I am a Professor of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where I conduct research and teach in the field of comparative politics, and I hold the Total Chair in contemporary African politics.

My research has been concerned with a set of questions about political and human development. For example,

  • What are the drivers of good governance and policy-making?
  • Why do some citizens, and not others, attempt to hold governments accountable for providing good services?
  • How and why do policy-makers and citizens perceive certain dangers as important risks and/or take action to protect themselves?
  • What accounts for patterns of ethnic conflict?
  • What are the social and political factors that advance / impede the diffusion of new technologies?
  • What are the best ways to think about and to measure development?

My research projects have included studies of the politics of state-building, taxation, policy responses to HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, and tobacco control, policy preference formation, risk perception, ethnic violence, multi-level/polycentric governance, and the relationship between information and public accountability. Regionally, I have tended to focus on the politics and development of Southern Africa, especially South Africa, but I routinely employ comparative analyses with developing countries in other parts of Africa, Latin America and Asia.

Rather than emphasizing strictly economic incentives for behavior, I have tended to highlight the role of social and relational variables, including group-based pride and prejudice, the quest for esteem and dignity, and the avoidance of shame and blame. Understanding the role of institutions in shaping both preferences and strategies has also been a core theme of my work.

Increasingly, I have been applying experimental and quasi-experimental methods, as a complement to my analysis of historical or observational data. Along with my students and collaborators, I have been carrying out impact evaluation studies that seek to shed light on the actual effects of deliberate efforts to improve certain aspects of human development.

I also write and teach on political methodology, including concept analysis and measurement, and strategies for multi-method causal inference.

I serve on the board of directors of the Southern African Legal Services Foundation; and the international advisory board of the African School of Economics, and I am a member of the EGAP (evidence in governance and politics) network.