Professor Howell is a political scientist working in the broad interdisciplinary field of development studies. Her research interests relate to the politics of policy processes, state-society relations, securitisation of aid, and authoritarianism and development. She has lived and worked in China, India, Mozambique and Jordan and has also carried out fieldwork in Malawi, Kenya, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Papua New Guinea and Vanuatu. She was the Director of the Centre for Civil Society at the LSE from 2003-2009, Director of a large ESRC Research Programme on Non-Governmental Public Action, and editor of a Palgrave book series on Non-Governmental Public Action. Her most recent research has focussed on the securitisation of aid and counter-terrorism, civil society, gender and labour relations in China, and the accountability and legitimacy of NGOs. She currently directs an ESRC research grant on the politics of government contracting of welfare services to NGOs in China.
She has advised and consulted widely for international development agencies such as UNDP, UNICEF, ILO, Australian Aid, Ford Foundation, Department for International Development UK, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Save the Children, the British Council, and Christian Aid, and Asia Monitor Research Centre. She previously held positions at the Institute of Development Studies, Sussex University, and at University of East Anglia.