In 2009, Brown University received a prestigious award from the National Science Foundation to advance doctoral training and research on economic, social, and political inequalities in developing countries. The grant provided $3.1 million to Brown over five years under its Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) program, which encouraged interdisciplinary academic training for US doctoral students. The program, “Development and Inequality in the Global South,” was directed by Barbara Stallings and Patrick Heller, and was a component of the Graduate Program in Development at the Watson Institute.

The program addressed the growing international concern about the causes and consequences of inequality in the global south, and the increasing recognition of the need for a new, more comprehensive approach to understanding and mitigating inequality. Despite tremendous efforts over the last 60 years, basic social and economic inequalities remain pervasive, and there is an emerging consensus in the social sciences and in policy circles that such inequalities can hinder growth, exacerbate health disparities, feed political and social conflict, and undermine governance. It is also now widely recognized that in an increasingly interconnected world, the global repercussions of domestic inequalities include the spread of infectious diseases, economic migration, terrorism, cross-national crime, environmental degradation, and political upheaval.

The program aimed to close an important gap in social science research. 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. Designed for Ph.D. students in anthropology, economics, political science, and sociology, the program aimed to transform doctoral training in the field of development in four ways:

  • teaching interdisciplinary theories for tackling the multiple dimensions of inequality;
  • training in a range of advanced measurement and analytical techniques;
  • providing solid grounding in local context; and
  • supporting extensive field work within international, interdisciplinary research teams.

The program initially comprised five research initiatives, drawing on Brown’s strengths and aiming for policy relevance:

  • markets and social inequality;
  • public health and social disparities;
  • megacities and inequality;
  • democratic governance and participation; and
  • global governance and inequality.

An interdisciplinary executive committee oversaw the IGERT program. In addition to Stallings and Heller, committee members included Andrew Foster, professor of economics; John Logan, professor of sociology and director of S-4; Daniel Jordan Smith, associate professor of anthropology and associate director of PSTC; and Richard Snyder, professor of political science.

Institutional collaborations for the IGERT program were forged with the Institute of Population and Labor Economics at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing; the Human Sciences Research Council in Pretoria; the Brazilian Center for Analysis and Planning in São Paulo, and the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in New Delhi. The collaborations included arrangements for partners to host students in the program, and for the Watson Institute to support visiting faculty and graduate students from partner institutions, complementing the NSF funding for U.S. students.