Program on International Development Overview

The Program on International Development (PID), constituted in 2015, brings together an interdisciplinary group of scholars, from political science, economics, geography, and sociology, to study core aspects of economic and political development. Economic development is the process through which a society is increasingly able to provide for the material well-being of its citizens, while political development incorporates the ability of a society to peacefully and fairly resolve its disagreements over collective goals. The word “development” often connotes the study of these issues in lower- and middle-income countries, certainly a key focus of the program. In addition, we foster research on issues of underdevelopment within high-income societies, such as income inequality and regional poverty.

The last several decades have seen an acceleration of economic and human development around the world, with dozens of countries moving from low-income to middle-income status. In turn, more people have moved out of extreme poverty than at any other period in history. In nearly every region, associated human-development outcomes have improved as well, such as life expectancy, child mortality, and educational attainment, with a decline in the frequency of political violence. Despite this progress, significant problems remain. Income and wealth inequalities have grown in many parts of the world, sustaining stubborn pockets of poverty and malnutrition.  Political conflicts fester in multiple regions, most strikingly in the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, and they continue to cross borders via terrorist attacks and various forms of criminal violence. In the aftermath of the global financial crisis and macroeconomic stress in the Euro area, rising political polarization in the West, based partly on declining real incomes of lower-skilled workers, indicates that concerns about material welfare and relative poverty lie squarely in the developed economies as well. 

There are many complex and interrelated factors underlying these trends, including economic and social globalization, rapid technological changes in communications media, and climate change. In some circumstances these pressures can be a force for democratization, while in others they can raise pressures on traditional societies. Equally, in numerous low-income countries impediments to development linger, including geographic isolation, colonial legacies, gender inequality, and ethnic fragmentation. Most starkly, civil war and other forms of political conflict have been characterized in recent work as “development in reverse”.

Understanding this complexity calls for the combined contributions of interdisciplinary scholars from multiple disciplines, the basic objective of our program. The faculty associates and graduate students employ methodological approaches, ranging from ethnography, behavioral surveys, and archival research to rational choice models, growth regressions, institutional analysis, and randomized control trials. Moreover, the group has a wide array of regional focuses, theoretical interests, and methodological expertise. For example, one major project uses ethnographic methods to study the effects of globalization and global commodity chains on industrial workers’ well-being in Central America and Mexico. In another, scholars conduct survey research in South America to assess the effects of trade liberalization on consumer welfare and the impact of non-governmental organizations on citizen engagement in the political process. 

Our researchers have many such projects underway.  Original data on municipal spending and voting patterns were collected in the Amazon region of Brazil to analyze the effect of international aid on political outcomes. Several scholars are conducting a major study of climate change and violence in a traditional society by carrying out surveys and local interviewers in Kenya. In another long-standing study, longitudinal panel surveys were implemented to better understand labor-management relations in global manufacturing firms. Formal economic modeling and extensive data analysis are consistently applied to study the effects of policy globalization, technological innovation and corporate organizational forms on various economic outcomes in both developed and developing countries. Another faculty associate is completing a major study of pension privatization in Eastern Europe using historical case narratives and statistical analysis. 

Going forward, the program on international development seeks to broaden its work on the sources and effects of economic and political development and the determinants of conflict. Our faculty associates also will build on existing interdisciplinary work to establish exciting new approaches to understanding these fundamental processes.