MSc Thesis – Pieter Rosman – Social Networks and Rural Feeder Roads

Roads and social networks have been topical in research in the last few decades. Indeed, the two separate concepts are arguably vital in rural development but the study described in this
thesis is among the first to systematically link social networks and road infrastructure in rural development. After all, in most rural social networks in developing context, whether people
can benefit from their membership depends on physically accessing the network. This research has a twofold focus as it seeks to assess the role of social networks in the lives and
development of inhabitants of rural remote areas and to investigate the role of roads and mobility in creating, accessing and functioning of those networks.

This research shows how social networks operate and how they depend on- and are influenced by a recently constructed road in a case study village in the Northern Ethiopian Tigray region. The findings are based on 3 focus-group discussions with network members, 31 semi-structured interviews with inhabitants of the village that participate in various networks and 11 interviews with leaders of networks and government officials. Although membership is often self-evident or even obligatory, social networks appear to constitute people’s lives significantly in the case study. The results indeed indicate that both formal and informal as well as vertical and horizontal social networks play a large role in sustaining the lives of people in the rural village. Formal networks appear to be highly institutionalized, recently created and controlled by the government and aimed at economic, financial, employment or knowledge benefits. The informal networks on the other hand are century-old local traditions of charity and helping the community. Mainly based on reciprocity of the community membership rates of the informal networks appear very high compared to the formal networks. Regarding the road, although people are generally satisfied about the newly constructed road in their village, the effect of the road on social networks appears limited.

Altogether the data does not indicate the creation of new networks or disappearance of old ones because of the road construction. Neither does it suggest major changes in the way the existing networks operate. Some perceived effects however are found in the data: the main changes in social networks that respondents attributed to the rural road and increased mobility potential are an increase in frequency of meetings in vertical networks, an overall modest decrease in travel time and easier and comfortable journeys, the latter being especially true for groups less physically vital network members. Altogether, although roads can thus reinforce social networks, the issue of limited available and affordable (public) transport is problematic. As a result of this, virtually all social trips within the village to both
formal and informal network meetings are made on foot which is a time-consuming matter.

After critically reviewing these results, this thesis concludes by stating that ‘the social’ in general and more specifically social networks should be included as a factor in rural road appraisal, both by researcher and policymakers. Similarly, research on social networks in rural development should adopt mobility as a relevant factor in assessing the livelihood effects of networks. The ‘transport disadvantage’ of poor members of a network should be continuously included in these assessments.

Read the Thesis here: MSc IDS Pieter-Rosman Feeder road development

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Last modified: October 19, 2015