Upcoming conference presentations

I’m presenting several ongoing projects at APSA and the Effective States and Inclusive Development conference.  Come say hello if you’re around!

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Roundtable on “Increasing Inclusion of African and Africa-Based Scholars in Political Science.”  August 29, 10 – 11.30 am, Hilton (Gunston West).

Political scientists are coming to grips intellectually with challenges to the “entrenched, self-serving privileges and perspectives of global and national elites—economic, social, and cultural” in the United States and around the world. At the same time, the discipline is facing important challenges from within to its own entrenched elite. In the area studies subfields of political science, one manifestation of this conversation is over the inclusion of scholars from, or based in, the regions they study.

In this roundtable, we hope to provide a prominent space to continue this conversation, focusing on the African politics subfield. The roundtable will open space for African and Africa-based scholars to comment on inclusion issues that should be addressed by our subfield group, the African Politics Conference Group; by APSA; and by the discipline as a whole. We have invited junior and senior scholars as well as representatives from organizations that are working to increase inclusion of African and Africa-based scholars in political science. We hope that this will surface ideas that have worked — and challenges that still need to be overcome — from around the community.

Poster on “Building Infrastructure for Generalization in the Social Sciences”.  August 29, 3.30 – 4 pm, Marriott (Exhibition Hall B South).

Generalizability is widely agreed to be a desirable characteristic of social science research.  Many discussions of the topic present it as a tradeoff between a study’s internal validity, and its generalizability, which is best achieved by increasing its sample size.  At present, individual researchers usually bear all the costs of expanding the sample size, which means that generalizable single studies are undersupplied.  I argue that disciplines should subsidize and coordinate generalizable research by building infrastructure for systemic reviews and coordinated multi-site studies.  Both of these techniques expand sample sizes by aggregating data across studies, which lowers the cost to individual researchers.  The biomedical sciences provide a model of infrastructure for generalization within a mature research ecosystem.  Similar infrastructure is beginning to be developed within the social sciences, although it is not as widely used.   The substantive implication of this argument is that researchers should focus on their preferred type of internally valid research, and disciplines as a whole should take responsibility for assessing the generalizability of research findings.

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Panel on “Elite Cohesion and Institutional Development in Weak States.”  September 9, 3.30 – 5 pm.

In order to effectively govern a state, leaders must be able to delegate authority.  Delegation creates a principal-agent problem, as officials may use their power to undermine the leader.  Weak states are often trapped in an equilibrium where leaders do not wish to delegate power, and thus institutions which could facilitate delegation do not develop.  I argue that leaders of weak states may be able to temporarily solve the principal-agent problem if they are a member of a highly cohesive elite.  Cohesion implies that group members have strong norms about supporting each other, which lowers the risk of delegating power within the group.  However, cohesion tends to fade once a group is in power.    States which are able to take advantage of this initial period of cohesion to build stronger institutions may see long-run gains in administrative capacity and economic growth, whereas states which fail to take advantage of the cohesive period do not.  I illustrate this argument with case studies of post-colonial political transitions in Indonesia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  This study sheds new light on the question of why some state are able to improve institutions rapidly whilst others struggle to do so, and complements the existing literature on institutional development which tends to portray this process as one of slow, long-term improvement rather than rapid, discontinuous improvement.