This summer I wrote a popular post on taking children to an African country while you conduct research. After a conversation with (and a blog post comment by) Aili Tripp, I learned a political scientist had actually weighed in on this issue previously. Though Tripp’s article [gated] was published more than ten years ago, I found myself nodding in agreement throughout. Here’s just one bit:
Even for those who manage to arrange such research trips, one still has to contend with the fact that generally no one—not one’s colleagues, not even one’s best friends—is going to be terribly supportive or encouraging, mostly because they do not really understand what such an endeavor entails. They also might have a hard time visualizing the country and conditions under which one will be living and therefore cannot imagine the difficulties one might encounter, let alone with children. Except for three academic mothers in my two departments who did international research (I have a joint appointment in political science and women’s studies), I have the impression that most colleagues in my two departments did not have any idea how difficult this was to arrange and pull off. No one asked, and I had little opportunity to explain. It certainly never featured in any way in my annual departmental reviews as an assistant professor even though the life skills it took to arrange something such as this were considerable. Moreover, most of my friends thought I was nuts, and my family was not thrilled with my plans. The moral of the story is that one should not expect any special support from the people around one, even those who love and care about one deeply.
A more recent piece [gated, ungated here] published in PS: Political Science and Politics citing Tripp’s article, “Embodied Researchers: Gendered Bodies, Research Activity, and Pregnancy in the Field,” shares experiences and insights of two women in political science who have conducted research abroad. From the introduction:
Drawing largely from our experiences from dissertation-stage fieldwork in Spain (Candice Ortbals, CO) and Poland (Meg Rincker, MR), we explain how women’s bodies do not always easily fit the requirements of fieldwork. We first discuss practical physical and appearance-related concerns having to do with women’s bodies, and in doing so, run the risk of de-glamorizing the research process by discussing the mundane: building strong biceps, choosing the proper attire, and eating healthy food. Second, we debate the gendered appearance and representation of motherhood in the field from the perspectives of the expectant mother and mother-daughter relationships. In both discussions, we examine what it means to be a young woman conducting research abroad, arguing that interviewees often do not expect researchers to be young women, especially not young pregnant women. While our arguments pertain initially more to young women, we pose suggestions for field researchers regardless of gender, race, age, sexual orientation, and disability.
I appreciated in particular this sentence in the conclusion:
Professors, students, and funding agencies alike should consider the connectedness of scholars, and consider financial support to bring family members, children, or caretakers into the field.
Both pieces have helpful strategies for moms (and dads) navigating the challenges of conducting research away from home. If haba na haba readers know of other articles that would be useful, please post cites and/or links in the comments!
“Do not be discouraged. God created you. God is on your side.”
The Bishop’s remarks stand in stark contrast to the typical religious leader’s attitudes toward sexual minorities, particularly in Africa. Perhaps I’m optimistic that Bishop Senyonjo will be a trailblazer that other religious leaders in Africa will follow.
Just last week, Malawi’s major daily newspaper, The Nation, ran an article reporting a Muslim Sheikh who had attended a workshop on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights saying in an interview:
“As religious leaders, we are saying nowhere in the Bible or the Koran is it written that homosexuality is supposed to be there or promoted. On the other hand, what we are saying is that people who are practising this are supposed to be served on three things: They are supposed to be given love, they are supposed to get protection and also we have to look after them because they are human beings and are totally entitled to all human rights.”
It’s not wholesale acceptance, but it’s a start. Maybe my optimism isn’t naive. Inshallah.
Until attitudes toward LGBTI change, however, it is important films like Call Me Kuchu and the new film God Loves Uganda (disclaimer: I’ve only seen the trailer for the latter) that can shed some light on the challenges LGBTI people face.
Some of the Call Me Kuchu trailer (and film) might be familiar to haba na haba readers. I wrote an earlier post that linked to an excerpt made by Call Me Kuchu’s filmmakers featured in the New York Times in 2012 commemorating a year after David Kato’s death.
For discussion of both films, see Brett Davidson’s review at Africa is a Country.
I decided a few weeks ago to write a new syllabus for an undergraduate course on Contemporary African Politics. As I did the first time I designed a syllabus, I went online to look at those written by colleagues at other colleges and universities. It just so happens that this exploration coincided with a symposium on the gender gap at The Monkey Cage blog, which featured posts on the [lack of] citation of works by female scholars in the academic literature, with a mention about works by female scholars [not] making it onto graduate course reading lists. So, I was paying close attention to the female scholars on the African Politics syllabi I read.
I found so few women authors on the syllabi I came across that I decided to begin compiling a list of all the articles/chapters/etc. assigned in African Politics courses as represented in the syllabi I could find online. I wanted to identify the few women authors and scholars who were being included to help me with my syllabus, and also to share with others. I was also curious if there were any patterns in who included female authors on their syllabi. Were female scholars more likely to do so? Were newer faculty more likely to do so?
I have only reviewed 10 syllabi, and the professors who wrote those syllabi are not representative of the universe of African Politics instructors (see the paragraph on methods below). This is a first crack at the limited information I have thus far, and I hope to collect more information and answer the questions I posed above. With that caveat, here is what I found:
The average proportion of assigned readings on African Politics Syllabi by women authors was 11.6%. One syllabus didn’t have a single reading that was authored solely by a woman or women. One syllabus’s proportion of women writers was as low as 2% (it had only one reading), and the highest proportion of readings written by women was 35%.
The syllabus with 35% readings written by women was sufficiently remarkable (half of the syllabi were in the single digits) that I reached out to the instructor to get some insights. Aili Tripp is Professor of Political Science and Gender and Women’s Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has been teaching African Politics for over twenty years. Over the phone earlier this week, I told her about what I had learned thus far from the syllabi collected and asked her about her approach to syllabus design and whether including women writers was a conscious decision from the outset.
Tripp said that she updates her syllabus each time she teaches the course, to include new pieces. (Given the growing number of women scholars writing on African Politics, this seems like one good way to increase the proportion of women writers in course readings). Tripp said she wasn’t that conscious about the proportions of writers by gender, but that she’s always looked to include women’s voices when teaching her class and that most important to her has been to include African perspectives. She includes on her syllabus not only scholarship by African women, but also memoirs, articles in the press, and video clips of African women thinkers (i.e., Nigerian economist, current Finance Minister of Nigeria and former World Bank Managing Director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala) on her syllabus. Particularly if we are interested in the voices of African women, who represent a small but growing sector of published scholarship on African politics, it will be important to consider multiple ways of bringing their insights into the classroom.
Here are the “methods” or rules I followed in coming up with the numbers you see above: The non-representative sample of African Politics undergraduate course syllabi includes those designed by: Clark Gibson (UCSD), Guy Grossman (UPenn), Nahomi Ichino (Harvard), Carl Levan (American University), Staffan Lindberg (U-Florida), John McCauley (U-Maryland), Daniel Posner (UCLA), Andrew Reynolds (UNC), Alex Scacco (NYU), and Aili Tripp (UW-Madison). All syllabi were for courses taught in the last five years (2008-2013). Each syllabus entry counted as one assigned reading, regardless of length. For example, if a professor wrote “Herbst, Chapters 1 & 2”, that would count as one assigned reading; if a professor wrote for the next day of class “Herbst, Chapter 3”, that would count as a separate assigned reading. Articles without bylines – often, this included readings from The Economist – were not included in the count. When an author’s gender wasn’t obvious to me, I looked online for more information about the author. Co-authored papers by both female and male authors were assigned a fraction where the number of women authors was divided by the total number of authors. For example, the article by Victor Azarya and Naomi Chazan, “Disengagement from the State in Africa: Reflections on the Experience of Ghana and Guinea,” counted as “half” of an article in the number of readings written by women. In calculating the ratio of women authors featured on syllabi, the total number of readings was the denominator and the numerator was the sum of readings written by women. Assigned readings were not limited to academic articles or textbooks written by scholars but also included works written by non-scholars; often, these were chapters from books by journalists formerly posted in Africa or from memoirs.
For those of you looking for articles and book chapters written by women to include on your syllabus, here are readings that appeared on more than one syllabus:
- Boone, Catherine. 1998. “The Making of a Rentier Class: Wealth Accumulation and Political Control in Senegal.”
- Chazan, Naomi. 1999. “The Diversity of African Politics: Trends and Approaches.”
- Manning, Carrie. 2005. “Assessing African Party Systems after the Third Wave.”
- Schmidt, Elizabeth. 2005. “Top Down or Bottom Up? Nationalist Mobilization Reconsidered, with Special Reference to Guinea (French West Africa).”
- Widner. Jennifer. 1994. “Political Reform in Anglophone and Francophone African Countries.”
There are newer pieces written by women scholars that I think will catch on, but one problem is a lag. Though there is an increasing number of women studying African politics (judged by the increasing number of women I see in the room at related meetings, see more below), our research takes time to get published, time to get read by others, and then others have to take the time to update their syllabi, and whenever we add something new, we invariably have to take something old off – no simple task.
Although Aili Tripp sees some improvement from an earlier survey she did of a similar nature about 8 years ago for a Politics & Gender article, it is remarkable to me after having attended the most recent meeting of the African Politics Conference Group (APCG) at the American Political Science Association annual meeting that there is such a strong disconnect between what I saw in the room (APCG is chaired by a woman, its newly elected officers are all women, and all of this year’s APCG article and dissertation awards went to women) and what I am reading on our syllabi.
I am going to cast a wider net, so please, forward me your syllabi or those of others teaching African Politics (or feel free to post links in the comments). I also plan to use the same information to look at the proportion of readings assigned that were written by African authors. In addition to my curiosity of whether there are patterns in assigning readings by African authors, I wonder if doing so also relates to the number of women authors on a syllabus. For example: is there a substitution effect whereby assigning more African authors means assigning fewer readings by women authors since so many African authors assigned in African Politics courses are men?
Betsey Stephenson and Justin Wolfers (two prominent economists at the University of Michigan) wrote a list of six things that can help the non-expert decide whether empirical research is useful or not. This one I particularly liked:
3. Be wary of scholars using high-powered statistical techniques as a bludgeon to silence critics who are not specialists. If the author can’t explain what they’re doing in terms you can understand, then you shouldn’t be convinced. You wouldn’t be convinced by an analysis just because it was written in ancient Latin, so why be impressed by an abundance of Greek letters? Sophisticated statistical methods can be helpful, but they can also hide more than they reveal.
That’s the start of a blog post by Matt Collin, currently a Research Officer at Oxford’s Centre for the Study of African Economies and formerly (2006-2008) an ODI Fellow working as a Budget Officer in Malawi’s Ministry of Finance. Matt reflects on his experience with Malawi’s Integrated Financial Management Information System (IFMIS), the software platform used to transfer funds from the Ministry of Finance to other ministries, who in turn use the platform to make payments:
There wasn’t much for me to do when I first joined the Budget Division of Malawi’s Ministry of Finance back in 2006… One of the very first things I worked on was an attempt to reconcile the difference between expenditure ceilings set by my department and actual reports of expenditure from the Accountant General’s department.
I quickly noticed that IFMIS-generated reports seriously deviated from what was being approved by the Budget Division, sometimes even showing expenditure which was above and beyond what had been mandated by our department.
At my director’s prompting, I visited the relevant department at the Account General’s to request more detailed reports from IFMIS. The likely culprit was some
ofdata problem, and I was curious to get to the bottom of it, seeing the whole exercise as a problem with some sort of technical solution. While the civil servants I spoke to at the AG were friendly enough and agreed to send me reports, upon my return to the Ministry of Finance it was later made clear to me that the AG wasn’t too fond of this unknown fresh-faced mzungu making random requests. Not long after, more pressing work diverted my attention, and this particular issue faded into the background.
There is one excerpt in particular from Matt’s blog post that stuck with me:
…when finance systems don’t work properly, it’s very difficult to tell the difference between corruption and incompetence.
That bit underscores an important challenge in investigating financial discrepancies: do you accuse someone of being clever (and stealing) or stupid (and not equipped to do a job)? Either way, you’re insulting someone. That’s not an easy situation to be in when you’re a foreigner — and that’s one reason why the fact that forensic auditors are being flown in from Britain sits a bit uneasy with me. I try to think about how governments of developed countries deal with financial irregularities — I can’t remember a recent scandal where forensic auditors from another country were flown in. I recognize that pervasive cases might require external (non-governmental) auditors, but how “external”? Does it require auditors from outside the country (international auditing firms have branches in Malawi)? If so, would a group of Zambian auditors not be far enough removed? Why does corruption in Malawi require British oversight in the postcolonial period?
We wondered about veracity of Venkatesh['s] “findings”—he said he had “followed” 270 sex worker subjects in NYC but none of our membership had ever been contacted by him nor knew of anyone who had been—so we carefully examined the investigations he said he had done with sex workers over a ten year period. We found that his “research history” simply did not add up. Claims in articles online, in the Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, and on the Freakonomics blog regarding the dates, locations and numbers of people in his research were wildly inconsistent. His conclusions, for example about large numbers sex workers advertising on Facebook, were easily shown by other researchers and commentators to be incorrect. Other conclusions such as the fiction that “there’s usually a 25% surcharge” to have sex without a condom not only bore no relationship to reality but also endangered sex workers and public health programs working with them.
We were so concerned by what we uncovered that in October 2011 we wrote a letter to the Columbia IRB to the Columbia University Institutional Review Board (IRB) and to the Sociology Department asking for some clarity about Sudhir Venkatesh’s research. Specifically, we asked for the research project titles, dates of research, and IRB approval numbers for each of the years he claimed to have conducted research while at Columbia University. We also wished to make Columbia University’s IRB and the Sociology Department aware of that the research appeared to create additional harms and risks for sex workers in the New York area. Our action is an example of the degree to which communities of sex workers have organized and the degree to which we will question research that we find harmful. We are no longer a “gift that keeps on giving” for Venkatesh, we are a community that speaks for itself.
Sudhir Venkatesh is a professor of sociology at Columbia University. The quote above is from a post on the The Sex Worker’s Outreach Project NYC (SWOP-NYC) blog. SWOP-NYC challenges claims made by Venkatesh about NYC sex workers in his published research, on the Freakonomics blog, and in Wired magazine. In a follow-up post, SWOP-NYC goes on to dismiss participant observation as “a bizarre form of research” that is “a holdover from a previous era”. Ouch.
I’m looking to update the blog roll for haba na haba. What blogs are readers of haba na haba enjoying/learning from? Please don’t be shy in promoting your own blog.
I’m particularly interested in featuring more blogs on African Politics and content written by folks on the continent. Given the upcoming elections in Malawi (May 2014), I’m also considering having a sidebar just for blogs on Malawi.
The current blogroll is below. Blogs crossed out are going to be removed because they seem to currently be in hibernation (or probably are a bit too far afield content-wise).
- africa is a country
barking up the wrong tree
- blind men and elephant fish
- boni dulani
- chris blattman
- enik rising
- evan lieberman
- friends of african village libraries
- jina moore
- karen grepin’s global health blog
- marc f. bellemare
professor candace scarlett lion
- texas in africa