David Neves

Senior Researcher

Tel: +27-(0)21-959-3735

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David Neves joined PLAAS in 2005. His research is broadly concerned with poverty and vulnerability, including the strategies of people coping with structural poverty and unemployment, in both urban and rural areas. His interest in poverty and vulnerability includes careful attention to social networks and the micro-dynamics of social change, and its articulation with the larger structural context. His interest in the impoverished and vulnerable livelihoods, has examined these in a number of overlapping issues and domains, including a firm focus on rural areas, the informal economy, and the larger agro-food system.

Research on poverty and marginalised livelihoods is vital at present, with the state paying more attention to tackling poverty and inequality — focused on job creation, backed up by social protection. Neves’s research illustrates the key role of state social grants in sustaining networks of social reciprocity, informal self-employment and small scale own-use agriculture.

Underpinned by international research networks, including in the past the CPRC (whose South African country programme Neves headed) there is increasing international recognition that African countries can and should implement social welfare systems to tackle poverty. Combined with minimum work guarantees, public employment schemes and greater support for informal sector workers, social protection can provide substantial support to marginalised people. Neves’s research focus continues to be on how social policy can support social protection and economic development to contribute to developing local economies in which the livelihoods of the marginalised and vulnerable poor can be supported.

In the last few years, Neves, in collaboration with the Centre for the Analysis of South African Social Policy (CASASP) at the University of Oxford, been involved in an ESRC funded project looking at ‘lone mothers’ and the relationship between of social grants and dignity. He researched rural employment and livelihoods as part of a large cross country ESRC funded project entitled ‘Space, Markets and Employment in Agricultural Development’. Received funding from the EU supported PSPPD (Programme to Support Pro-Poor Policy Development) to examine how rural development is imagined and implemented by the South African state drawing on rural field research. More recently Neves has collaborated with others to examine the relationship between poverty, nutrition and ill-health – including the ‘obesogenic’ nature of the food environment, in a project funded by the IDRC. Other research, in collaboration with human rights NGO the Black Sash and the London School of Economics, is examining inappropriate financial practices, reckless lending and indebtedness amongst social grant recipients in South Africa.

Research Focus

Poverty, inequality and vulnerability; ‘livelihoods’ (urban and rural); the informal sector (including self-employment); social policy and social protection; financialisation and indebtedness amongst the poor; agro-food restructuring and employment


  • MA in Research Psychology, Rhodes University

Selected Publications