The Concept of Survival Improvisation

This is survival essay in which we are going to talk about the concept of survival improvisation. This concept comes well in play as the people in the Alter community making use of the human economy. They improvised their empty spaces for bunkhouses for people, as well as sale of water, clothes and food. This can be similarly implied for the middlemen or the coyote where the use of human as income, acted on their economic security. Similar examples of can be derived from the roles of the money guards, where the poor paid individual to keep large sum of money. 

Other contexts on how the poor might engage in survival improvisation is the example of family labour in the coffee plantations in Mexico and Central America. Family labour is an excellent example of making use of resources such as labour in the case, which is readily available and cost efficient. Similarly, the cattle in the Basotho culture also act as a retirement act, or backup plan in times of sickness or circumstances when the man cannot sell labour. By lending the cattle out to friend, neighbour, and families, increases social capital, as it resonated towards collective solidarity that strongly emphasised on togetherness and belongingness. This related to what Ferguson stated as distributive livelihood which contributed to the poor’s economic security.

The poor are often defined in consideration of what people lacked and were expected to be, not on the grounds of what they were and wanted to be. The multidimensional factors of poverty and inequality, such as, basic education, health care or access to clean water, are often overlooked. The ILO definition of poverty as living below $1.25 a day diminishes these factors, because today’s poor might not be tomorrow’s poor, statistically speaking.

Poverty is generated in the cycle of violence, where institutions, social expectations and social stigmas reinforces poverty which is embedded in the structural and cultural violence in one’s society. Crewe and Alexby claimed that poverty was a form of structural violence, however, I disagree as I believe poverty is a symptom of structural violence and not the structural violence itself. To clarify, capitalism and neo-liberalism are a form of structural violence and poverty is the symptom of that.


To end up essays on survival, I agree with Ferguson’s concept of survival improvisation, it is interesting how the poor have acquired skills to survive without having any means of a definitive income. Survival improvisation stands on the ground of the poor making opportunistic decision in relation to the resources available to them to acquire economic security, and this economic security is acquired not necessarily in terms of monetary value but engaging in human economy as well.

Unlike the concept of the survival of the fittest, I believe the concept of survivor improvisation constituted more towards the resources one acquired on the intuition and real-life experiences that shaped their primary source of knowledge and survivor skills. The day to day survival skills reflected on the statement Ferguson (2015) makes of the poor’s embeddedness in the system of informal social protection.  

08 December 2022
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