Multidimensional Disparities

Development is a dynamic process. It reduces some structural inequalities while simultaneously giving rise to new disparities – both between and within social groups or geographic areas. CDE’s Multidimensional Disparities Cluster seeks to identify these inequalities and their dimensions, analyse their causes, and examine their consequences for sustainable development.

In the Multidimensional Disparities Cluster, we investigate uneven development, identify the dimensions of inequality, and examine and develop metrics to evaluate development processes in specific contexts. Our analyses identify “winners” and “losers” of global change, and contribute – together with local partners – to designing and implementing effective, goal-oriented initiatives on behalf of people-centred development.
We work worldwide, always remaining open to unexpected insights, examining questions such as the following: 

Which population groups are affected by extreme poverty, in what aspects are they particularly disadvantaged, and what factors cause them to remain in the “poverty trap”?
The Millennium Campaign successfully contributed to poverty reduction, but at the same time, various disparities increased. Multidimensional metrics are currently under discussion in the context of global sustainable development goals. These metrics show that in Laos, for example, certain population segments are disadvantaged in multiple ways (e.g. poor access to health services, education, markets). To be effective, poverty reduction measures must target the specific conditions of these groups.

What are the long-term impacts on men’s and women’s well-being of the transformation from relative self-sufficiency to wage dependency in rural areas?
Export-oriented agriculture promises greater yields than smallholding and provides employment for rural populations, especially women, in the global South. Does this improve the quality of life of affected families in the long run? In other words, does it increase people’s choices rather than their vulnerability? To find out, we are conducting comparative research in Bolivia, Laos, Nepal, and Rwanda.

What development perspectives do mobile pastoral communities have in the rapidly developing states of the global South?
The ecologically sensitive habitats of pastoralists in East Africa have come under increasing pressure from government-led development policies (land distribution, creation of protected areas) and climate change. Mobile pastoralist communities are often marginalized, and the economic and ecological benefits their way of life affords are given scant recognition.

Our studies reflect a wide range of empirical social research as well as participatory action research, bringing together quantitative and qualitative techniques. One of our core analytical points of reference is Amartya Sen's seminal contribution to social justice theory: the Capability Approach.

In a concrete effort to support processes of change, one of our main projects is the development of an interactive information platform in Laos together with government partners. The project captures a wealth of statistical data on land and population dynamics, displays the data spatially on maps, and makes it more accessible ( This initiative reflects CDE’s overall objective of shaping the debate on social and economic sustainability, in addition to environmental sustainability, and producing evidence-based knowledge for political action.