the target community may be gained by analyzing their status
and associated Ag&NRM roles as senior versus junior co-wives in polygynous societies,
as de facto or single versus joint female heads of household, or as out-married members
of their natal household. Such analyses are equally relevant for males: for example, as
fathers versus maternal uncles in matrilineal tribe, as patrilineage elders versus youths,
or as heads of household versus junior members. As noted earlier, similar roles and
interests within such biosocial categories could provide a basis for organizing functional
groups to tackle a given development problem. For instance, single-female or junior-
male farmers who, in the face of population pressure, have poor prospects of adequate
access to animals and land might provide a logical biosocial base for organizing a
cooperative processing enterprise, like the tannery example given earlier.
Table 2 outlines numerous functional biosocial groups that have been found
pertinent to Ag&NRM (and often other development) initiatives in producer
communities in Africa and Latin America. This list would be even longer if other
development sectors were included. Of course, in applying the framework, the actual
universe of such groups within the target community must be empirically established
before groups can be matched up with their corresponding roles in the activity
(sub)domains of interest. From the point of view of the producer community, this
universe can be classed by increasing socio-structural complexity into four general types:
inter-household groups, and
Starting from the "bottom up" in Table 2, usually by virtue of some constellation
of the biosocial attributes and relations outlined in Table 1, individuals are members of
intra-household units and households.16 In traditional communities of primary producers
throughout the developing world, these memberships typically define most of a person's
roles, rights, and responsibilities in Ag&NRM, as well as in many other arenas of human
For example, in polygynous patrilineal societies of West African cultivators, intra-
household units typically have special cropping rights. Junior males or a married woman
and her children often have the use of small "afternoon and Friday" plots of their own, in
addition to working on the household's corporate fields. In the corporate fields,
decisions about production and NRM strategies and techniques and about storage and
disposition of the resulting produce are made by the senior male of the household. But
junior males and wives make these decisions for their private, non-corporate plots;
likewise for stockraising among many Andean (e.g. McCorkle 1982; Painter 1992) and
African peoples. For instance, among settled Fulani agropastoralists in Nigeria, married
women exercise full management and decisioning control over herds and flocks of cattle,
small ruminants, and poultry of their own, and over the resulting animal products
(Waters-Bayer 1988:132 ff.).
Moving up the scale of socio-organizational complexity depicted in Table 2, often
several households are linked together in inter-household groups that regularly
collaborate in aspects of cropping, stockraising, or natural resource use and management.
These groups may consist of minimal or minor lineages, kin- or non-kin-based
contractual associations, or cooperative workgroups. Some examples from the author's
field research in the Andes are ayni groups (in which several households of kith, kin,
and/or neighbors regularly work together in turn on each other's fields) and t'inkikuy
groups (in which several such households daily pool their small herds and have their
youngsters take turns overseeing the animals). In both the Andes and Africa, several
related households may cooperate in the purchase, use, and maintenance of an ox-team
and plow; in West Africa, such arrangements are most often found within a minimal
patrilineage or among a non-coresidential male sibling set. Worldwide, shareherding is
another common type of such inter-household associations, as is in Africa a cultivator
household's contracting with a pastoralist family to manage its cattle or manure its fields.
Beyond such inter-household groups, people typically are also members and/or
officers in a variety of larger supra-household organizations that have implications for
Ag&NRM. These can be neighborhood- or community-based; they may also include
local chapters of still larger organizations, or segments of other supra-community entities
such as castes, ethnic groups, or maximal lineages.17
Some examples of supra-household organizations from the author's fieldwork in
Africa include the following. Village quarters or wards often defined by ethnicity may
as a unit acquire rights to blocks of fields and housesites. Councils of elders may make
decisions about the distribution and re-distribution of special land types, like pastures or
swamps. Heads of localized lineage segments typically do likewise for the allocation of
lineage lands among their membership. Councils of elders may also arbitrate both intra-
and inter-community disputes over croplands, grazing grounds, and water rights;
determine when it is time for village-wide rotation of fallow and bush lands; and decide
when, where, and whether to open a marketplace in the community in order to promote
sale and exchange of local livestock and crop products. They or other organizations such
as farmer or stockraiser/dairy cooperatives may also mediate or contract between
producers and agribusiness firms or extension agencies. Traditional civic groups like the
Mossi (Burkina Faso) songtaba, Nigerian naam, Malian ton villageois, or WaKamba
(Kenya) myethya may organize weeding or harvesting workgroups or they may cultivate
communal fields in order to raise funds for community events and projects. These civic
groups typically can mobilize in exclusively male or female units, youth-only blocks, or
mixed age and sex groups, depending on which tasks are considered culturally
appropriate for which ages and sexes, or which members of the community have the
greatest interest in the event or project for which funds are wanted (e.g., road repair, a
maison de la jeunesse, a maternity ward). Finally, there are still other groups with
immediate relevance for Ag&NRM, such as irrigation associations, tontines or savings
and credit clubs, and gardening co-ops.
A producer's membership in these varying types and levels of biosocial groups
often directly or indirectly influences her/his options and roles in Ag&NRM.
Conversely, such groups can offer a forum for demonstrating or extending new
Ag&NRM information, techniques, and resources to their producer-members. Although
all such groups have an identifiable sex composition, this may (gender) or may not
(merely sex) be a primary criterion for membership. Moreover, as with activity domains,
not all the groups identified in a community will always be directly pertinent to the
development problem at hand. The larger point is that for effective research and
development, it rarely makes sense to look at "women," "men," or "children" (whose
children?) per se. Rather, such biological abstractions must be defined and analyzed in
terms of the more precisely defined social groupings within which females and males are
assigned their gendered and other roles as they go about the business of making a living
from and within their human and biophysical ecologies.
Advantages and Uses of the Framework
Now, in concrete terms, what is this biosocial-groups approach supposed to do in
terms of promoting more equitable and environmentally and economically sound and
sustainable Ag&NRM? For development workers and policymakers not to mention the
proposed beneficiaries its practical value is multifold.
First, as noted earlier, its problem-centeredness and its qualitative/conceptual
approach saves time and money in data collection and analysis.
Second, the framework enforces precise identification of the groups of resource
managers, local experts, supervisors, actors, and decision-makers that are relevant to the
problem. With this information, potential interventions can then be accurately assessed
vis-a-vis the constellation of biosocial groups who have (or do not have and would
therefore need to acquire) access to the necessary resources, the techno-ecological
expertise, the supervisory/administrative position, the available labor, the decision-
making authority, and ultimately the self-interest to most effectively implement the
desired changes. Simply put, researchers and developers can then get the right
information to and from the right people, and test out or extend new ideas among the
groups) best able, most needful, or most interested to take advantage of them.
Closely related, this sort of biosocial intelligence makes for surer channeling of
benefit streams to the targeted groupss, forestalling one group's appropriation of
benefits mainly directed at another. Conversely, it also enables developers to see where
interventions can be inserted with least resistance from or damage to either the target
beneficiaries or other groups operating within the same the agroecosystem; i.e.,
disbenefits can be blocked or mitigated. The development literature is rife with accounts
of diverted or perverted benefit streams wherein the income, products, or nutritional
gains from a "successful" development initiative with, say, a women's organization are
appropriated by males, or where the local rich get richer by exploiting the labor or the
"communal" natural resources of a powerless poor. With the more fine-grained
understanding of gender and socioeconomic role dynamics that a biosocial-groups
perspective provides, however, developers can better design for such contingencies. This
will advance equity goals and many would argue also efficiency and empowerment
objectives insofar as the success and sustainability of proposed interventions may depend
upon the active, self-directing and -rewarding participation of large or key
gender/socioeconomic segments of the population.
Put another way, the framework affords some modest predictive power by
signalling whether proposed interventions entail certain groups' making or accepting
changes that lie within or outside their established role parameters, changes that will
reinforce or challenge the legitimacy of their own or others' roles, or changes that will
enhance or impair fulfillment of any of these roles. Fortunately, where negative impacts
seem likely, the process of applying the framework also often reveals some possible
solutions in the form of existing or potential biosocial groups what Bennett (1986:360)
terms social resources.
At a larger level, the framework can synergistically strengthen overall
development design. If rigorously and systematically applied in its entirety, the
framework helps forestall design flaws that would lead to negative impacts not only on
other biosocial groups but also on other agroecosystem sectors by virtue of interventions
in the targeted biosocial groups) and sector. Because men, women, and children live
together in socioculturally defined units, and because natural resources, livestock, and
crops are interdependent in agroecosystems, change in any one group or sector typically
implies changes in another. By calling attention to such system-wide linkages and
interactions, the framework thus also encourages a fuller pre-assessment of the likely
success and sustainability, in both human and biophysical realms, of proposed
AN ILLUSTRATION OF THE FRAMEWORK'S APPLICATION:
THE HIGHLAND (OVER)GRAZING EROSION SYNDROME AMONG
The foregoing points can be illustrated with an abbreviated case example drawn
from SR-CRSP research among agropastoral communities in the Peruvian Andes, where
the program operated from 1980 to 1989. This Andean case has been chosen for two
reasons. First, it is based on "real-world" data of the integrated, interdisciplinary sort -
agroecological, technical, and sociocultural/structural that the framework is designed to
capture and synergistically interlink. Second, the development problem involved aptly
illustrates these interlinkages, along with the importance of attention to biosocial groups
beyond just the household level.
As Figure 2 suggests, Andean farmer-stockraisers follow a complex agroecological
adaptation. In addition to a large number of irrigated and rainfed, native and non-native
plant crops, they raise a wide array of animal species. Besides guinea pigs, swine, and
poultry, households manage up to five species of herd animals under an extensive,
rangestock regime that primarily relies on common-access grazing grounds. Andean
agropastoralists pursue their highly mixed or "generalized" procurement strategy
(Rhoades and Thompson 1975) in what is one of the world's most unique and
challenging environments the rugged vertical ecology of high-altitude tropical
mountains whose productive reach extends up to 5000 or more meters above sea level
(for greater detail, consult McCorkle 1992b).
For purposes of illustrating the framework, a pervasive agroecological challenge to
this agropastoral adaptation will serve as the problem focus: the highland (over)grazing
f erosion syndrome that threatens many Andean communities' common-access grazing
grounds (LeBaron et al. 1979). All three agroecosystem sectors are implicated in this
syndrome (Figure 3). In mountainous areas, overgrazing of rangelands and of fallowing
fields can promote soil erosion and compaction, which may prejudice cropping. At the
same time, overgrazing threatens the sustainable supply of forage as well as the
nutritious, biodiverse mix of forage plants. It also facilitates colonization by toxic plants -
in the Andes, notably loco weeds (Astragalus spp.). Inadequate quantity and quality of
forage and/or plant poisoning in turn make for livestock morbidity and mortality.
Coming full circle, losses in livestock numbers and productivity can impact negatively on
cropping. Work-animal efficiency in traction or transport may suffer; the field-clearing
and manuring services of herds may be impaired; and less cash from sales of animals and
animal products may be available to defray the costs of necessary crop inputs, whether
these consist of, e.g., agrochemicals, draught power, hired laborers or festive workparties
(cf. McCorkle 1992a:8-9).
Some of the solutions commonly put forward for problems of overgrazing include
feed supplementation, de-stocking, more rapid turnover of animals, or in some contexts,
partial or full livestock confinement. However, consultations among producers and
technical and social scientists quickly reveal that these options would be unworkable,
unacceptable, or individually inadequate to address the highland grazing erosion
syndrome under current conditions in the Andes. In other words, on the basis of such
consultations (and often just plain common sense), the menu of possible solutions can be
rapidly narrowed to a few "best bets," which are then "checked out" in greater detail via
application of the biosocial-groups framework.
For the highland grazing erosion syndrome, one such "best bet" is the
introduction of controlled rotational grazing schemes. Technically, such schemes ensure
the regular rest and ample regrowth of nutritious, biodiverse, and soil-conserving
communities of forage plants on rangelands (cf. McCorkle ed. 1990). Sociologically, this
option looks promising in light of the fact that for centuries, Andean agropastoralists
have operated their common-access grazing grounds on a rotational principle writ large
(see below). Thus there is precedent both for this technical principle and for the social
structures required to put it into practice.
Now, running down the advantages and uses enumerated in the preceding section,
let's see what further insights the biosocial-groups framework can furnish as to the
feasibility, design, implementation, benefits, and overall impacts of such an intervention.
For the grazing erosion problem, resource management (especially forage
utilization) and production (especially grazing practices) constitute the most relevant
domains (and subdomains) along with, of course, distribution and consumption. With
regard to identifying biosocial groups with roles that are relevant to the problem, let's
look first at resource management. For questions of access to the critical resource at
issue here grazing grounds and their forages a targeted literature review backed by
RRA/PRA will quickly reveal that among many Andean agropastoralists, developers
must address themselves to the community assembly and the ayllu. The latter are
territorially and cosmologically defined divisions within the community or in
anthropological parlance, moieties. Along with other natural resources (such as mineral
deposits) and certain community infrastructures (such as trails and waterworks), the
relatively rich and plentiful forages of the high-altitude (4000m and up) rangelands or
puna are under the communal control of these supra-household entities, as are the
private but fallowing mountainside fields cum pastures of the mid-altitude zone (3500-
Very briefly, the puna as a whole is open to use by all community members year-
round; but for practical reasons, human and animal residence in one or another moiety
often dictates their use of moiety ranges in the puna. Fields are grouped in large blocks
of land known variously as laymi, muyuy, and other terms in the literature. Each block is
subject to a community-wide annual rotational system of cropping and fallowing+ grazing.
Although fields lying within a laymi are privately owned, the community assembly decides
when which blocks of fields can be sown and harvested each year. Whenever a laymi is
in fallow, it reverts to communal usufruct for grazing and gathering. Both women and
men are members of, and have a say in, community and moiety matters; but only these
supra-household entities not individuals or households have the legitimate decision-
making power and authority to dictate and enforce coordinated change in this Andean
regime of mixed communal-plus-private resource use.18
Even if such community and moiety structures did not exist, few households
among Andean agropastoralists would be in a position to make unilateral decisions about
altering their grazing strategies. Due to labor bottlenecks in cropping and to scarcities
and inefficiencies in pastoral labor for overseeing small but mixed-species herds, small
and average-sized households must establish regular labor exchange relationships with
other households in order to successfully pursue their demanding regime of agropastoral
production (McCorkle 1992b). Specifically with regard to daily grazing, two to four
households often form longstanding t'inkikuy associations. As noted earlier, members of
the partner households take turns at daily driving the pooled herds. Thus, decision-
making about the institution of a grazing plan (as well as certain other innovations in
husbandry techniques) would still have to be conducted jointly by the partners to such
Andean agropastoralists consider the nuclear (or slightly intergenerationally
extended) household headed jointly by a husband-wife pair as the ideally autonomous
unit of production. As we have just seen, however, at any given time few households are
able to realize this ideal. Moreover, there is considerable variation in household size
and composition. Both these factors influence a household's direct access to competent
pastoral labor and thereby also their access to the lusher but more distant puna
rangelands. Smaller or female-headed households and/or those in the earliest or latest
stages of the domestic life cycle experience the greatest difficulties in mustering enough
labor to properly manage grazing for the different species in their herds (McCorkle
1992b). They therefore more often join labor-exchange inter-household groups.
At the intra-household level among Andean agropastoralists, women have primary
responsibility for most aspects of stockraising. Broadly speaking, men's productive roles
focus more on the equally manifold tasks of cultivation.9 But for reasons of caloric
efficiency and ergonomic feasibility, when it comes to daily herding, girls and boys are
the preferred task implementors. Of course, when no children of the appropriate age
and skill level are available, adults or the elderly of either sex will perforce herd. As
noted earlier, however, techno-ecological expertise and task supervision in grazing are
primarily vested in the female householder. She therefore instructs the child herder as
to where and when to drove each day, and often checks on her/him across the day.
Finally, what about distribution and consumption of the increased production of
animal and plant crops that is expected from the introduction of rotational grazing? Via
RRA/PRA with Andean men and women both jointly and separately, a rapid run-
through of the framework by species will quickly indicate that, in the bilineal society of
these agropastoralists, the husband/wife pair typically conducts decision-making about
the disposal of farm products and earnings jointly although greater weight may be given
to the opinion of the spouse who is the techno-ecological "expert" and usually also the
task administrator for the product in question.
To summarize, the biosocial intelligence generated by applying the framework to
the highland grazing erosion syndrome reveals that, among Andean agropastoralists,
the successful institution of any such scheme will require the participation and close
collaboration among a variety of biosocial groups. Minimally, these include the
community assembly, possibly inter-household grazing groups, and both the male and,
especially, the female householder of each stockraising unit. Also, the key role of
children in herding suggests it would be prudent to include them in at least some of any
training or discussions about a new grazing system. With regard to equity goals and the
channeling of benefit streams, based on the data collected, the proposed intervention
sounds promising in that gender inequities between the male and female co-heads of
household appear unlikely to arise. However, cross-household inequities based on
household size and composition are possible. Smaller, young or elderly, and female-
headed households are already hard-pressed to acquire sufficient labor of the right type,
not only for stockraising but also for cropping. Meanwhile, the few large households
with adequate human resources might perceive little incentive to participate in a
communal grazing scheme. And what about benefits to and impacts upon household
The foregoing findings and queries lead us to predict some potentially negative
impacts both for certain biosocial groups and for the cropping sector if the proposed
grazing scheme is designed in such a way as to require extra pastoral labor. Children
might have to be withdrawn from school to meet increased herding demands (which
usually means girls). If adults were deployed instead, then cropping might be denied
critical inputs of labor, supervision, or techno-ecological expertise at key junctures. In
short, without careful planning, a rotational grazing scheme might curtail children's
education and, with it, both present and future households' life options; moreover, it
could imperil the cropping sector, even though concern over lowered yields from
cultivation is one of the main reasons for tackling the grazing erosion syndrome in the
first place! Ultimately, "beneficiaries'" longterm economic and nutritional security could
be compromised rather than enhanced unless such interlinking factors are taken into
With regard to mitigating such potential impacts and strengthening overall
development design, however, application of the framework has also revealed the
existence of indigenous social structures designed expressly to address such pastoral labor
problems: the inter-household t'inkikuy groups. They offer both a metaphor and a
concrete foundation for possibly erecting larger cooperative groups who could operate a
rotational grazing scheme efficiently. Moreover, by aggregating larger numbers of
household herds, such expanded t'inkikuy groups could achieve two beneficial ends. One
is improved control of animal nutrition, health, and breeding via herd divisions by
species, age, and or reproductive status. Due to labor shortages, few households are
currently able to take advantage of this husbandry technique, even though they recognize
its value. The other benefit is a labor bonus, freed by the need for fewer herders
overall. Whether small or large, households could apply this bonus to cropping or to
non-agricultural activities, such as children's education. At the same time, these
expanded supra-household groups could provide broad-based participation at the
biosocially appropriate level (community or moiety) for seeing that producers correctly
implement and adhere to the grazing scheme. As noted earlier, this solution seems
particularly promising in light of a pre-existing pattern of supra-household responsibility
for communal resource management.
In designing and mounting such a scheme, adjunct technical and social
practicalities will have to be planned for, including, e.g.: the absolute numbers of
animals of each species and/or class that herders of varying skill levels can effectively
oversee; the amount of pastoral labor to be contributed per stockraising unit; and the
institution of oversight bodies and judicial mechanisms to control for incompetent or
dishonest herders and to compensate stockowners for any consequent losses. But once
again, such needs can often be met by understanding and building upon or extending the
roles, rights, and responsibilities of existing biosocial groups. For example, most
community assemblies already manage a relatively egalitarian system of labor levies for
village-wide faenas (communal workgroups to construct or repair public infrastructures).
Some villages also operate a system of civil-religious service at the community or moiety
level; this supra-household structure might provide another metaphor for coordinating a
universal scheme of rotational grazing. And a standard function of assembly officials is
to investigate and adjudicate losses due to intra-community thefts of livestock or to
animals' invasion of ripening fields. With further problem-centered PRA, these groups
and structures might offer valuable social resources (Bennett 1986) for implementing the
proposed grazing scheme or other interventions that require coordinated action at more
than just the household level.
The foregoing Andean example illustrates how by highlighting the complex
interconnections among human groups and agroecosystem sectors a biosocial-groups
approach to Ag&NRM development can help decide among development options,
anticipate possible negative impacts of the options chosen, and suggest solutions and
appropriate adjunct or mitigating actions. These solutions and actions often draw upon
local human resources as they are embedded and mobilized in existing biosocial groups.
In sum, this approach helps both developers and potential participants/beneficiaries to
gather design data and think systematically about the implications for people, projects,
and the environment of proposed Ag&NRM interventions before devoting scare
development resources and energies to them. And it does this in a way that is at once
parsimonious and concrete, yet holistic and synergistic.
It is parsimonious because, as noted earlier, information gaps are identified and
filled in a targeted fashion that works outward from the problem definition, using rapid,
qualitative data-gathering techniques which, from the outset, involve producers
themselves. This feature of the framework reflects researchers' and developers' growing
recognition of several design pragmatics. As noted in the introduction, first is the value
of contextualized induction, as versus hypothetical-deductive approaches. All too often,
the latter render such banal and over-generalized insights and recommendations for
project/program design or producer action that they are essentially useless. (For a
telling gender-sensitive case study of just such an outcome, see Gatter .) Second
and closely related is the greater efficiency and site-specific detail afforded by producer
participation in data collection and in problem (and solution) definition not to mention
the importance of such participation and stakeholdership for the ultimate success of the
interventions selected. Third is the realization that "more important is not the quantity
of information, but what sorts of information are deemed relevant to the identification of
a problem and the proposing of a technical solution" (Gatter 1993:168) or, it should be
added, of a socio-organizational solution.
A biosocial-groups approach is concrete because, as emphasized earlier, it rejects
disembodied categories of "men," "women," and "children." It is impossible to define
females' (or males') place in, and actual and potential contributions to, Ag&NRM (or
really any domain of human activity) independent of the human groupings of which they
are members and via which they actualize a shared adaptation to a given human and
biophysical environment. For equitable, efficient, and sustainable development to take
place, such categories must be operationalized in terms of on-the-ground social and
economic groupings (and re-groupings) of females and males of different ages in terms
of their corresponding roles, rights, and responsibilities. Of course, very distinct patterns
of decision-making power, administrative responsibility, techno-ecological expertise, and
task implementation are found cross-culturally. This is perhaps particularly true for
Africa where one finds complex ethnic, caste, and lineage structures, elder/junior as
well as masculine/feminine divisions, and polygynous extended households with plural
conjugal and cookfiree" units.20 These make for an exceptional array of inter-, intra-, and
supra-household structures and roles pertaining to Ag&NRM. But again, the framework
facilitates appreciation of this type of socio-organizational complexity in the context of
the Ag&NRM system as a whole.
In like vein but in contrast to most other approaches to gender analysis in
Ag&NRM, the framework calls greater attention to inter- and supra-household units of
which males and females are members. Whereas traditional approaches to Ag&NRM
development centered on male producers as individual actors and decision-makers, later
approaches such as farming systems research (FSR) shifted attention to the household of
producers albeit initially viewing this biosocial group as something of a black box.
Subsequently, the "new household economics" and even newer and more sophisticated
models of intra-household bargaining have made significant advances in grappling with
gender and other variables within households. But none of these approaches readily
embraces inter- and supra-household groups and dynamics, which can also strongly
influence people's choices and options for change in Ag&NRM.
This lacuna is somewhat surprising in light of two thrusts in current thinking in
Ag&NRM development. First is a growing consensus that the real key to solving
Ag&NRM problems in an environmentally sound and sustainable manner lies in strong
and effective social institutions, whether at micro, meso, or macro levels (cf. Bennett
1986, Hjort af Omrs 1992, Hjort af Orns and Krokfors 1993, Lynam and Herdt 1992).
Second and closely related is the paradigm of grassroots participation and community
self-help that has recently come to the fore in development circles. This paradigm pins
great hopes on localized inter- and especially supra-household groups as the longterm
loci of truly sustainable development. Therefore, it behooves us to examine such
structures more closely, along with the place and meaning of gender within them. A
biosocial-groups perspective affords a useful lens for doing so. At the same time, it can
expand, complement, and (most importantly) translate into action the insights of other,
more hypothetico-deductive approaches to gender-in-development.
This approach is holistic because it embraces the full gamut of human groupings
and institutions represented within even the smallest community, along with the multiple
plant and animal species in their environment and the physical resource base. In this
regard, it represents a step toward bridging what Bennett (1986) terms the people-
resources gap that results from the "holistic ignorance" of disciplinary disjunctions in
tackling Ag&NRM problems. As he notes, few approaches consider social phenomena
as resources or attempt to view the social environment in the same frame of reference as
the biophysical. A corollary feature of the framework's holism is that it unites
conventional notions of agriculture with other forms of primary production/extraction.
Neither is analysis constrained to just a single producer community; it can also
accommodate larger socionatural regions that span a number of communities.
The framework is synergistic because it endeavors to go beyond linear or
dichotomous thinking (Bennett 1986:361) about the interactions among all elements of
the human and biophysical ecology. It operates something like a pinball machine to try
to anticipate feedback/feedforward or domino effects of proposed interventions on both.
In this and other respects, operationally the framework has much in common with soft
systems methodology, with its emphasis on analysis of human activity systems in a
cultural context and on systemic thinking that captures the rich moving pageant of
relationships in any real-world problem situation (after Checkland and Scholes
1990:27ff.)1 Put another way, development efforts that ignore the interlocking net of
dynamic relationships within a given socionatural system may end up robbing Peter to
pay Paul i.e., imperiling cropping for the sake of stockraising (or vice versa),
prejudicing environmental protection in the name of production (or vice versa), or
benefitting men at women's expense (or vice versa).
The framework is synergistic in another sense, in that it is instructive for every
stage of the development process. Its utility for collecting baseline data and doing
designwork has already been noted. Logically, findings from the framework's application
for these purposes will also identify factors that should be monitored and evaluated for
their impacts on different groups and sectors throughout project or program
implementation. And although this approach is not explicitly geared to deal with policy
issues, applied diachronically it could detect shifts in different groups' role parameters in
response to policy reforms. Furthermore, the framework is also useful for training
researchers, developers, and extensionists in gender analysis (Covington and Greene
1993, personal communication).22 Educators who have experimented with it comment
that, unlike most other approaches, it avoids any impression of pitting males against
females in dividing up the development pie. This advantage largely derives from its
emphasis on individuals' multiple memberships in both same- and mixed-sex
socioeconomic groups plus its recognition of the often complementary distribution of
roles across genders. Reportedly, the framework makes gender analysis much more
palatable for trainees of varying ethnicities, religions, and ages by defusing apparent
threats to their core cultural values. Moreover, trainees appreciate the "more inclusive
and open-ended approach" (Leach 1991:23) that the framework permits in analyzing
gender and other socioeconomic relations in the culture- and site-specific Ag&NRM
problems they bring to it.
Indeed, it has been suggested that with appropriate substitution of the
conceptual variables outlined in Figure 1's first two components the same framework
may well be applicable to development sectors or subsectors other than Ag&NRM. In
this respect, a biosocial-groups approach may offer an alternative to current, sectorized
views of development that compartmentalize agriculture, water, forests, health, or
education (Hjort af Ornis 1992) by synergistically linking all these to the most important
"sector" of all real people (whether female or male) in real places.
1. This is a greatly revised and expanded version of a paper first presented at the
1992 American Anthropological Association session entitled "Livestock and
Gender in African Production Systems," sponsored by the Culture & Agriculture
Society and the Association for Feminist Anthropology. A later version of the
AAA paper was presented as part of the WIAD (Women in International
Agricultural Development) Program at the University of Florida-Gainesville, 19
February 1993, sponsored by the UFL Department of Food and Resource
Economics. The author is indebted to the latter group for their insightful
comments on the framework, and particularly for their experiments in applying it
in gender training. Thanks are also due Dr. Melissa Leach of the University of
Sussex's Institute of Development Studies for sharing her publications at the last
minute, all the way from Guinea. As always, colleague, friend, and untiring
editorial and intellectual critic Dr. Jere Gilles of the University of Missouri (MU)
reviewed the manuscript in detail. Additional commentary was provided by: Drs.
John J. Curry and Rebecca Huss-Ashmore, co-organizers of the AAA session;
cultural ecologist Dr. Patricia Vondal; Dr. Mayra Buvinic, Director of the
International Center for Research on Women; and members of the USAID
R&D/WID Office and its GENESYS (Gender in Economic and Social Systems)
Project in particular, Dr. Rosalie Norem.
GENESYS partially supported preparation of the present article. The author's
field research in Peru in 1980 and preliminary work on the framework were made
possible through AID/R&D/Ag Collaborative Research Support Grants
DSAN/XII-G-0049 and DAN-1328-G-00-0046-00 to the Sociology Project of the
Small Ruminant Collaborative Research Support Program (SR-CRSP), housed at
MU. A CIES Fulbright Faculty Scholar Grant funded return fieldwork in 1987-
1988. Additional support was provided by MU; and between 1986 and 1990,
various MU/SR-CRSP researchers contributed to the efforts leading up to this
framework. In addition to SR-CRSP research in Kenya, African examples and
insights in the article draw on the author's fieldwork in 1983-1984 as Research
Scientist/Project Anthropologist on the Burkina Faso Grain Marketing
Development Research Project, directed by the Center for Research on Economic
Development at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor under AID Contract No.
AFR-0243-C-00-2063-00. However, the views expressed here do not necessarily
represent those of the various institutions and individuals cited above.
2. This amended the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961 so as to take greater account of
the fact that "Women in developing countries play a significant role in economic
production, family support and the overall development process" (U.S. Congress
1973:4). The amendment also called for particular attention to activities "which
tend to integrate women into the national economies of foreign countries, thus
improving their status and assisting the total development effort" ibidd.)
3. Hereafter in the text, an effort is made to restrict the words "women" and "men"
to culturally contextualized references to females and males, respectively, since
femininity and masculinity (and sometimes still other genders) are socioculturally
constructed as are, too, the boundaries of "childhood." For succinct discussions
of the distinction between sex and gender that gives rise to this differential usage
consult, for example, Jacobs and Roberts (1989) and Miller (1993:4ff).
4. Indeed, beyond childbearing and nursing, it is not clear what, in the abstract, is
uniquely and universally a "women's issue." With artificial insemination, embryo
transplants and test-tube babies, legal battles between couples over rights to births
from frozen reproductive material or from maternal surrogates, the couvade,
bottle feeding, and so forth even these two most basic biological functions can
be highly culturally charged and changeable issues for males as well as females.
In any case, in the present author's opinion, a problem-focus in which gender is
examined as one among a number of contextualized socioeconomic variables is
more instructive for development.
5. Very briefly indeed, according to Rathgeber (1990), WID arose in the early 1970s
stimulated by Boserup's (1970) work on the sexual division of labor in agrarian
economies; it was closely linked with the reigning modernization paradigm of
development and was mainly propounded by American liberal feminists. WAD
emerged in the mid-1970s as a dependency-theory critique of WID, enunciated by
neo-Marxist/radical feminists who emphasized women's reproductive, as well as
productive, roles; and theoretically if not always actually, WAD recognized cross-
cutting issues of class. GAD arose in the 1980s as a social-feminist attempt to
integrate, explain, and challenge the social structuring of gender roles in a more
holistic fashion that subsumed or erased productive/reproductive, public/private,
and male/female dichotomies. (For another widely read classification of
approaches to gender in development, see Moser 1989; for yet a third
categorization, consult Gallin and Ferguson 1991; and for a succinct overview, see
Rubin and Caro 1993.)
6. This linkage was one of the highlights of the 1992 United Nations Conference on
Environment and Development or "Earth Summit." Among gender-and-
development scholars, however, WED discourse is only now beginning to break
serious new ground either topically or theoretically. For one of the most astute
statements to date on emerging issues and future research needs in this arena,
consult Collins 1991; and for a cutting-edge body of work, see Leach 1991, 1992,
and in press. The latter publication also offers a clear and appropriately critical
assessment of ecofeminism and some of the dangerous reductionisms and
profound ethnocentrisms that it, like WID, embodies.
7. This term is NOT meant to reference sociobiological perspectives in any way
whatsoever. Nor is it employed here in quite the same sense as in evolutionary
biology or physical and medical anthropology (see, e.g., Lancaster 1989, Mascia-
Lees 1989, McElroy and Townsend 1989, or Wiley 1992). There it denotes
interactions between the biology of an organism and its social environment,
highlighting the fact that an organism's or a species' adaptative strategies can
evolve biologically as well as behaviorally. Its usage in the present article
embraces only the latter process, insofar as human societies variably assign roles
to one or the other sex in different times, places, social groupings and
circumstances, often (but not always) as a demonstrably adaptive strategy.
8. For details of the SR-CRSP's mandate and activities, consult Blond (n.d.) and the
nine summary articles presented in the Journal of Animal Science 1989. For a
broader overview of the CRSP concept and, in particular, the role of anthropology
and sociology in these programs, see McCorkle 1989. For specifics of the SR-
CRSP Sociology Project, consult McCorkle et al. 1989.
9. This is not to say that there is no room for additional refinement and testing of
the framework in still more cultural contexts. However, its cross-cultural
applicability is further attested by the fact that, although SR-CRSP work on
gender-related issues formally began about 1986 and was conducted independently
of similar such work by other persons and projects, there are many parallels
between this framework and that put forward collectively by scholars such as
Feldstein and Poats (1989), Overholt et al. (1985), and Rao et al. (1991) working
in an FSR&E (Farming Systems Research and Extension) mode. The parallels
are particularly striking when one considers that these two efforts apparently had
rather different starting points: the former primarily in animal husbandry with a
"hard-core" production-agriculture focus, and the latter mainly in cropping with an
avowedly feminist-activist stance.
10. For a "rapid" state-of-the-art overview of PRA, see Chambers 1992. Other useful
reviews of RRA and PRA are Amanor 1990 and Farrington and Martin 1988.
For case studies and field examples of such methods' application, consult
Chambers et al. 1989 and Haverkort et al. 1991. With regard to the framework
presented here, PRA could be particularly valuable in reducing the time and costs
of substructing activity domains (see text). While such methods have proliferated
for investigating technical and agro-ecological issues, however, few participatory
tools have been elaborated to rapidly gather sociostructural data. Some
preliminary steps in this direction are exemplified in National Environment
Secretariat et al. 1990:48-51 and in Schoonmaker-Freudenberger and Gueye
1990:39. But much remains to be done to make such tools more robust and
gender-sensitive, and to codify them in such a way that they can be readily linked
to group roles and activity subdomains. This remains as an urgent methodological
research need that would greatly facilitate application of the framework presented
11. Even with these definitional parameters, it is not always easy to delimit the social
and geographic territory in terms of different communities' resource use and
management. One need only think of nomadic or transhumant pastoralists such
as the Fulani of Africa or of complex resource-sharing and product-exchange
relations between herders and farmers such as those documented for inhabitants
of northern coastal Peru (Perevolotsky 1992). Such circumstances argue for
taking the socionatural region as the unit of analysis.
12. For discussions of both the needs and difficulties of bridging micro, meso, and
macro in Ag&NRM or indeed, in development generally see Bennett 1986,
Hjort af Ornis 1992, and Hjort af Ornis and Krokfors 1993.
13. A word may be in order as to the inclusion of consumption/nutrition as an
integral part of the Ag&NRM system as a whole, since this is not yet common
practice. However, attention to this activity domain is imperative for at least two
reasons. First, home consumption is often (though not always) one of the goals of
producing or gathering a particular plant or animal species in the first place.
Thus consumption goals are a key input into production/extraction decisioning.
Second, proposed Ag&NRM interventions cannot automatically be assumed to be
nutritionally beneficial or even neutral for the target producers (cf. DeWalt and
DeWalt 1989 and references cited therein).
14. For further discussion of these point along with detailed examples from the realm
of animal healthcare, see McCorkle 1986, McCorkle and Mathias-Mundy 1992,
and McCorkle et al. forthcoming.
15. For some telling examples for Ag&NRM in Africa, see Gatter 1993 or Leach
1991, 1992, in press.
16. What constitutes a household, particularly in Africa, can be analytically
problematic. Without going into detail here (see, e.g., Leach in press and Moock
1986), a biosocial-groups approach can obviate some of these problems due to its
more precise and multi-level specification of roles and groups.
17. Along with clans, however, such high-level socio-organizational entities may have
little or no functional significance for Ag&NRM or other development sectors at
the local level. But as always, this must be established empirically. And once
again, the emic reality of such named entities could conceivably serve as a basis
for social mobilization around a development goal.
18. For a detailed example of the operation of such systems, see McCorkle 1983a and
1987. For a regional overview of sectoral fallowing systems in the Andes and a
general discussion of the technical and socio-structural and political rationales
behind them, consult Orlove and Godoy 1986.
19. This statement a result of the time and space constraints on conference papers,
lectures, and journal articles is a good example of the kinds of over-
generalization about gender or other roles that this approach seeks to avoid. In
fact, among Andean agropastoralists both sexes have important but different and
sometimes joint tasks, decisioning power, etc. in animal and plant agriculture.
These include some critical crossover roles in the technological knowledge
possessed by Andean women and men such that each participates in and exercises
some quality control over certain aspects of stockraising versus cropping. For
instance, women perform the selection of seed potatoes; and men typically handle
certain livestock operations like dipping, which is also an occasion for assessing
animal condition and possible disposition (e.g., Fernandez 1992). However, the
final decision to dispose of an animal owned jointly by the husband-wife pair can
be made only at the household level. Conversely, Andean men and women may
both hold knowledge of and engage in certain tasks. Illustrating from the domain
of transformation, in processing wool into woven goods, both genders weave
(although their techniques and products typically differ). Ag&NRM task
implementation itself is in truth highly variable across and within biosocial groups
in Andean agropastoral communities, although there are of course cultural
preferences and ideals. For example, who does marketing both sales and
purchases varies; sometimes even neighbors perform this task for another
household. In the domain of consumption/nutrition, husbands are often seen
helping their wives cook; when men are alone at herding outposts they cook for
themselves. And so forth.
20. McCorkle 1993 offers a semi-hypothetical example of the framework's application
in an African context, taking as the problem issue the establishment among rural
females of microenterprises to process and market an uncultivated forest product
21. The parallelisms between soft systems methodology (SSM) and the framework
presented here are startling, given that the former grew out of systems
engineering and has been applied mainly in marketing, service delivery, and
organizational or information management, whereas the latter emerged from
human systems ecology as applied to technically defined problems in international
Ag&NRM development. But as history would have it, both are informed by the
pioneering work of Ludwig von Bertalanffy (1968) in general system theory.
Translated to Ag&NRM, the two approaches share such features as the problem-
oriented starting point, an emphasis on producer participation in order to elicit
emic views of the problem and possible solutions, a combination of cultural and
logic-based analysis, a concern with monitoring performance indicators to see if
the proposed interventions are in fact addressing the problem issue, and attention
to both environmental (in an all-inclusive sense in SSM) and social contexts. In
the last respect, however, the biosocial framework appears to be more rigorous in
identifying relevant social groups and actors and then relating them to activity
domains. This is perhaps what has led some users of the framework to compare
it with stakeholder analysis (Comstock 1993, personal communication). Both SSM
and the biosocial-groups framework also echo many aspects of activity theory as
applied to the dynamic analysis of organizations (cf. Holt and Morris 1993).
Ultimately, a theoretical melding of these various approaches holds promise for
elaborating a unified methodology for grappling with practical, on-the-ground
development problems. But that is subject for considerable future work.
22. Along with other researchers and educators, these two individuals are preparing a
training module on gender analysis using the biosocial-groups framework; the
module is slated for completion in late 1993. Interested readers can contact
Covington and Greene at: WIAD, P.O. Box 110260, University of Florida,
Gainesville, FL 32611-0260.
Individuals (see Table 1)
Figure 1: BIOSOCIAL GROUPS IN Ag&NRM
Table 1: Individuals
ISEX AND AGE' KIN STATUSb
Girls Adult women Elder women Consanguineal
Boys Adult men Elder men Compadrazgo
SEmic age definitions should be used; they may result in more than the three divisions displayed illustratively
b Defined vis-a-vis the culturally titular head of household.
Table 2: Biosocial Groups'
Community organizations, e.g.:
councils of elders
Common-interest associations, e.g.:
*Minor and/or major lineages
Workgroups of kith and/or kin
Contractual associations, e.g.:
share-herding or sharecropping
traditional trading partnerships
*Minimal and/or minor lineages (non-co-residential)
*Minimal lineages (the householder and his/her family plus families of married heirs)
Extended households (intergenerationally, polygamous, other)
Matrifocal households (the householder and her children, plus daughters' children)
Senior family (the householder's)
Junior families, e.g.:
families of householder's siblings
families of householder's children
"Attached" families or units, e.g. of:
impoverished relatives (real or fictive) other than junior families
Cookfire units (a mother and her children)
SStarred groups are mostly found in Africa.
b Placement of some groups at one level or another reflects their more common occurrence at that level.
Compadrazgo relations, for example, may exist within extended households in Latin America, but more often
such relationships are initiated between different households, so as to strategically access to extra-household
human and biophysical resources.
(herbs and medicinals)
poultry, horses, garden produce, field peas,
swine, burros, sheep, oats, ulluku, uqa, broadbeans,
guinea pigs, goats, cattle, wheat, quinua, maize, barley, tarwi,
llama, alpaca potatoes
Figure 2: AGROECOSYSTEM SECTORS
soil erosion and compaction
decline in forage quantity,
quality, and biodiversity;
invasion by toxic plants
poor livestock nutrition
livestock morbidity and
production and productivity
losses in cropping
losses in animal support
losses in animal support
services to croppinga
losses in livestock
production and productivity
a E.G., transport, traction, field clearing and manuring, cash from sales of animals and animal products with which to purchase cropping inputs.
Figure 3: THE HIGHLAND OVERGRAZING-W EROSION SYNDROME
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WOMEN AND INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM
MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY
The WID Program at Michigan State University began its WOMEN IN INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT
PUBLICATION SERIES in late 1981 in response to the need to disseminate the rapidly growing body of work
that addressed the lives of women in Third World countries undergoing change. The series cross-cuts disciplines
and brings together research, critical analyses and proposals for change. Its goals are: (1) to highlight women
in development (WID) as an important area of research; (2) to contribute to the development of the field as a
scholarly endeavor; and (3) to encourage new approaches to development policy and programming.
The WORKING PAPERS ON WOMEN INTERNATIONAL DEVELOPMENT series features journal-length
articles based on original research or analytical summaries of relevant research, theoretical analyses, and
evaluations of development programming and policy.
The WID FORUM series features short reports that describe research projects and development programs, and
review current policy issues.
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