The Rural-Urban Interface: Gender and Poverty in Ghana and Kenya, Statistics and Stories

Women Creating Change

This project, which represents the workshop phase of an interdisciplinary, regional, consortial, Africa-led research endeavor, studies the rural-urban interface in Ghana and in Kenya, concentrating on the experience of women, youth, and men who inhabit this social and physical space.  The research group includes colleagues at the Universities of Ghana-Legon and Nairobi as well as at Columbia and other New York-area institutions.

The rural-urban interface or continuum extends from the rural to the towns and cities of the African continent.  It is quite variegated and is characterized by a complex nexus of sites, including primary and secondary sites in relationships of gain and loss, dominance and subordination, associated in different ways with rural-to-urban migration. This first phase of the project will therefore attempt to situate key questions in the African context, and especially, in the rural-urban dynamics of the specific region being studied. Such questions include the interaction of space, gender, and political economy; the role of translation in interpretative social-scientific work; and the interplay of stories and statistics in knowledge making.

Workshops based on a pilot study initiated by colleagues on Ghana and/or Nairobi will pay particular attention to gender relations in this space and to the feminization of poverty in migrant populations. The mix of approaches drawn from the humanities and social sciences is intended to help create productive collaborations among disciplines and among many actors, to get behind the statistics and move towards changing minds and building human capacity. As a working group, we will look at ways to combine qualitative knowledge with quantitative knowledge in a manner that highlights the real, impactful capacity of situated stories, narratives, and oral histories articulated by actual participants in these large-scale transformations, to illuminate and inflect the interpretation of other types of data that tend to dominate accounts and disproportionately inform policies. The humanities are a crucial source of knowledge of this sort, and, of language-sensitive learning techniques that are attentive to nuance and open to unexpected information or interpretations. Working with narratives, as well as statistics, will yield, we expect, nuanced insights that are unavailable to more conventional approaches.