The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
recently awarded two Ball State University professors a grant to study the
effects of economic and social stress on those living in rural communities.
Emily Wornell, a research assistant professor in Ball State’s Indiana
Communities Institute (ICI), and Dr.
Ellen Whitehead, assistant professor of Sociology, received a $650,000
competitive grant through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI)
for their five-year research project, “Rural Informal Work in Economically,
Socially, Culturally, and Technologically Changing Contexts.”
The Indiana Communities Institute brings together many of
Ball State’s top research and outreach activities to assist Indiana communities
as they strive to improve life experiences for residents, businesses, and
“We are grateful to the United States Department of
Agriculture for funding this important research endeavor,” Dr. Wornell said.
“We feel this project is aligned with the Agriculture and Food Research
Initiative’s goals of promoting economically and socially sustainable,
resilient rural communities. We believe our research will produce a unique and
nuanced set of findings that may guide policy discussion regarding the local
and state response to informal work.”
Employing a mixed-methods approach, Drs. Wornell and
Whitehead’s overarching goal for the study is to enhance the prosperity and
well-being of rural communities by identifying the role that informal economic
activity plays in the livelihoods, social structure, and resilience of rural
people and communities, particularly in times of economic and social stress.
The study has the following objectives:
the ways in which rural people and households participate in and employ
informal work, and how this varies by social group membership (including, but
not limited to, differences in race, ethnicity, citizenship, social class, and
region of the country).
if and how participation in, and the role of, informal work shifts in response
to changes in social, technological, and economic contexts.
the impact of, and responsiveness to, COVID-19 in terms of informal economic
participation and the role of informal work in community resilience.
the role of technological change (including, but not limited to, social media,
electronic funds transfers, and access to broadband or cell phone service) in
either facilitating or inhibiting informal economic activity.
the networks individuals utilize to engage in informal work and whether/how
these local networks increase rural livability through strengthening attachment
to place, quality of life, and/or economic opportunity.
how, if at all, these networks and their potential impacts on rural livability
vary by geographic location and community characteristics (including, but not
limited to, proximity to urban centers and international borders, region of the
country, socioeconomic and ethnic/racial diversity of the population, presence
of university or college).
important lessons and considerations for state- and local-level decision makers
regarding the challenges and benefits of informal economic activity in
community resilience, social connection, and livelihood strategies.
The Indiana Communities Institute harnesses Ball State
talent and resources to help Indiana towns, cities, and counties address 21st
Century economic development challenges. These partnerships lead to informed,
effective projects, strategies, and training programs that bring development
efforts into the 21st century.
For more information on the
Indiana Communities Institute, visit
the ICI website, call 765-285-4912, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.