Weaknesses of sustainable-livelihoods analysis include the neglect of power relations; a focus on the material bases of livelihoods, ignoring social and cultural aspects; and failing to incorporate dynamism. This paper seeks to reinvigorate sustainable-livelihoods frameworks through a broader conceptualisation of institutions which identifies the multiple ways in which they mediate livelihoods. It draws upon Scott's (1995) three pillars of institutions (regulative, normative and cognitive) and the three schools of neo-institutionalism (rational, cultural and historical) to present a more comprehensive approach to understanding the ways in which institutions mediate livelihoods. These approaches are in themselves limited in their understanding of agency and institutional transformation. The paper argues that attention to "complex subjectivities" and contestations over meaning within a broader institutional context can identify entry points for strategic development interventions. The utility of the approach for development practice and research is demonstrated through its application to rural livelihoods in Andhra Pradesh, India.