This thesis analyses the scope for the "self-help" model of rural development to succeed in its broadly stated aims of enabling rural women to advance their social status and enhance their own and / or their family's livelihoods. The thesis is organised around two key sites of investigation. The first questions the potential for "self-help" to operate within existing social relations - expressed in access to land, other assets and resources (including credit), and in different forms, conditions, and relations of labour. The second questions its potential to intervene in, and potentially overturn, these relations. These questions are embedded in a wider analysis of the ways in which individual and collective attempts to advance living conditions (or at least defend them from deterioration) are defined by historically (re)produced social relations. Analysis is centred on the South Indian State of Andhra Pradesh, where the "self-help" policy approach, now widely replicated as a model for central and federal interventions, is most established. This is a mixed-methods study. It draws on statistical analysis of large-scale secondary survey data, analysis of primary fieldwork, and of government policy documents and other relevant documentation. The thesis engages directly with the philosophical issues this raises, to develop a foundation for the logically consistent assimilation of statistical and "qualitative" methods into mixed methods research. Fieldwork centred on two villages in southern Chittoor district and relied primarily on repeated in-depth interviews with members of four self help groups and, where applicable, their husbands (30 respondents in total). Local officials and programme staff and bank managers were also interviewed. In addition, multi-level logit regression analysis was conducted with two large-scale, complex secondary data sets; the All India National Survey Sample (round 61; schedule 10; 2004/05) and the Young Lives Project Survey (round two; 2005/2006). An innovative weighting procedure was applied to adjust for the latter's non-random sampling procedure.The findings demonstrate the tensions invoked by state policy emphasising agential action in the absence of due regard for the structural relations within which actions not only take place, but in which the conditions for their possibility and articulation are generated, institutionalised, and reproduced. This situation is exacerbated by unfolding ecological crisis in the fieldwork village sites, problematising the land-based solutions traditionally advocated by the Indian Left. The thesis concludes that Andhra's self-help programmes can perform a non-trivial ameliorative role in the short-term, but this is undermined by a wider tendency to reproduce and potentially exacerbate ongoing processes of rural differentiation.