The breakdown of the Washington Consensus in favor of market-oriented reform has left the study of economic development in a state of flux and more open to new and alternative approaches.  Scholars and practitioners have increasingly argued against a one-size-fits-all approach to development policymaking.  Instead, they maintain that policies and strategies need to be tailored to specific contexts, which in turn requires the careful analysis of existing institutions, social organization, cultural norms, and political processes.  Representative questions that animate this debate include:  What role does inequality play in fostering or inhibiting growth (reversing the usual question)?  What are the variable roles of ethnicity and identity in promoting collaboration or contention in development?  Why, despite increasing growth, investment, and education (human capital), does productivity stagnate in so many developing countries?  How does “history” (i.e., colonial legacies, path dependence, etc.) influence social and economic development today?  And, more generally, what are the non-economic bases of economic success and failure?  Prominent among the answers are new perspectives that underscore the importance of factors such as institutions, identities, social networks and capital, local knowledge, and learning in promoting or impeding development.  Although these perspectives do not add up to a coherent new consensus, they do share a commitment to looking across disciplines and grounding theory in careful empirical research.

We plan to bring together an interdisciplinary group of scholars interested in developing a transdisciplinary language and toolkit capable of enhancing our understanding of international development and inequality.  Participants will pursue field research in developing countries (or possibly archival research on the process of development elsewhere); collect and analyze qualitative and/or quantitative data; and pay careful attention to issues of research design, concept formation, hypothesis testing, and theory construction. 

We invite applications from students who are exercised by the puzzle of economic development and committed to transcending -- but not abandoning -- the boundaries of their current disciplines.  We hope for applications from the full range of social science disciplines and look forward to drawing upon each of their strengths.  Although not required, we also welcome applications that propose utilizing multiple methods, carrying out cross-national or regional comparisons, and/or pursuing policy-relevant research.


  • Martin Jorge Ardanaz

    Columbia University, Political Science

    Inequality, democracy and redistribution in Latin America
    What determines the extent of income redistribution across Latin America? Cross country evidence on the distribution of income show that Latin America ranks at the top among world regions in terms of income inequality. While many factors influence the distribution of income and assets generated by the economy, the view of inequality as stemming only from pure market forces (e.g. globalization) is erroneous. In particular, politics, institutions and policies are crucial factors to explain distributive outcomes. The goal of my dissertation will be to analyze the political determinants of income redistribution and inequality in Latin America. In particular I want to study variation in the redistributive capacity of fiscal systems by looking at factors that affect both the demand for redistributive policies by citizens and the supply of such policies by politicians. As a working hypothesis, I argue that in the context of democratic regimes, variations in (1) the political organization of the poor, (2) linkages between parties and citizens/interest groups and (3) state capabilities are key explanatory forces behind politician’s choice of different mixes of fiscal policy that in turn affect distributive outcomes. In order to test this hypothesis, I will use a small-N research strategy to focus on two countries where redistributive polices have been recently implemented to successfully reduce inequality (Brazil and Chile) and a third country (Peru), where income inequality is exacerbated after the state’s fiscal intervention.
  • Javiera Barandiaran

    University of California / Berkeley, Environmental Science and Public Policy

    Environmental knowledge-production and sustainable development: between the university and the state
    Revitalizing development studies implies improving our understanding of sustainable development, particularly how environmental science is used in collective decisions about natural resource use. Much of this knowledge is produced at universities, which have become the object of innovation policies to improve economic competitiveness. The higher education sector is changing; many of these policies are being adopted without considering developing countries’ differences with respect to developed countries. This process has gone particularly far in Chile, where three decades of liberalization have now fully transformed the higher education sector. As higher education becomes privatized, where are debates about sustainable development supposed to happen? What are the consequences for environmental science research and development goals? Shifting the research focus from “widget-production” to “knowledge-production” draws attention to university-state relationships and the role of national knowledge-creation and transfer capacity in social and economic development. As a nexus between citizens and workers, thinkers and producers, the upper and the lower classes, universities promote shared identities and define social and economic problems and opportunities. Through archival work and interviews with personnel at a range of knowledge-producing organizations in Chile, I will examine university-state relations, and the impact of organizational changes on universities’ envrionmental research agenda and knowledge-transfer practices.
  • Gabriela Calderon Guemez

    Stanford University, Economics

    Financial Education to Women Enterpreneur: A Field Experiment Approach
    Researchers in development economics have embraced the use of field experiments to isolate and identify key causal mechanisms in the development process that could not have been identified otherwise using existing data. Despite recent attempts, a persistent puzzle is the observation that that some micro-entrepreneurs with low education are not efficiently running their businesses, i.e. setting prices below marginal cost and not profit maximizing. Working with an NGO in Zacatecas Mexico, CREA, I will randomly offer business training to micro-entrepreneurs, and with baseline and follow-up surveys, observe if firms become more efficient, and how. Randomization both within and across villages will provide the proper counterfactual to identify key aspects of the treatment. A further question this project will analyze is the transmission of information about business practices within communities. For some treated individuals, I will provide incentives to “become teachers” and thus compare the “natural” transmission mechanism of information in a community without these incentives. Knowledge learned from this field experiment will help inform the development community at large about potential inefficiencies in micro-enterprise that require government intervention.
  • Karen Ellis

    University of Chicago, Political Science

    Between Profit and Piety: Islamization in the Age of Globalization
    Literature and policies about development in Islamic nation-states are peppered with assumptions of cultural backwardness, portraying populations that have declared the Sharia as the supreme law of the land as a problem for development. My research takes issue with claims that “Islamization” is necessarily incongruous with notions of profitability, economic growth and overall development. By comparing three cases that have recently attempted to implement an explicitly Islamic notion of finance, Pakistan, Iran, and Sudan, this project asks: what is the effect of Islamic finance on economic development? The objectives of my research are three. First, I aim to explicate why these countries chose to tackle underdevelopment by relying on self-described Islamic solutions to prevailing problems. Second, this project studies the strikingly varied political conditions under which Islamic economic solutions came to the fore. Third, I track the influence of interventions by International Financial Institutions (IFIs), such as the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, on the politics of Islamic finance in these countries. In attending to the importance of institutions while also underscoring various interpretations of both finance and Islam, my work focuses specifically on the conditions under which banking practices and prohibitions against riba (interest) work to either promote or undermine development.
  • Carlos Luis Freytes Frey

    Northwestern University, Political Science

    Risky choices: financial liberalization and the political economy of debt and taxation in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico.
    In spite of the neoclassical consensus that predicts a positive effect of financial liberalization on economic growth, empirical studies fail to confirm such an effect for developing countries. Addressing this seeming theoretical anomaly requires a more thorough understanding of the role of the state in channeling capital flows to developing countries. When it comes to the state’s revenue, governments face a temporal trade-off between debt and taxation. Access to international financing may enhance governance and facilitate economic reform in the short term by diluting distributive conflicts. Yet in the long run external indebtedness constrains policy choices and forces fiscal adjustment upon governments. Alternatively, increasing tax revenues requires sustained investment in state’s institutional capacities to extract resources from domestic actors and may be politically costly in the short run. What structural factors and institutional and political dynamics explain developing countries’ choices regarding the trade-off between taxation and debt over time? How do these choices shape the macroeconomic and political consequences of financial liberalization for developing countries? I intend to explore these questions by means of a comparative historical analysis of the politics of debt and taxation in Latin America since the late ‘70s.
  • Jason Jackson

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Urban Studies and Planning

    The Political Economy of Indian Institutional Reforms: The Dynamics of State-Society Relations and Industrial Upgrading
    Despite significant economic reforms over the past twenty-plus years and increasing economic growth and structural transformation, it is held India needs to liberalize faster and more deeply in order to maximize its developmental potential. This argument is especially made with regards to the imperative to compete with China, which is seen as the high-flyer – the dragon versus the elephant rather than the dragon versus the tiger. The experience of Latin America and Eastern Europe provides reason for caution against programs of rapid and extensive liberalization. This is particularly so since in spite of – or perhaps because of – the nature and pace of India’s economic reforms, an examination of the Indian industrial landscape reveals significant success in a wide range of areas, not only in the much-touted software and pharmaceutical sectors that dominate headlines in the West, but also in manufactured goods, the very area where India has long been held to be most deficient, especially relative to ‘the world’s factory’, China. Thus, despite the criticisms of the relatively slow pace of reforms India has seen the emergence of globally competitive manufacturing industries with domestic firms very well represented. This empirical record raises the question of whether India managed to develop a strong industrial sector despite eschewing the conventional approach to liberalization or because of its unorthodox approach. If Indian success has been due to its heterodox approach to industrial development, rather than accelerating the pace of industrial upgrading, radically liberal institutional reform may kill the goose that lay the golden egg. A better understanding of the evolution of Indian institutions and their role in industrial upgrading is necessary to inform the way forward.
  • Sohini Kar

    Brown University, Anthropology

    Financing Development: Toward an Ethnographic Analysis of Microfinance and Banking in the Everyday
    In recent years, there has been an increasing popularization of microfinance in development policy. In India, the problem of “financial exclusion” has been largely addressed through grassroots and non-governmental organizations that offer innovative solutions, often in rural settings. However, “the next billion” financially excluded urban households have evolved into an opportunity for the commercial banking industry. How then are the different kinds of institutional settings—private/public, financial/non-financial—for banking services understood and conceptualized by individuals accessing them? This research project aims to provide an ethnographic and qualitative analysis of the ways in which individuals accessing development funds through microfinance in Kolkata, India interact with financial institutions and its impact on and consequences for development policy. The ethnographic study of banking as an everyday practice offers an opportunity to understand how ideas of risk, speculation, and economic knowledge are circulated and reconfigured through the emergence of new economic technologies. In particular, as microfinance gets deployed as a development technique, there remain questions—particularly in light of the global financial crisis—about how these new kinds of financial services and products interact with social structures, including kin networks and neighborhood communities, as well as local ideas about money and value.
  • Nicolette D. Manglos

    University of Texas / Austin, Sociology

    "Spirit, Power, and Behavior Change: Pentecostalism and Development in Ghana"
    Pentecostalism is a fairly new religious movement that has grown significantly in the past century, particularly in Africa and Latin America. One of its hallmarks in less-developed countries is the claim that the moral transformation of individuals (i.e., supernaturally-motivated behavior change) can in turn effect development in society, alleviating social ills. Though their techniques are drastically different, this assumed connection between individual “risk” behaviors and community development is shared by much current development work in Africa (e.g. the “ABC” model of HIV prevention). Yet there is also a growing body of fieldwork suggesting that behavior change models of development have been stymied because they frequently underestimate moral dynamics at work as well as the structural constraints on the social behaviors of the poor. Potentially, Pentecostal and other local religious organizations could be a moderating factor for behavior change, providing locally-motivated models for more successful development programs. Using interviews with university students in Accra, Ghana, a hub of Pentecostalism in West Africa, this study seeks to answer two questions: 1) what effect does Pentecostal membership have on development behaviors such as entrepreneurial activity, education, and patterns of social relationships? 2) Which aspects of Pentecostal congregations appear to be motivating these changes?
  • Jacob I. Ricks

    Emory University, Political Science

    Politics and Constructing Social Capital: Irrigation Associations in Southeast Asia
    Development scholars and practitioners have long explored the benefits of social capital to overcome collective action problems. They have also been cognizant of the difficulty of achieving and maintaining a level of social capital that is beneficial for both economic and political development. This dissertation argues, in correspondence with Theda Skocpol, that the state is intimately involved in the creation of institutions which can “scale up” social capital, or, as Peter Evans has argued, translate it from narrow local loyalties into an organizational structure efficient for development. Such action, though, is often difficult due to political, historical, and social factors. I will present a theoretical explanation for the role of the state in scaling up social capital, paying special attention to the political variables which affect the state’s ability to engage in institutional creation and implementation. The theory will then be comparatively tested by investigating the creation and implementation of a number of irrigation associations in two Asian countries: Thailand and Indonesia. These cases will also be compared to the relative success of Taiwan’s irrigation associations. Through rigorous qualitative research, I will assess the relative importance of politics, history, and sociological factors in accomplishing the developmental task of scaling up social capital. In essence, I hope to explain how social capital can be scaled up and under what conditions scaling up will occur.
  • Rebecca Senn Tarlau

    University of California / Berkeley, Education

    Rethinking Schools: Rural Development, Education and Collective Action in Brazil
    Education is seen as the solution to a range of economic and social issues, however, exclusive focus on access to schools ignores critical questions about how education actually achieves development goals. This project focuses on the education system established by the Brazilian Landless Workers Movement (MST), the largest contemporary social movement in Latin America. The MST’s explicit goal is for schools not only to educate in the traditional sense, but to also organize youth and adults into agents for change and development in MST communities. The MST schooling system is based on the pedagogies of the Brazilian educator Paulo Freire and the idea that education can be used to help people in oppressive conditions collectively define solutions to improve their lives. Freirean educational practices have taken root around the globe, but there is still a lack of empirical studies that show how or if these educational processes are linked to social and economic development. Most studies of Freirean educational programs focus on individual personal transformations, because the link between personal transformation and education is easier to make. In this study, I will investigate the relationship between MST schools and development in MST rural communities across the country.
  • Sheba Tejani

    The New School, Economics

    Economic Development and Feminization of the Labor force
    My dissertation proposal tests and questions the widely accepted view that globalization is associated with the feminization of labor in the export-oriented sectors of manufacturing in developing countries. By feminization I mean a high female intensity of employment. I intend to investigate whether there has been a defeminization of labor as output has shifted to towards hi-tech manufactures in developing countries, as the gender wage gap has narrowed or as structural change has set in by developing an econometric model using a cross-country data set for the period 1990-2004. I will also attempt to understand the emerging patterns of the gender segregation of professions within the IT enabled industry in India by doing an in-depth and interdisciplinary qualitative study. This study is important for it reveals how gender hierarchies are perpetuated at the frontiers of a dynamic and globalized service sector industry in a developing country such as India.
  • John A. Zinda

    University of Wisconsin / Madison, Sociology

    Transnational Encounters in Developing China's New National Parks
    Transnational conservation organizations, local and national state organs, businesses, and local residents are collaborating to make new national parks in Diqing Prefecture of southwest China. These parks are the centerpiece of a development drive founded on cultural tourism and nature protection. Members of each group proclaim the parks a tremendous advance and vaunt their own contributions, yet each also begrudges the compromises that must be made. This proposed dissertation concerns how these actors turn globalizing ideas into particular manifestations of development, with attendant social and ecological consequences. What are the roles of the state, businesses, residents, and NGOs in establishing rules? How does conservation knowledge translate into rules and management practices? By tracing collaborations over development-via-conservation in specific institutional contexts, I will investigate how the processes of making and breaking relationships, through communicating knowledge and making, contesting, and implementing rules about conservation practices, facilitates the dialogue between what have seemed globally hegemonic conservation ideas and on-the-ground realities. While these collaborations are messy and contingent, they also reveal mechanisms through which actors with specific organizational, financial, political, and symbolic resources create and conduct conservation practices.