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WGAPE 2013: some new research in African Political Economy

5 May 2013

I’ve just returned home from the 2013 WGAPE (Working Group in African Political Economy) meeting, held this year at MIT.*

The meeting kicked off with some discussion of a new relationship with The World Bank. The details are still being ironed out, but there is a bonus WGAPE meeting planned at the bank later this month, and there is also potential that the World Bank will provide funding to WGAPE to redistribute as seed grants (likely targeted to graduate students) to conduct fieldwork in African Political Economy. WGAPE is a great vehicle for a funding mechanism like this proposed seed grant because it can additionally support fieldwork projects by providing a space for graduate students to get feedback at WGAPE on the pre-fieldwork plan, and later feedback on the written research resulting from the fieldwork.

It’s probably not surprising to anyone familiar with WGAPE that there were papers on ethnicity, conflict, and development (see list of papers with links below). But there was also a paper on the salience of LGBT issues in Africa, written by Guy Grossman. Here is an excerpt from the abstract:

I argue that the uneven upward trend in the political saliency of LGBT-related issues is closely related to two key recent political processes: (i.) a rapid growth of Pentecostal, Evangelical and related Renewalist or Spirit-filled churches (demand-side factor) and (ii.) a democratization process leading to heightened political competition (supply-side). To evaluate the above proposition I put together an original, fine-grained longitudinal dataset of media coverage of LGBTs in Africa, which I use as measure of issue saliency… I find robust evidence that the saliency of LGBTs is increasing in a country’s level of political competition and its population share of Renewalist Christians.

One great thing about WGAPE is learning about other relevant and interesting research, often still in the working paper stages. Here is a selection of interesting papers not presented at WGAPE, but shared by some of its participants during the discussion (disclaimer: I haven’t yet read some of these):

WGAPE also devoted time to discussion on research transparency. WGAPE co-founder and co-convener Ted Miguel has worked with colleagues to get the American Economic Association to set up a registry for any social scientist doing a randomized controlled trial, and the registry is now live. We also learned of the Berkeley Initiative for Transparency in the Social Sciences (BITSS), which “investigates new approaches to research transparency and promotes those that demonstrate the ability to improve rigor and credibility.” I recommend reading the blog post series on transparency in social science research.

Though the meeting had quite a few people in the room (the highest WGAPE attendance ever), it still felt like a frank and even friendly place to present works in progress. The thing I like most about WGAPE is my feeling that the intentions behind the comments are good — the goal is to improve the work, and most times we even try to offer solutions for the problems we raise. Winner of the best line uttered in discussion was James Long, who when commenting on a [relatively long] draft survey a graduate student was taking to the field, said, “Focus group the shit out of it.” (To figure out what to cut, obviously.)

The list below is of the papers presented, with links to the PDFs.

Also, in case you’re interested in a play-by-play of the meeting, I tweeted a bit as we went along. The top buzz words of the meeting were “shoe-leather” and “placebo test.”

Next spring, the national meeting will be at UC Berkeley. Fall regional meetings are still being figured out, though the Midwest group is most certainly meeting at the University of Indiana (date TBD), thanks to the entrepreneurial efforts of Jen Brass.

* This year’s meeting was financially supported by the Department of Political Science at MIT and the National Science Foundation.

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