You say potato, I say political settlement

Last week I had a chance to cath up with some friends from gradschool in the US, all of them trained as political scientists. And as I expected, none of them had ever heard the term “political settlement”, which features so prominently in development debates this side of the Atlantic (to be honest, I myself first heard the term when applying for my current position in ESID). Why is the central concept in British development politics absent from American academia? And, is there a way to bridge the gap so that we stop talking past each other?

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You can’t escape the KKV

A year and a half into my postdoc/researcher/comms person at ESID, one could take a look at my recent papers and interpret that I have given up on the methodological training that I received as a political science grad student: for the most part I have collected qualitative data and analyzed it in a more narrative than positivist way to make policy points. That is because I have learned that policy research is about persuasion as much as it is about the quality of the evidence. Plus I have wholeheartedly adopted Max Weber‘s philosophy that social science is the purposeful act of organizing the world to address relevant questions. Continue reading You can’t escape the KKV

The agency paradox

Or: Why development researchers cannot tell policy-makers what to do, only how to think about what they do

The promise of policy-relevant research is the ability to influence policy-making through the supply of evidence for or against specific interventions. Development studies as an academic community is a perfect illustration of this aspiration: a significant part of its research is directly or indirectly funded by government, many of its researchers have also worked in policy as consultants or civil servants, and the field itself is organized around policy issues and not intellectual boundaries, attracting scholars from economics, political science, or sociology who are more interested in practical problems that disciplinary agendas.

But there is a fundamental conceptual obstacle between what policy researchers can offer and what policy-makers often demand: agency, understood as the ability of purposeful actors to change the world that they live in. Social science research –of the kind that development studies pursue- does not deal very well with purpose. For the most part it does not know what to do with change, either. No matter what the ontological, epistemological or methodological school a researcher may adhere to, the vagaries of social research are likely to push her towards trend, not exception, and towards stasis, not change. Continue reading The agency paradox

Cape Town post mortem: 6 things I learned about ESID

[Originally posted on the ESID blog]

I have been working as part of ESID for a little over 15 months now, but last week was the first time that I actually saw the faces of many of our partners and realised their passion for what they do. The Cape Town workshop was a whirlwind tour of the latest work on a panoply of policy issues (growth, education, oil, health…) across India, Bangladesh, Ghana, Uganda, Malawi, South Africa, Rwanda, Peru, Bolivia… By the end of it I felt a bit overwhelmed, but also satisfied that I finally had a good grasp of what ESID has achieved so far, and what interesting challenges lie ahead for us over the next three years. Here are some of the things I learned.

The Cape of Good Hope viewed from Table Mountain
The Cape of Good Hope viewed from Table Mountain

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