On October 19-21, the Polson Institute for Global Development facilitated a large group of academics from the department of Development Sociology in attending the 7th annual sociology of development conference in Urbana, Illinois. The Polson Institute also sponsored two undergraduate students in attending in addition to academic staff and graduate students. In reflecting on their experiences, the undergraduate students wrote pieces examining standout elements of the conference.
Breaking Barriers to Self-Sustaining Solutions
Written by Xavier Salvador
Individual agency. Sustainable knowledge. Community sovereignty. From the perspective of development sociologists, these are the imperatives we strive to advance and uncover in our research. Whether in efforts to expand access to education for the East African female population or reduce the determinants of food deserts in urban America, obstacles to decision-making and unequal distributions of power continue to preserve socioeconomic disparities. But the prominent development scholars, from Ithaca and around the world, at this year’s American Sociological Association’s Obstacles to Development conference presented numerous theoretical and policy frameworks for tackling systemic dilemmas of inequality.
One presentation that resonated with me for understanding how to implement sustainable development policies was Aubryn Sidle’s research on human development and girl’s agency in the educational systems across East Africa. Most development actors advocate for a modernized technology or an improved seed variety, but she advanced the notion that girls must possess the necessary workforce skills that support positive self-perceptions. In a context where women systemically possess lower educational attainment than men, building a singular school will not sustain change. Other intervention types such as directly targeting women’s health or economic empowerment, which are entirely necessary, may also seem more glamorous than individual autonomy. But if girls lack the localized skills necessary to improve their circumstances in the first place, the funding behaviors of external actors may be negligible. Agency must be supported by a person’s confidence in improving their own socioeconomic status. If aid and development organizations work to ensure that girls possess the skills necessary to support their drive for individual and social progress, national distributions of power will shift and become more equitable.
I came away from the American Sociological Association conference with a more attuned understanding for the importance of promoting agency within marginalized populations. As I approach my own research, specifically on marriage homogamy within the growing Cameroonian youth cohorts, I hope to utilize the lessons from Aubryn and other scholar’s research on sustainable development frameworks. With greater secondary schooling, younger citizens across sub-Saharan Africa will most likely exhibit increased concerns for their professions and may redefine long-term relationship pursuits. Access to institutions that promote socioeconomic growth leads to greater autonomy and alterations to traditional family dynamics. Development barriers only last as long as individuals proceed without the capacity for mitigating their implications.