Kerilyn Schewel explores rural development and the capability to stay

Kerilyn Schewel, lecturing fellow at the Duke Center for International Development (DCID), has received an award from the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) for her research project titled “Rural Development and the Capability to Stay.” As part of the two-year project, Schewel and her research team is hosting two workshops and a virtual speaker series that focuses on advancing sustainable rural development in a way that enhances a person’s capability to stay and flourish in rural places.

The project was selected through the New Interdisciplinary Projects in the Social Sciences competition, held by the SSRC’s Scholarly Borderlands initiative. The initiative supports interdisciplinary projects that ask novel questions, develop new frameworks, and find innovative answers, with the hopes of leading to larger and more sustainable programs.

“Rural Development and the Capability to Stay starts from the realization that in our current models of development, rural places are often treated as an afterthought,” Schewel began. “The project acknowledges that no countries have experienced significant gains in human and economic development without witnessing substantial migration out of rural areas, while questioning the sustainability of current development models.”

“This project is asking about alternative approaches to rural development. We are particularly interested in initiatives that take seriously the participation of rural communities in generating and applying knowledge to improve rural futures,” Schewel added.

For Schewel, the award is a continuation of her research on understanding why development drives migration.

“It is commonly said that to stop migration, we need to develop the places people are leaving. But what kind of development is needed? My research focuses on why current approaches to development often stimulate migration, particularly from rural places. Development changes peoples’ aspirations for the kind of life they want to live and increases their capabilities to move through access to higher income, education, and infrastructure,” Schewel added.

“Rural Development and the Capability to Stay” exists as a response to these ideas. “This project is asking what are the causes of variation in this relationship, and what are different approaches to development that might lead to different migration and immobility outcomes?”

To achieve these project goals, Schewel and her co-researchers, Vesall Nourani from the University of Chicago and Sina Rahmanian from Bahá’í International Development Organization, will hold two invitation-only workshops, one at DCID and the other at Makerere University in Uganda. The workshop in Uganda will learn from participatory action research approaches to rural development. These discussions will, in turn, inform the publicly available seminar series, which will be co-hosted by DCID and the Center on Modernity in Transition in spring 2023.

“Regarding the workshops, the idea is that our numbers will be smaller, allowing for very focused and open discussion about some of the vital issues,” Schewel stated. “Out of these workshops, we are hoping to form an interdisciplinary network of academics and practitioners, and to generate the key questions and ideas which will inform a more public-facing virtual seminar series.”

When speaking of “Rural Development and the Capability to Stay” and its relevance to the actualities of international development, Schewel concluded affirming: “As more focus is going towards migration, this is a project that will take very seriously the constraints on rural livelihoods and the motivations of migrants who leave rural places, while offering forward-looking solutions to advance our understanding of what it would mean to build more sustainable and flourishing rural futures.”

In 2021, Schewel joined the Duke Center for International Development (DCID) in the Sanford School of Public Policy, which houses the Master of International Development Program (MIDP) program. The MIDP program is a rigorous interdisciplinary program for mid-career and senior-level professionals who plan to dedicate their careers to policy-making and public service in and for developing, post-conflict and transition countries. For more information or to apply, visit the MIDP website.

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