A PhD With a Difference

The Graduate Program in Development (GPD) is an interdisciplinary initiative sponsored by Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. GPD was generally supported by an IGERT (Integrated Graduate Education Research and Training) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) between 2010 and 2016.

GPD seeks to promote social science research on processes of social, political and economic transformation in the developing world with a special focus on the problem of inequality. Inequalities of well-being and opportunity represent the most difficult and persistent obstacles to promoting equitable, democratic and sustainable development. As the problems of development and inequality become ever more complex and global, GPD aims to provide graduate students with the interdisciplinary skills necessary for innovative research.

The program supports training and research for PhD candidates in Anthropology, Economics, HistoryPolitical Science, and Sociology by offering specialized courses, funding field-based research, providing fellowships, hosting visiting faculty and promoting collaborative research initiatives with partner institutions in the global south. The program builds on a core group of faculty internationally renowned for their research and scholarship in the area of development and inequality.

Program activities are open to all PhD students at Brown. In addition to hosting trainees supported by their department, the GPD program admits eight to ten fellows a year who receive full support for one year. All trainees and fellows are eligible for summer fieldwork research grants. For details about becoming a trainee or fellow, click here.

The Case for Interdisciplinary Training in Development and Inequality

Understanding and promoting economic, social, and political development is one of the primary challenges for the world in the twenty-first century. Despite the tremendous efforts over the last fifty years, a large share of the world’s population–in Asia, Africa, Latin America, the Middle East, and some of the Transition Economies–still lives in abject poverty. And while many countries have made the transition to democracy, pervasive inequalities, weak political institutions, and fragile civil societies continue to pose significant challenges to the exercise of genuine democratic freedoms. The “problem” of development has moreover become an increasingly global challenge as issues of security, governance, economic stability, and environmental sustainability have become internationalized. Recent cases of economic collapse, political upheaval, and resurgent nationalism provide jarring reminders that we still have much to learn. Success stories that defy traditional trajectories of development-growth in East Asia, cases of social development without growth, and waves of democratic transitions-call for new explanatory models. In sum, coming to terms with these complexities requires modes of thinking, forms of knowledge, and tools of research that borrow from all the social sciences.

GPD is a PhD with a difference because it recognizes that the differences in perspective and technique that often separate social science disciplines are, in fact, a source of strength and innovation. By fostering multidisciplinary training, GPD aims to create a new generation of scholars with the intellectual breadth and the range of research skills required for coming to terms with the challenges and complexities of development in the 21st century.

A Focus on Inequality

While GPD promotes and supports research in the general area of development studies, it is especially focused on the one of the most crucial–but intractable–problems of the twenty-first century: the persistence of old and the production of new forms of inequality in the developing world. Inequality has long been treated as a specialized sub-area of social science research, but two recent developments have given the topic broader meaning and new urgency. On the one hand, even as globalization has created new opportunities, it has also generated new forms of inequality. On the other hand, there is increased recognition that high levels of inequality present substantial barriers to economic growth, democratic participation, social cohesion and environmental sustainability.

In developed economies the interplay of gender, class, race, and income inequalities has been extensively researched, but in developing countries the problem of inequality, although widely recognized, has received surprisingly little attention from researchers. Dealing with this challenge requires not just more effort, but a transformative new research strategy. The goal of GPD is to support and promote an interdisciplinary research community that integrates faculty, graduate students, and international collaborators, and combines advanced measurement and analytical techniques with grounded understanding of local contexts in the developing world. Integral to this new research paradigm is training a new generation of students who will simultaneously have interdisciplinary theoretical tools to understand the complexity of inequality in developing countries, cutting-edge methods to analyze data, and the extensive field experience necessary to collect quality data and interpret their results.

The program is directed by Prerna Singh.

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