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On 15 October 2019, IMI’s researcher Kerilyn Schewel successfully defended her PhD dissertation, entitled "Moved by Modernity: How Development Shapes Migration from Rural Ethiopia," at the University of Amsterdam.

Kerilyn Schewel and IMI Researchers

Kerilyn’s dissertation examines how the social transformations associated with ‘development’ over the last century impacted the migration and settlement behavior of a traditionally semi-nomadic people in the central lowlands of the Ethiopian Rift Valley. Utilizing original survey data, in-depth interviews, and ethnographic methods, it examines two migration transitions over the last four generations: 1) from semi-nomadic pastoralism into settled agriculture, and 2) from rural agriculture into more mobile, urban-centric lives. To explain these transitions, the dissertation evaluates the impacts of different dimensions of social change–the political, economic, demographic, cultural and technological–on migration aspirations and behavior over time.

Her research finds that, first, the sedentarization of semi-nomadic lifestyles was an integral part of modern nation-state building in Ethiopia. This settlement set the foundation upon which new forms of rural-urban and international migration would later emerge. Second, it finds that rural out-migration among younger generations – whether to a neighboring town or to the Middle East – is driven by rising access to formal education, growing rural-urban connectivity, and the expansion of market forces. It shows why ‘development’ stimulates a widening aspiration-opportunity gap for rural youth; aspirations are increasingly oriented towards urban futures, which cannot be realized in rural areas and thus require migration to achieve. However, many still remain in rural areas, lacking the capability to leave and subject to a new existential experience: the feeling of being trapped. These findings challenge popular ideas that development aid can reduce the root causes of migration by showing why development, in its current practice, is the root cause of much contemporary migration.

Kerilyn’s research contributes to the Migration as Development (MADE) research project, funded by the European Research Council. The MADE project develops new theoretical and empirical approaches to gain a fundamental understanding of the relation between development processes and human migration across six case study countries: Brazil, Ethiopia, Italy, Japan, Morocco, and the Netherlands. Kerilyn led the Ethiopian case study.


To read more about Dr. Schewel’s research in Ethiopia, see: