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Countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America have seen different processes of structural transformation since the 1970s, meaning the transfer of labour and other inputs from one sector to a higher-productivity sector, such as the shift from agriculture to manufacturing. In each of these regions, rapid economic growth brought about by this structural transformation has been accompanied by large-scale social transformations. Livelihoods and lifestyles are changing, and new forms of governance emerging, but these shifts have often not been accompanied by the embedding of social rights.

Urbanisation has been rapid in some places, but slower than expected elsewhere. For example, China has witnessed dramatic growth of cities since 1978; however, many new urban dwellers remain formally registered in rural areas, with associated land rights and lack of urban entitlements. By contrast, India’s economic growth has not been accompanied by increased employment and a major rural-urban shift; instead the country has seen growing unemployment and under-employment, with lower migration levels. Questions of rural development thus continue to loom larger than might be expected. As a result, renewed distributive tensions between urban and rural areas have emerged, along with new forms of social conflict, and pressing questions around modes of urban and rural governance, inclusion of migrants in cities and the position of women in the workforce.

These conditions of urban and rural change have generated new demands for welfare provision and the improvement of public service delivery, and new protest movements have emerged. Since the early 2000s, many Asian, African and Latin American countries have engaged in the expansion of non-contributory social assistance that aided the decreases in poverty of the last two decades. However, the development of all these regions is bound up with important questions on the future of social policy; how to manage (often halted) rural-urban transitions, including the effects of rural-urban migration; and how to deal with – in Polanyi’s terms - the “social dislocations” arising from economic change.

At the same time, processes of social and spatial transformation that accompany capitalist development, and the associated movements of people, may also transcend nation-state boundaries. It is therefore important to examine how similar processes may play out transnationally, including with respect to labour migrants and refugees, and how national and local state policies and governance impact their lives in cities.

This research group aims to bring together those working on urbanisation, rural development and social transformations across Asia, Africa and Latin America, with a view to developing future networks, grant proposals and long-term collaborative projects.