APSA Seattle Round-Up
I escaped the Texas heat this weekend with a trip to Seattle for the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association. I had two co-authored papers on the program, one on the distribution of pro-poor subsidy coupons and another on the effects of gender on child development.
Here are a few really interesting papers I came across during the conference:
Leonard Wantchekon (now at Princeton) presented a paper (older draft here) on the institutional effects of anti-colonial uprisings in Africa. In short, he and his co-author Omar García-Ponce find that countries in which there were urban uprisings were more likely to democratize whereas countries in which there were rural uprisings were more likely to form autocracies. Though the paper used historical data on uprisings from the colonial period, it was hard not to think about the implications of Leonard’s paper for the current events in Libya as compared to Egypt.
Stelios Michalopoulos presented on a paper forthcoming in the American Economic Review about the origins of ethnolinguistic diversity. The work was incredibly interesting (not just because of his energetic, thorough presentation). He uses a large-N dataset to study how geographical variability is a determinant of contemporary ethnic diversity. My question to him was whether geographical data should be analyzed in a static way. I buy the notion that rugged terrain creates boundaries between groups, but history has shown that man can also create boundaries equivalent to rugged terrain in keeping groups of people separated (i.e. the Great Wall of China). Relatedly, Michalopoulos uses a measure of land quality to differentiate adjoining areas. However, we know that soil fertility/land quality can decline (or improve) over time. Trying to think about the implications of his work, I wondered if we should then see places with declining soil fertility to have increasingly relevant ethnolinguistic divisions.
Zachariah Mampilly and Adam Branch each presented papers on a panel about South Sudan’s current situation and future. Both presentations really provoked my thinking about external vs. internal agitation for change. More specifically, how might things be different were there not dependence on external support (i.e., American support in the case of South Sudan)?
Other interesting tidbits to note from the conference:
Announced at its APSA business meeting, the African Politics Conference Group has launched a new web site.
Missed the workshop on Social Media for Political Scientists, but the short version is posted online.