This article discusses the value of livelihoods studies and examines the obstacles which have prevented it from making a greater contribution to understanding the lives of poor people over the past decade. After examining the roots of the livelihoods approach, two major challenges are explored: the conceptualization of the problem of access, and how to achieve a better understanding of the mutual link between livelihood opportunities and decision-making. The article concludes that access to livelihood opportunities is governed by social relations, institutions and organizations, and that power is an important (and sometimes overlooked) explanatory variable. In discussing the issue of access to livelihood opportunities, the authors note the occurrence of both strategic and unintentional behaviour and the importance of structural factors; they discuss concepts of styles and pathways, which try to cater for structural components and regularities; and they propose livelihood trajectories as an appropriate methodology for examining these issues. In this way, the article also sets the agenda for future livelihoods research.