Is village immersion a new approach to development studies? Is suicide a development issue?

November 25, 2013

     By Duncan Green     

I was in Delhi this week, talking to Oxfam India and taking part in a conference on how to work on issues of governance, politics and institutional reformAmdkhar students (more on that later).

But on Wednesday I took time out to give a lecture (on poverty v inequality – powerpoint here – keep clicking) at Ambedkar University, a new social sciences outfit on the edges of Old Delhi (v atmospheric – an oasis of big trees and monkeys amid streets clogged with traffic).

The students (right) were from a new 2 year MPhil course in ‘development practice’ that gives 25 students a combination of conventional academic teaching and 8 months living in rural villages. And the students, judging by the Q&A after my talk, are top notch – not surprising since they get 8 applicants for every place.

It seems like a great idea – students live with families in villages, keep diaries, and get to know the realities of village life. Although other post grads do their time in ‘field work’, that is often more extractive (gathering data for the thesis), which is why Ambedkar calls it ‘immersion’ rather than field work.

The immersion is organized through a partnership with a rural NGO, Pradan, and takes place in some of India’s poorest states. Pradan says the purpose Ambedkhar approachof the partnership is to ‘draw well-educated youth to take up the challenge of transforming rural India. According to the course organizers,’ the challenge for the course is ‘How to move beyond ‘only writing’ on people’s miseries and ‘only practice’.

Now I’m never sure when I come across these things whether they are genuinely new, or just new to me, so over to you – anyone heard of other post-grad + rural immersion combos of this kind?

Full details here. And in case you’re wondering, the programme accepts a small number of foreign students.

The most intriguing question that came up in a lively Q&A was ‘is suicide a rich country or poor country problem’.

Subsequent in depth research (aka skimming Wikipedia) throws up a league table (in terms of suicides per 100,000 people), topped by Greenland. Top ten are:

  1. Greenland
  2. South Korea
  3. Lithuania
  4. Guyana
  5. Kazakhstan
  6. Belarus
  7. China
  8. Slovenia
  9. Hungary
  10. Japan

So the conclusion is no, there isn’t an obvious link to the stage of development. Some clear links to post-Soviet countries (Russia’s at number 13, amid a whole cluster of ex Eastern bloc countries). Anti-growthers will take note that a stellar development ‘success story’, South Korea, is at number two – a few years ago, I heard someone from the South Korean statistical office making exactly this point as he explained that Seoul was introducing new metrics to measure wellbeing in an attempt to bridge the gap between official stats and people’s lived experience.

Given the doubts over reporting, I don’t think giving the countries with the lowest rates (several at zero) makes much sense.

Any other patterns?

And here’s a youtube video (only partly in English) that gives you a nice feel for the Ambedkhar approach

November 25, 2013
Duncan Green