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“The Politics of Local Research Production: A Case Study of Ethnic Competition”

26 March 2011
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Supervisors Marking Exams of Job Applicants, Mchinji 2010

Even when the topic of inquiry is essentially devoid of politics, data collection is not immune from local politics in a context where ethnic groups compete at the national level for access to resources. Using observations gathered in rural Malawi in 2010, this paper provides a thick description of a significant challenge to data collection: ethnic competition. In this paper, I provide an empirical account of the local reality of ethnoregional competition as demonstrated in employment (or, more likely, unemployment) of local research assistants. Analysis of quantitative data of research assistant job applicants suggests research assistants’ regional background is not a significant predictor for employment. Nonetheless, qualitative data present local perceptions to the contrary. Preliminary analysis of the subsequent survey data on research assistant effectiveness suggests research assistants from the local area (and thus typically from the majority ethnic group in the respective area) were no more efficient in completing interviews more quickly, and were no more likely to report higher degrees of cooperation during interviews. Preliminary analysis also suggests that interviewers matched with respondents by ethnicity will actually have longer interviews and report lower degrees of cooperation.

That is the abstract of a paper I have written for the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, to be held next week in Chicago. I organized and proposed the panel I’m going to be presenting on, and it’s a very interesting group of papers, all written by junior scholars of African Politics:

11-2 Local Politics and Governance in Africa
Date: Friday, April 1 8:30 am
Chair: Lauren M. MacLean, Indiana University

Interpersonal connections between political elites: Their effect on local development and voters’ political choices
This paper studies whether relationships between chiefs and politicians affect development and elections in Zambia. The paper exploits the exogenous timing of chiefs’ deaths to identify these effects.
Kate Baldwin, Princeton University

The Politics of Local Research Production: A Case Study of Ethnic Competition
Using field observations and job applicant data, I present a thick description of the politics of hiring research assistants in rural Malawi in the context of national ethnic competition.
Kim Yi Dionne, Texas A&M University

The Political Logic of Fiscal Distribution in a Single Party Dominant State: Transfers from the National Government to the Local Governments in South Africa
To test how the ANC allocates these transfers, I analyze transfers from 2003-2010. Initial results show no support for either a needs-based or a punishment hypothesis, and instead suggest that the ANC employs a combination of core and swing rewards.
Sarah Gray Knoesen, University of California, San Diego

Defining Success: Measurement Problems in the Study of Public Goods Provision
In weak states, how do we measure what constitutes effective social service provision? Since standard measures of effective service provision are unreliable indicators in situations of extreme poverty, I test a new, functional measurement instrument.
Laura E. Seay (aka @texasinafrica), Morehouse College

Discussants: Eric J. Kramon, University of California, Los Angeles; Lauren M. MacLean, Indiana University

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