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one district does not a country make

23 May 2011

I’m revising my paper with Michelle Poulin on male circumcision, and in re-reading some of the literature, I took pause at the stark difference between the data and paper titles. For example, an article published in 1999 in JAIDS entitled “Sexual Behaviors and Other HIV Risk Factors in Circumcised and Uncircumcised Men in Uganda” relies on data from one district in Uganda: Mbale. Technically, the title says “in Uganda”, and in fact, the respondents were “in Uganda.” Nonetheless, one district does not a country make.

The few times I’ve interfaced with bureaucrats in Malawi in the course of “research dissemination,” I’m asked whether my findings from three districts (representing each of Malawi’s three regions) could actually be generalized to the 28 districts in Malawi. In fact, our study population is entirely rural, so I always qualify my findings with remarks about how I can’t say very much if anything about peri-urban or urban Malawians’ opinions. Still, our study population has characteristics that match those of the rural population surveyed by the Malawi Demographic Health Survey, which employs nationally-representative samples (though the most recent round of the DHS –yet to be released– now has district-representative samples!!!). So sometimes I say yes, and sometimes I say maybe.

I remember my first year in graduate school griping about Catherine Boone’s [then] new book, Political Topographies of the African State, because it only looked at three states, all of which were in West Africa: Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, Ghana. (In case you didn’t know, there are 53 nations in Africa, and only a few of them are in West Africa.) My advisor said the title was likely pushed by the press (you sell more books with just Africa in the title, I guess). Now that I’m in the business of producing/promoting my research, I can understand how researchers expand the geographic relevance of their studies. I also think my criticism of the book’s title is a clear indication of the bravado and naivete of a first-year grad student. I mean, I’d definitely put Africa in the title of my book manuscript if it means it gets published by Cambridge Press.

Did I just say that? I guess this seems apropos:

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 26 May 2011 12:53 pm

    You’ll be happy to know that CB’s next book about “Africa” contains cases from 30+ countries. 🙂

    • 26 May 2011 1:26 pm

      I’d be equally happy if it had only ten percent of that. Especially now that I know how hard it is to write a book (not to mention get it published by CUP). 😉

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