International Development

Research Projects

Find out more about some of our researchers’ larger projects and research collaborations below.

Further details on individual staff research projects can be found on their profile pages, accessible via the Faculty List

Current research projects

Postcolonial library legacies and new transnational maps of learning (2023-2026)

Sussex International Development Leverhulme Early Career Fellow Alice Corble

Since 2015, when the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ student-led movement erupted at the University of Cape Town, calls to decolonise universities have gained traction internationally. Yet there have been few tangible outcomes for British universities, with widespread misunderstanding and controversy about what ‘decolonising’ means in academic contexts. A recent Higher Education Policy Institute report underlines this and calls for urgent action to address a ‘silent crisis’.  This project addresses this problem by evidencing two key overlooked dimensions that underpin it: (i) the historical geopolitical dynamics of international university development between Britain and the rest of the world, and (ii) the crucial role of libraries and archives in shaping and mediating the colonial roots and legacies of global knowledge production and education.

The University of Sussex and its Library and Archive are key nodes in transnational networks of postcolonial HE development, based on Sussex’s position as the first of Britain’s ‘new universities’ established in 1961 with a local and global mission to draw ‘a new map of learning’ in contexts of shifting race relations via development of Commonwealth states and new patterns of immigration. The PI’s previous AHRC-RLUK-funded research (University of Sussex Library, 2021-22) has demonstrated significant legacy connections between Sussex and the University of the West Indies and various South African universities, libraries, and scholar-activist movements. The present project builds on these findings via a multi-sited ethnographic study of these transnational field sites, exploring past and present politics and material conditions of education and knowledge production.

This path-breaking project bridges disciplinary gaps and makes the case for HE institutions to take their colonial histories seriously by understanding the integral role of libraries and communities in both mediating, shaping and repairing these legacies. The project outputs will include publications and open educational resources co-produced with research participants in Caribbean and South African academic, archival and activist communities. These outputs will combine to form new global maps of learning that make visible and audible cartographies of knowledge and power that trace both epistemically violent pasts and reparative, fertile futures.
Read more on the Decolonial Maps of Library Learning research blog.

Development consultants and contractors: for-profit companies in the changing world of 'Aidland' (2021-2024)
Sussex International Development Researchers: Paul Gilbert

The guests of honour at the 2019 PricewaterhouseCooper Annual International Development Conference were the Chair of the Select Committee on International Development, and the Permanent Secretary to the Department for International Development (DFID). The presence of these luminaries reflects the increasing prominence of management consulting companies working within the aid and development sector. A glance at McKinsey’s ‘International Development’ website indicates why they would be interested in such an industry event. It promises fresh perspectives, analytical rigour and innovative solutions to bear on the world’s most urgent and complex issues. Tangible results are to be delivered quickly. These claims are persuasive - in March 2020, for example, DFID appointed McKinsey to administer the £70 million Invest Africa project. This represents just a small slice of the ODA budget directed to the for-profit development sector.

Development consultants and development contractors now permeate all aspects of the global development sector, and are increasingly the partners of choice against the backdrop of a wider ‘private sector’ turn. Our principal objective in this project is to explore the growing roles played within the UK's development landscape by: (a) management consultancy firms with international development interests; and (b) development contractors - firms for whom winning and implementing development contracts is their core business. This will involve both quantitative and qualitative exploration of aid flows; focus groups, Q sorts & interviews with contractors, consultants and policy makers; and case studies of projects involving consultants and contractors in Uuanda, Kenya, Tanzania, India, South Africa, Brazil, and Bangladesh.

This project is an ESRC Research Grants Open Call - £992,609.40). The research group includes: PI Emma Mawdsley (Cambridge), with Jo-Anna Russon (Nottingham), Jessie Sklair (Cambridge), Sarah Hughes-McLure (Cambridge), Brendan Whitty (UEA) and Paul Gilbert (Sussex).

Protracted Displacement Economies (2020-2023)

 Sussex International Development Researchers: Anne-Meike Fechter and Priya Deshingkar.

Around the world refugees and displaced people remain in limbo, unable to return home, unwanted where they are living and facing increasing difficulties to go anywhere else. The majority of refugees in the world have been in these situations for more than five years, a threshold usually referred to as 'protracted'. As crises become prolonged, the limitations of the humanitarian response have long been recognised as insufficient and inadequate. Refugees and Internally Displaced People caught up in these protracted situations often speak of watching their lives 'draining away'. The model of support offered to displaced people is known by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) as 'care and maintenance' but perhaps more accurately by advocates of a radical change to this policy as the 'warehousing' of refugees. Global policy interest is shifting from short term humanitarianism to longer term development focused responses to protracted displacement. This was most recently indicated by the Global Compact on Refugees, in December 2018. The Refugee Compact introduces positive language around the long-term self reliance of refugees. This project responds to this renewed political will to find new solutions to protracted displacement and builds on a large body of research and advocacy work in this area. The project investigates the replacement of the care and maintenance model with a new approach: the protracted displacement economy. The protracted displacement economy introduces two key innovations that will contribute to this original analysis as well the potential for impact. First, it is a whole of society approach. The focus is not just on displaced people but the 'displacement affected community', that includes the heterogeneous 'host' population, amongst others. The second key innovation is a fundamental shift in the understanding of the transactions that drive the protracted displacement economy. Financial transactions are the stuff of most economic analysis, yet key human interactions and exchanges or gifts, collective organisation, care work and mutual aid are largely non-financial.

You can read more here.

Selected past research projects

Analysing the transnational provisioning of healthcare in England, China and India (2019-2022)

 Sussex International Development Researchers: Dr Ben Hunter

This study addresses contemporary attempts by public and private organisations to position the UK within a globalised commercial healthcare economy. It asks how and why this ambition is being realised in England and in two major 'emerging economies' perceived as potential areas of market growth (India and China). It considers the implications for public or state-owned healthcare, health training organisations and healthcare users in the three settings. 

The context for this research is a period of globalisation in which there have been significance changes in how service sectors are organised, and how public services are managed and provided. In the healthcare sector, there has been an increasing expansion of markets and opportunities for investment in a global healthcare industry. In England, there have been cumulative market-based reforms in the National Health Service, while China and India have seen trade policy reforms, the growth of private hospital care and diagnostic services, and expanded fee-based healthcare.

This project seeks to understand these developments, and raise public understanding and awareness about healthcare commercialisation in the three settings, the kinds of changes being promoted and their possible effects.

You can read more here

Unequal access to social networks and skills in South India (2019-2021)

Grace Carswell (ID/Geography) and Geert De Neve (Anthropology) are conducting a project entitled ‘Unequal access to social networks and skills in South India,’ as part of a GCRF-funded grant ‘Challenging Inequalities: An indo-European perspective.’ Their research is undertaken alongside others at the University of Warwick, LSE, Centre des Sciences Humaines, Delhi, and French Institute of Pondicherry.

The research focuses on the state of Tamil Nadu, one of the most developed, urbanized, and industrialized states of India, in which we explore the persistence of inequalities of opportunity and outcome. More specifically we examine the ways in which access to (new) labour markets, socio-economic mobility, and social protection schemes are shaped by the interplay between skill formation, social networks and individual enterprise. The research builds on earlier research that has shown that a lack of skills is not the only cause of exclusion of certain social groups from particular labour market segments, as social networks, gender, age and caste significantly affect the opportunities of both individuals and groups (De Neve and Carswell 2018). Whilst marginalised social groups have historically been constrained in their access to formal education, it remains to be seen if new skill formation and networking opportunities are more widely available to them today.

The project aims to explore three key questions:

1. How is access to labour markets and (new) job opportunities shaped by education, skill formation and social network membership? What types of education, skill formation and social networks can be accessed by who and with what employment results?

2. To what extent does the acquisition of new skills enable members of marginalized communities to overcome caste, class and gender based forms of exclusion and inequality? How do social networks and skill formation foster or hinder forms of social and economic mobility?

3. How does the current neoliberal policy focus on skills development intersect with expanding social protection policies, such as NREGA and PDS? To what extent do they act as complementary tools in addressing forms of inequality and poverty in rural India?

We address these questions empirically through household and worker surveys conducted in two rural localities around the Tiruppur garment cluster in western Tamil Nadu, complemented with extensive interviews to obtain an in-depth qualitative and quantitative understanding of the current role of skills, networks and individual enterprise in mitigating rural inequalities.

TRAFIG - Transnational Figurations of Displacement (2019-2021)

Sussex International Development Researchers: Anne-Meike Fechter and Pamela Kea.

In this EU-funded Horizon 2020 research and innovation project, 12 partner organisations will investigate long-lasting displacement situations at multiple sites in Asia, Africa and Europe and analyse options to improve displaced people’s lives. Displacement is normally regarded as a temporary phenomenon. Yet, about 16 million people— more than two thirds of 20.4 million refugees worldwide—have been in exile for long periods of time without prospects of return, resettlement or local integration. The number of internally displaced persons who cannot return is unknown. Both groups find themselves in protracted displacement. The project aims at generating new knowledge to help develop solutions for protracted displacement that are tailored to the needs and capacities of persons affected by displacement. TRAFIG looks at how transnational and local networks as well as mobility are used as resources by displaced people to manage their everyday lives. TRAFIG will: provide academic evidence on refugee movements and protracted displacement; analyse which conditions could help to improve displaced people’s everyday lives; and inform policymakers on how to develop solutions to protracted displacement.

You can read more here.

Drought, Poverty and HIV Drug Resistance: threat to resilience in a vulnerable rural setting (2018-2020)

Sussex International Development Researchers: Dr Collins IwujiProf Dom Kniveton, Dr Sonja Ayeb-Karlsson

The Sussex Sustainability Research Programme-funded Drought, Poverty and HIV Drug Resistance: threat to resilience in a vulnerable rural setting (DROP-Resist Study) project brings together researchers from Sussex and South Africa to explore the linkages between HIV antiretroviral therapy and drought in South Africa.  South Africa is classified as an upper middle income country (UMIC) but is one of the most unequal society in the world. Umkhanyakude, one of its districts, is amongst the most economically deprived in the world. It is the epicentre of the HIV epidemic with a growing problem of drug resistant HIV. The district is affected by severe drought and was declared a drought emergency disaster area in October 2015.

The co-location of HIV and drought has made the former and diarrhoeal diseases the two leading causes of death in the district.  The project is based around the hypothesis that the added shock from drought contributes to HIV-positive individuals prioritising their means of livelihood over their health resulting in poor engagement with care and HIV drug resistance (HIVDR) in the district.

By investigating the increased vulnerability created by drought (SDG 13) and poor socioeconomic status (SDG 1), this project seeks to understand the difficult trade-offs HIV-positive individuals face daily between health care utilisation (SDG 3) and pursuit of economic sustenance (SDG 8). 

For more information, click here.

‘Sustainable’ development and atmospheres of violence: experiences of environmental defenders (2018-2020)

Sussex International Development Researchers: Dr Mary Menton, Dr Judith Verweijen, Dr Paul Gilbert,

In 2014 the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders identified environmental defenders as those most at risk of violence and death.  Global Witness reported that almost four environmental defenders were killed per week in 2017. This project aims to explore how environmental defenders experience violence in relation to projects designed to promote the Sustainable Development Goals, and why they continue to fight despite the risks. It focuses on defenders working around natural resource extraction and agricultural developments in Africa (DRC, Guinea-Bissau), Asia (Bangladesh, Cambodia), and Latin America (Brazil, Ecuador). In addition, it aims to identify the governance structures and socio-economic, political and historical conditions and processes that are at the root of atmospheres of violence around ’sustainable’ development projects. This British Academy-funded project responds to an area of urgent policy and humanitarian concern by examining how and why environmental defenders experience violence in relation to sustainable development

For more information see here

Sexual and Gender Diversity, Welfare and Precarity in India (2018-2019)

Sussex International Development Researchers: Dr Paul Boyce

This project is funded by the Sussex Social Science Impact Fund, and follows up on a previous case study (Livelihood, Exclusion and Opportunity: Socioeconomic Welfare Among Gender and Sexuality Non-normative People in India) carried out by Dr Boyce and colleagues at the Institute of Development Studies.

The project’s aim is to implement a process that will enable policies pertaining to the social welfare and employment needs of gender and sexual minorities in India to be developed. The project is based in Manipur, and involves the training of community advocates, and the development of sensitization workshops for social welfare agencies and employers.

Transformative Pathways to Sustainability (2016-2019)

Sussex International Development Researchers: Prof David Ockwell

Researchers from the project are carrying out comparative research in six hubs around the world on social transformations in the context of environmental change. The other hubs are based in Argentina, China, India, Sweden and the United States. The project covers three areas: sustainable agricultural and food systems for healthy livelihoods; low carbon energy transitions that serve the needs of the poor; and waste and water for sustainable cities

For more information see here

Evaluation of the indashyikirwa programme to prevent gender-based violence in Rwanda (2015-2019)

Sussex International Development Researchers: Dr Lyndsay McLean

The DFID-funded Indashyikirwa programme was a community-level Gender based Violence (GBV) prevention programme implemented in seven districts of Rwanda, from 2015 to 2019 by CARE International, Rwandan Men's Resource Centre (RWAMREC) and Rwanda Women's Network (RWN). 

The programme consisted of a package of interventions designed to work at an individual, family and community level to shift attitudes, practices and social norms that perpetuate gender inequality and GBV. It included a couples’ curriculum to prevent Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) and support healthy, equitable relationships, and then activism training to support these couples to encourage wider behaviour and norm change in their communities. This research project involved qualitative research on gender beliefs, behaviours and norms in communities to inform the programme design and then longitudinal qualitative research with couples participating in the programme to explore how the dynamics of their relationships changed over time

See here for more information. See here and here for articles emerging from this work, co-authored by Dr Lyndsay McLean.

ENERGETHICS: Norwegian Energy Companies Abroad (2015-2019)

Sussex International Development Researchers: Dr Dinah Rajak

The Energethics project focuses on the sustainability strategies and CSR practice of Norwegian energy companies which represent varying ownership models, including Statkraft, Statoil and Det Norske Oljeselskap.

Researchers are exploring how CSR policies are shaped by the following factors:  the Nordic corporate model for company-state-society interaction a globalised CSR discourse state ownership or majority state shareholding local factors and engagement with host governments and communities.

The project is tracking the production, circulation and implementation of CSR/Sustainability policy and practice empirically, following the chain of CSR processes from strategy to operations, from headquarters to project sites and communities in Canada, Indonesia, Kurdistan-Iraq, Northern Norway, Tanzania, Turkey and the UK.

For more information see here

Pathways of Women’s Empowerment (2006-2016)

Sussex International Development Researchers: Prof Andrea Cornwall

Pathways of Women’s Empowerment is an international research and communications programme established in 2006, which links academics with activists and practitioners to find out what works to enhance women’s empowerment. We are identifying where women are achieving real gains and discovering the positive and negative factors which have influenced their journey. 

Pathways have been funded by UKAid from the Department for International Development. The programme has also received financing from the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This has enabled the programme to expand to include countries in conflict, post-conflict and crisis situations.

See here for more information

Maximizing the Developmental Impact of Philanthropy: From Theory to Practice (2014-2015)

Sussex International Development Researchers: Prof Filippo OsellaProf Roderick Stirrat

This project built upon earlier research into the potential role of charity and philanthropy to support development using Colombo, Sri Lanka, as a case study. The earlier research indicated a considerable demand for assistance in defining more sustainable and effective approaches to charitable and philanthropic activities amongst charitable organisations, the general public and the corporate sector. This project utilised these findings to generate a more professional and effective approach amongst Sri Lankan philanthropic institutions.

See here for more information

Small Scale Irrigation: Politics and Moralities (2013-2015)

Sussex International Development Researchers: Prof Elizabeth HarrisonProf Dom Kniveton

Small-scale irrigation is seen as key to improving agricultural productivity, food security and rural incomes. However, a complex combination of challenges has frequently conspired to limit its progress. Climate change now further compounds these challenges. Adopting an ethnographic approach, this research project explores the role of power, politics and institutions in shaping the impacts and responses to environmental (climate) change among small-scale irrigators. This includes questions relating to the relationship between ‘local’ and ‘external’ rules and norms for the governance of water.

The project will examine how knowledge about innovations that facilitate adaptation is produced, valued, transferred and used within and between ‘communities’. This will enable us to assess how lessons about this might be drawn from one setting to another. We hope to obtain an understanding of why some induced irrigation projects and technologies have collapsed while others have operated successfully. The project will contribute towards both policy and academic thinking on how ‘growth’ in the agricultural sector in developing economies could be achieved within the context of multiple stressors.

See here for more information

New Economies of Development: Critical Engagements with the Bottom of the Pyramid (2012-2015)

Sussex International Development Researchers: Dr Dinah Rajak; Dr Paul Gilbert

In recent years “bottom-of-the pyramid” (BoP) schemes have attracted significant interest from international development institutions seeking to harness private sector resources for development purposes. Yet despite the growing number of BoP initiatives across the world, there has been comparatively little engagement from development studies with this new paradigm.

This project sought to address this gap by creating a space for new thinking, approaches, research methodologies, and evidence that critically engage with the development implications of the BoP model. We examined the distribution of gains and losses and risks and vulnerabilities in BoP markets, and asked how such models work in practice, what processes of inclusion and exclusion they give rise to, and whether they can deliver development that is both ethical and sustainable.

See here for more information

Realising Rights to Global Health: An Ethnographic Analysis of Rights-Based Organizations in Promoting Reproductive Health in India (2009-2011)

Sussex International Development Researchers: Prof Maya Unnithan

This project involved an empirical and theoretical study tracking the transmission of rights ideas and practices transnationally and through to local recipients, producing an analysis of how rights operate within different discursive spaces. The empirical work was carried out in Rajasthan, which has amongst the worst reproductive and child health indicators in India. The fieldwork focus was on rights discourse and practice at three sites: 34 civil society organisations (health related and legal); the private health sector; and the state.

See here for more information