(Header: MIT GOV/LAB field work in Tanzania. Photo credit: Leah Rosenzweig).

BWGAPE, or the Boston-Area Working Group in African Political Economy, met on Friday December 8th. BWGAPE is a sister network of the Working Group in African Political Economy (WGAPE – pronounced “wah-gah-pay”). Both groups provide forums for academic researchers, including faculty and graduate students, who bring deep field research experience in Africa and training in political economy methods.

Professor Bates presenting keynote (Photo credit: Professor Evan Lieberman’s Twitter, @evlieb).

The Boston meeting opened with insights from keynote speaker Professor Bates who spoke about recent shifts in political economy methodologies. He highlighted the importance of fieldwork and of Max Weber’s verstehen (“to understand” or “knowing in your gut”) in developing theory and in his own work.

Professor Bates recalled how his work on intergenerational trust and on rural/country relationships was born from extensive embedded field work in Luapula Valley in Zambia – this insight and others from fieldwork influenced his seminal work: Markets and States in Tropical Africa. Professor Bates also discussed some of the potential costs to research with the recent popularity of randomized controlled trials (RCTs). He suggested that researchers refocus on politics (over policy), make time for immersive field work, and described a need for increased attention to institutional organization.

The meeting then turned to in-depth discussions of papers, works-in-progress, and research designs, including the following:

  • Robert A. Blair (Brown) and Benjamin S. Morse (MIT): “Establishing the Rule of Law in Weak and War-torn States: Evidence from a Field Experiment with the Liberian National Police” with Sabrina M. Karim (Cornell)
  • Pia Raffler (Harvard): “Leveling the Playing Field? Voting Behavior in an
    Electoral Authoritarian Regime” with Melina Platas (NYU-Abu Dhabi)
  • Constantine Manda (Yale): “The Nyerere Effect: Minority Presidents and Ethnic Politics”
The winning hack-a-thon team (Photo credit: Professor Evan Lieberman’s Twitter, @evlieb).

The day finished with political science graduate student groups from MIT, Harvard, Brown, and other universities presenting ‘hack-a-thon’ projects – an innovative way to solicit responses to a question of African political economy that scholars grapple with:

“Does economic modernization breed Democrats?”

Each group was given the question to work with the evening before and attendees voted on the best response. The winning team won dinner out and fundraising advice to carry their research idea forward.

BWGAPE was organized by MIT Professors Evan Lieberman and Tavneet Suri. The next WGAPE iteration is in NYU-Abu Dhabi in January 2018.