Political settlements: An American polisci perspective

What is a “political settlement”? Or rather: what is political settlements “thinking”? And is there such a thing as political settlements “hypothesis”? After many private conversations on this question, I have decided to take the central term of much of the politics of development in the DFID ecosystem (including ESID) and I try to match it against the fundamental building blocks of political science as I learned it in a mainstream American polisci department. In turn, I examine political settlements as variable, hypothesis, mechanism, or paradigm. Continue reading Political settlements: An American polisci perspective

Academia should forget artists and embrace artisans

The more I read first drafts of working papers, the more I pick up on scholars’ diverse skills: some authors are really good at coming up with an interesting question; some can really execute a rigorous research design; some have a flare for composing elegant prose; and some are really good at organizing a manuscript. But few – very few!! – are good at all those things combined. In yet another piece in my saga to save academia from itself, I say scrap the expectation that a single scholar must struggle to be a creative, methodologist, writer and editor. An alternative system is possible.

Continue reading Academia should forget artists and embrace artisans

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