Making a living in a slum settlement: The relative influence of norms, cognition and group practices on slum dwellers’ choices related to earning a living
Keywordsslum dwellers, poverty, urban poverty, making a living, livelihoods, decision making, decision analysis, livelihood strategy, norms, intentions, motivation, behaviours, behavioural research, sociology, psycho sociology, social psychology, psychology, rationality, choices, Nepal, Kathmandu, slums, narratives, decision-making process, normative beliefs, valuation neglect, interpretation of norms, opportunities, normative system, decision practices
Full recordShow full item record
AbstractThis doctoral thesis explores slum dwellers’ decisions regarding their ways of making a living. The different aspects of earning one’s life in a poverty situation have been mostly studied from the perspective of livelihood assets, the circulation of information about opportunities, the management of skills and relationships, and the affirmation of personal significance in carrying out one’s livelihood strategy. By contrast, this research investigates the decisions behind making a living, by looking at the relative influence of 1) the norms shaping the slum dwellers’ environment, 2) slum dwellers’ individual intentions, 3) slum dwellers’ motivation to comply with others’ behaviours, and 4) the narratives slum dwellers build around the rationality of their choices. In an attempt to address the knowledge gap concerning the interactions between decision-making and poverty, the research documents and analyses the interplay of individual and social factors affecting decision-making processes in the Thapathali slum settlement of Kathmandu, Nepal. The research shows that through their discourse, slum dwellers relay normative beliefs, that is, beliefs which are influenced by norms or definitions of what is acceptable. It is found that these normative beliefs have a partially prescriptive role in determining how slum dwellers make decisions. Most unexpectedly, while slum dwellers’ interpretations of norms produce normative beliefs that are difficult to revise such as valuation neglect – the dispositions of slum dwellers to strive for further opportunities being limited by the collective interpretation of their constrained situation –, the research demonstrates that particular norms such as religious and caste-related norms create a room for manoeuvre as slum dwellers interpret these norms while serving their individual interests, therefore shifting the boundaries of the collectively accepted norms. Driven by one’s will to ‘opt out’ from caste discrimination, some slum dwellers instrumentalise their religious affiliation and convert to Christianity to overcome discrimination and access further benefits within the community, while others make use of their caste-related skills to enhance their array of opportunities. The research concludes that decisions related to making a living in situations of poverty are primarily characterised by the volatility of the normative beliefs behind these decisions: slum dwellers recurrently interpret and re-interpret norms in an attempt to best align their behaviours with their individual intentions and the collective reasons given for certain behaviours within the community. As such, it is the study of the production of normative beliefs that best achieves the unpacking of decision processes and decision practices related to making a living in the Thapathali slum settlement.