Doctoral Dissertation Research: Forced Migration and Economic Development

  • VanWey, Leah K. (PI)
  • Randell, Heather (CoPI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


Forced migration due to development projects and environmental change is a growing source of social upheaval in much of the world. Economic development is tied to the expansion of hydroelectric dams, highways, mines, and urban infrastructure, and an estimated 15 million people per year are forced from their homes to make way for such growth. Past research indicates that forced migrants displaced permanently by development projects are rarely able to regain their livelihoods, risking impoverishment due to landlessness, joblessness, food insecurity, and the loss of social networks. In addition, a number of scholars have called for a greater theoretical knowledge of the social processes surrounding forced migration. By understanding the decision-making process among those forced to migrate as well as the factors associated with the ability for displaced families to rebuild livelihoods, we will be better prepared to address displacement from future dams, large-scale infrastructure projects, and environmental change.

This dissertation will study the case of forced migration due to the Belo Monte Dam, which is currently under construction in the Brazilian Amazon. By drawing from literature on the social impacts of development in the Amazon, demographic research on migration, and sociological and anthropological work on development-induced displacement, this research seeks to expand understandings of both the process and socioeconomic outcomes of dam-induced forced migration. A unique strength of this project is that it draws on prospective data, which enables following the migration process as it unfolds rather than relying on retrospective accounts. She uses pre- and post-displacement household survey and semi-structured interview data to answer the following questions: (1) How do households navigate the process of forced migration and adapt livelihood strategies to their new land and resources? (2) What factors are associated with changes in household-level income, assets, and subjective well-being after forced migration? and (3) What characteristics of Belo Monte?s rural resettlement program might mitigate the negative socioeconomic impacts often associated with forced migration?

This project will contribute to the field of migration and development by focusing on both pre- and post-displacement observations of forced migrants. In addition, this project offers insights that can be used by stakeholders to improve resettlement policies.

Effective start/end date8/1/147/31/15


  • National Science Foundation: $10,792.00


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