While visiting West Africa first as an archaeologist, Edward Carr, an associate professor in the Department of Geography at the University of South Carolina and author of Delivering Development: Globalization’s Shoreline and the Road to a Sustainable Future, found that the villages in which he was working were far more resilient to the impacts of climate change than he expected. Increased frequency of drought, declines in rainfall, severe storms – these challenges are the sort of thing that can “totally destroy someone’s livelihood in a year,” he said in an interview with ECSP, “yet they were surviving and surviving really, really well.”
That experience and others challenged his understanding of “how I thought the world was supposed to work, how I’d been taught the world was supposed to work, versus what I was actually seeing happen on the ground,” said Carr. “I became so struck by what people were dealing with in the current context that my interest started to shift much more towards what they were doing now.”
“The last 13 years of my career have been trying to figure out what’s actually happening on the ground first,” Carr said, and that led to writing Delivering Development.
“One of the key arguments I have is that the world does not work the way we assume it does – we are fundamentally misunderstanding what’s happening for most people living out, especially in rural areas, in the developing world,” said Carr. “The challenges they face are significant but not necessarily the ones we’re aimed at.”
For example, said Carr, “we see rising food prices globally and…the presumption is that the poorest people in the world are going to get really hammered by this.” But, he said, “That’s not entirely true, because a lot of the poorest people in the world living in rural areas have an option to just disconnect from markets completely – they go total subsistence if they need to.”
There’s an assumption that people shouldn’t be disconnecting like that, but, Carr pointed out, when new places are integrated into larger markets, “we’re also integrating them into new sources of risk that they may not be very well equipped to manage, and that becomes a really significant challenge.”
“We’re starting with the fundamental assumption that markets can be a solution, without necessarily really looking carefully at how markets can be part of the problem,” said Carr.