Events

Events held by the Department of Methodology

 

Leading social scientists consider cutting-edge quantitative and qualitative methodologies, analyse the logic underpinning an array of approaches to empirical enquiry, and discuss the practicalities of carrying out research in a variety of different contexts.

 

Department Seminar Series

Department seminars take place during Michaelmas and Lent term time and will be held online in 2021/22. Our seminars are free and open to all.

You can register for these events in advance and the Zoom link for each seminar is also available via email. If you are interested in our future seminars, please subscribe to the Department Seminar mailing list. 

Find recordings of some of our Department of Methodology Seminar Series on YouTube.

Michaelmas Term 2021

30 September - Dr Priya Fielding-Singh
The emotional management of maternal guilt across the income spectrum

Dr Priya Fielding-Singh 
(Department of Family and Consumer Studies, University of Utah)

The emotional management of maternal guilt across the income spectrum
30 September 2021
14.00-15.30 

Maternal guilt is prevalent in the US, as most mothers report feeling guilty about their inability to live up to the unreasonable expectations set by intensive mothering. How do mothers emotionally manage this guilt? Using in-depth interviews among a socioeconomically diverse sample of 74 mothers in the San Francisco Bay Area, this talk takes up these questions through the lens of maternal foodwork - a central intensive mothering task. I find variation in how mothers across the income spectrum manage the guilt created by the demands and pressures of feeding their children. Lower income mothers primarily employ the emotion work strategy of downscaling, whereby they work to suppress feelings of guilt in order to come to terms with their current foodwork realities. In contrast, higher income mothers engage in upscaling, whereby they work to escalate feelings of guilt to fuel additional physical and cognitive food-related labor. The findings show how emotions and emotion work strategies are not only key to understanding how mothers manage maternal guilt; they also help to explain the maintenance and reproduction of intensive mothering ideals over time.

Register here for this meeting!

14 October - Joel Z Leibo
Studying social norms in artificial societies with multi-agent reinforcement learning and Melting Pot

Joel Z Leibo
(Research Scientist, DeepMind)

Studying social norms in artificial societies with multi-agent reinforcement learning and Melting Pot
14 October 2021
14.00-15.30 

How do societies learn and maintain social norms? Social norms enable cooperative behavior in a wide variety of collective action problems which otherwise would fail due to free-riding and defection. They are critical to our welfare because they discourage harmful behaviors (e.g. smoking in public places) and encourage beneficial behaviors (e.g. voting). On the other hand, social norms can also sometimes be unfair (e.g. rules for who gets to speak first), or just plain silly (e.g. rules for when to wear a tie). In this seminar we will discuss how methods derived from artificial intelligence research, based on multi-agent reinforcement learning, can be used to investigate norm learning dynamics in artificial societies. These methods allow more fine-grained modeling than can be achieved with other modeling techniques like matrix games. To illustrate, we'll describe Melting Pot, a new open-source benchmark test suite supporting research in this area. We will also discuss implications for modeling human societies. 

Register here for this meeting!


28 October - Carlos Cinelli

Carlos Cinelli
(Department of Statistics, University of Washington)

Transparent and Robust Causal Inference in the Social and Health Sciences
28 October 2021
14.00-15.30 

The past few decades have witnessed rapid and unprecedented theoretical progress on the science of causal inference, ranging from the “credibility revolution” with the popularization of quasi-experimental designs, to the development of a complete solution to non-parametric identification with causal graphical models. Most of this theoretical progress, however, relies on strong, exact assumptions, such as the absence of unobserved common causes, or the absence of certain direct effects. Unfortunately, more often than not these assumptions are very hard to defend in practice. This leads to two undesirable consequences for applied quantitative work: (i) important research questions may be neglected, simply because they do not exactly match the requirements of current methods; or, (ii) researchers may succumb to making the required “identification assumptions” simply to justify the use of available methods, but not because these assumptions are truly believed (or understood).  In this talk, I will discuss new theory, methods, and software for permitting causal inferences under more flexible and realistic settings. In particular, I will present a novel suite of sensitivity analysis tools for identification via regression adjustment and instrumental variables, which can be immediately put to use to improve the robustness and transparency of current applied research. I will also show graphical tools for the algorithmic derivation of sensitivity curves in arbitrary linear structural equation models. These tools empower scientists, and policymakers to both examine the sensitivity of causal inferences to violations of its underlying assumptions, and also to draw robust and trustworthy conclusions from settings in which traditional methods fail.

Register here for this meeting! 

18 November - Dr Niclas Moneke

Dr Niclas Moneke 
(Department of Economics, University of Oxford)

2 December - Professor Mario Luis Small

Professor Mario Luis Small
(Grafstein Family Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology, Harvard University)

 

 Events archive

2020/21

 Lent Term 2020/21

What is “urban data justice”?: Defining, conceptualizing, and exploring data use, re-use, and refusal for racial justice
Speaker:
 Dr Matthew Bui
(Provost’s Postdoctoral Fellow, The NYU Alliance for Public Interest Technology)
Date: 21 January 2021
Abstract: This talk explores the relationship between marginalized communities of color and data, foregrounding questions about power, inequality, and justice within the aspiring “smart” city of Los Angeles. First, I will briefly touch on a study that proposes a typology of community-based engagements with data for racial justice: namely, data use, re-use, refusal, and production. Building on this work and considering the politics of data re-use and refusal to keep powerful actors accountable, I will discuss in detail a second study, which leverages an original Yelp dataset to construct and deconstruct a novel indicator of urban displacement, using coffee shops as a flashpoint for urban change. This work theorizes and conceptualizes “urban data justice” as a community-engaged vision and praxis while also articulating and exploring a more politically engaged, grounded, and mixed-method approach to “data-driven” research and policy. In all, I ask: how do we tell stories with—and about—data? Who benefits from these dominant narratives about data? How can we subvert unequal power relations within—and of—data within an age of datafication?

Designing deliberation: Three ethnographic challenges
Speaker: Dr Nicole Curato
(Associate Professor, University of Canberra)
Date: 4 February 2021
Abstract: There have been increasing calls to implement deliberative democratic processes or minipublics to deepen citizen participation in policymaking. Advocates argue that these forums’ design features of (1) inclusion via random selection, (2) open-minded deliberation, and (3) consequential recommendations are critical in revitalising democracy today.

This presentation critically interrogates these processes’ core design features based on autoethnographic fieldwork on deliberative forums in conflict zones in the Philippines. It poses three ethnographic challenges on the ethics and politics of implementing these design features in contexts defined by fear, emotional trauma, and micropolitics of everyday life. By posing these challenges, this presentation aims to pluralise what it means to conduct ‘good’ deliberation based on normative theory grounded on ethnography.

An Imperfect Match? Gender and Racial Discrimination in Hiring Across Skill Matching
Speaker: Dr Kate Weisshaar
(Assistant Professor, Sociology Department at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill and faculty fellow at the Carolina Population Center)
Date: 11 February 2021
Watch a recording of this seminar here.
Abstract: This talk considers how gender and racial discrimination in hiring screening decisions is related to applicants’ match or mismatch on skills required for the job. In the talk, I will present findings from an ongoing collaboration with Koji Chavez and Tania Cabello-Hutt. Theoretically, this project works toward extending and integrating hiring matching theories with discrimination theories. We differentiate between competing theoretical predictions as to whether gender and racial discrimination in hiring is responsive or resistant to applicants’ levels of skill match for the position. To test these predictions, I present results from two original experimental studies. The first, a survey experiment, assesses whether respondents’ levels of stereotyping against Black and women applicants depend on whether fictitious job applicants’ skills match or do not match the job’s requirements. The second empirical study draws from an audit correspondence study of employers. In this study, we examine how employer bias varies across levels of applicants’ skill matching as well as the types of skills the applicants match or mismatch on. Overall, we find that increased skill matching is associated with decreased hiring discrimination, but that there is some variation in these effects across different types of skills. The talk concludes by suggesting methodological implications for future research in terms of identifying and interpreting skills, as well as research more generally on hiring discrimination.

Citation inequities in the social sciences: The case of Communication studies
Speaker: Dr Deen Freelon
(Associate Professor, UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media)
Date: 18 February 2021
Watch a recording of this seminar here.
Abstract: Calls for equity across categories of race, gender, and national identity are nothing new in politics or the academy. Yet the social sciences continue to marginalize both research on and by members of such identity categories. To quantify these inequities, I analyze citation patterns from ten prominent journals in the field of Communication between 2000 and 2019.

The data come from Web of Knowledge, and the analysis focuses on each author’s identity and professional characteristics, including race, gender, country of employment, and discipline. As this research is currently in progress, the talk will focus on the methods used to collect and preprocess the data. Also, a preliminary descriptive analysis of gender disparities in Communication citation practices will be presented. This research offers both a model methodology and an empirical baseline for measuring inequities in citation practices across disciplines.

Using eye movements to predict large-scale voting decisions in direct democracy elections
Speaker: Dr Jason Coronel
(Assistant Professor, School of Communication, Ohio State University)
Date: 11 March 2021
Watch a recording of this seminar here.
Abstract: Over 100 countries allow people to vote directly on policies in direct democracy elections. Politicians are often responsible for writing ballot language, and voters frequently encounter ballot measures that are difficult to understand. We examine whether eye movements from a small group of individuals can predict the consequences of ballot language on large-scale voting decisions.

Across two preregistered studies (n = 120 registered voters and n = 120 registered voters), we monitored laboratory participants’ eye movements as they read real ballot measures. We found that eye movement responses associated with difficulties in language comprehension predicted aggregate voting decisions to abstain and vote against ballot measures in U.S. elections (total number of votes cast = 137,661,232). These findings expose the concerns of direct democracy elections as politicians and interest groups may inadvertently or deliberately influence election outcomes by crafting difficult-to-understand ballot language. However, our study also lays the groundwork for how these concerns can be addressed through eye movement monitoring. Since eye movements provide a continuous measure of reading performance, they can potentially reveal whether the challenges in understanding ballot language occur at the level of specific words, sentences, or the entire text. Eye movements may be able to assist researchers and policymakers in crafting ballot language that is comprehensible to a larger group of voters.

Mobilizing Social Capital for Pretrial Release
Speaker: Professor Sandra Susan Smith
(Daniel and Florence Guggenheim Professor of Criminal Justice, Harvard Kennedy School)
Date: 25 March 2021
Watch a recording of this seminar here.
Abstract: Spending more than one day in pretrial detention can significantly and negatively shape individuals’ short- and long-term outcomes. Pretrial detention places detainees at risk of serious physical harm, negatively affects case disposition, increases the likelihood of future penal system involvement, and reduces individuals’ access to a broad range of opportunities. To date, however, we know relatively little about the resources that individuals deploy to navigate the pretrial process so as to avoid some of its more negative effects. In this study we draw from 191 in-depth interviews with participants in San Francisco’s Pretrial Diversion Project to examine whether, when, among whom, and for what purposes people draw on their social networks to get out of jail, especially during the all-important first few days of detention when the collateral consequences of detention are arguably set in motion. Preliminary analysis reveals that pretrial detainees rely heavily on family members, especially mothers, to mitigate the material, social, and emotional consequences of pretrial detention, as well as for help securing release. Fellow inmates also prove to be an extraordinary resource, acting as sources of social and emotional support more often than romantic partners, friends, or jail officials. Patterns of social capital mobilization, however, vary by detainees' age, gender, race, and arrest history. These findings provide important contributions to the growing literature on the front end of criminal case processing, which has yet to systematically consider the extent to which and how social networks and social capital shape the pretrial experience and related outcomes.

Michaelmas Term 2019/20

What do we mean by a "hard-to-reach" population?: Legitimacy versus precarity as barriers to access
Speaker: Rachel Ellis, PhD 
(Department of Criminology & Criminal Justice, University of Maryland)
Date: 8 October 2020
Abstract: A myriad of articles and textbooks advise qualitative researchers on accessing “hard-to-reach” or “hidden” populations. In this presentation, I compare two studies that I conducted among justice-involved women in the U.S.: a yearlong ethnography inside a state women’s prison and an interview study with formerly incarcerated women. Although these two populations are interconnected – and both deemed “hard-to-reach” – the barriers to access differed. In the prison ethnography, “hard-to-reach” reflected an issue of institutional legitimacy, in which researchers must present themselves and their proposed study as legitimate and worthy to organizational gatekeepers. In the reentry interview study, “hard-to-reach” reflected an issue of structural precarity, in which researchers must navigate the everyday vulnerabilities of research participants’ social position to ensure inclusion and accessibility. Juxtaposing these two experiences, I propose greater nuance to the term “hard-to-reach,” such that researchers may proactively address potential institutional and structural barriers to access.

Citizen assemblies, inequality, and deliberation in rural India: An approach combining causal inference, qualitative analysis, and machine learning
Speaker:
 Vijayendra Rao
(Development Research Group, The World Bank)
Date: 22 October 2020
Watch a recording of this seminar here.
Abstract: This talk will review two projects that analyze transcripts from a total of 400 village meetings (gram sabhas) in rural South India. 300 transcripts (collected in 2002-4) are analyzed using “hand-made” qualitative analysis in the context of a natural experiment, and 100 (collected in 2014) are analyzed using text-as-data methods with a combination of random assignment (of women leaders) and regression discontinuity (assigning the entry of women’s self-help groups).  The results show that despite high levels of caste and wealth inequality, citizens are active participants in village meetings, that there is a great deal of gender inequality in deliberation, and that reserving seats for women presidents sharply reduces gender inequality, as does the introduction of women’s self-help groups, but they crowd out more organic forms of deliberation.

Factors associated with COVID-19 related mortality using the OpenSAFELY platform
Speaker: Elizabeth Williamson
Associate Professor of Biostatistical Methodology, Medical Statistics Department, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine)
Date: 12 November 2020
Watch a recording of this seminar here.
Abstract: This talk will present an overview of the recently developed OpenSAFELY platform, which brings together primary care data and data on COVID-19 outcomes, including test results, hospital admission and mortality. 

OpenSAFELY uses a new model for enhanced security and timely access to data: we don’t transport large volumes of potentially disclosive pseudonymised patient data outside of the secure environments managed by the electronic health record software company; instead, trusted analysts can run large scale computation across near real-time pseudonymised patient records inside the data centre of the electronic health records software company.

The talk will discuss the structure of the platform and then present the recently published results about factors associated with COVID-19 related mortality and current extensions underway to develop risk prediction models allowing for the changing burden of infection over time. It will touch on other questions that we have addressed using the platform, including effects of inhaled corticosteroids on COVID-19 outcomes.

COVID Realities: A collaborative and participatory approach to understanding the experiences of low-income families during COVID-19
Speakers:
 Dr Maddy Power and Dr Ruth Patrick
(University of York)
Date: 26 November 2020
Watch a recording of this seminar here.
Abstract: In the early days after the outbreak of Coronavirus in the UK, there was much talk of us ‘all being in it together’, the idea that the virus did not discriminate and could affect us all. But a narrative of unity and a commonality of experience contrasts with experiences and risks of Coronavirus, and the subsequent economic shocks, which are profoundly unequal.

This talk will provide an overview of the COVID Realities project, a research collaboration between parents and carers, the Universities of York and Birmingham, and our third sector partner, the Child Poverty Action Group (funded by the Nuffield Foundation as part of their rapid-response to COVID-19). It will outline our collaborative approach to research during COVID-19, including a synthesis of existing and ongoing research into poverty in the UK (focusing on the impact of COVID-19); and the facilitation of conversations and resources for the research community on methodological and ethical challenges during a time of COVID-19.

It will describe our approach to participatory research with parents and carers who are living on a low income and explain how we strive to value varied forms of expertise within the project, drawing upon this at every stage. It will discuss the COVID Realities website, through which participants can document their experiences via online diaries, responding to a pre-recorded audio-visual ‘big question of the week’ and participating in monthly online 'big ideas' groups. Finally, it will consider some of the methodological challenges we have faced so far and outline our plans going forward.

Border-Free ELF: Using Individualized Spatial Data to Measure Ethnic Segregation
Speaker: Dr Neelanjan Sircar
(Assistant Professor, Ashoka University and Senior Visiting Fellow, Centre for Policy Research)
Date: 10 December 2020
Watch a recording of this seminar here.
Abstract: One of core problems in the spatial social sciences is the measurement of racial or ethnic segregation and fractionalization. Traditional measures, like dissimilarity (D) or Herfindahl-Hirschman (HHI) indices, are highly sensitive to the borders of the geography being used (e.g., county, neighborhood, census tract). To alleviate these concerns, we develop a mathematical framework to measure segregation using ethnolinguistic fractionalization (ELF) indices that can be calculated purely from spatial or social distances between individuals or households without the artificiality of geographic borders — what we call border-free ELF.

We apply our insights to a dataset comprised of 4380 geocoded households in the National Capital Region (Delhi metropolitan area) in India. We make three key claims. First, the use of geographic borders can significantly overstate the amount of segregation. Second, unlike traditional measures, border-free ELF can detect individual “perceptions” of spatial similarity and dissimilarity and plausibly be used to analyze the correlates of different perceptions. Finally, border-free ELF can be deployed with survey data to provide an individualized picture of the relationship between racial/ethnic fractionalization and public goods provision.

2019/20

Lent Term 2019/20

Deliberating Inequality: using focus groups to study the social formation of beliefs about economic inequality
Speaker: Dr Kate Summers, Fellow in Qualitative Methodology and Associate of the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion (CASE), London School of Economics.
Date: 23 January 2020
Abstract: Existing evidence suggests that people dramatically underestimate levels of economic inequality while overestimating the extent of social mobility. A growing body of work has used experimental methods to investigate how providing factual information about inequality affects people’s concerns about inequality and support for redistributive policies. 

However, existing research has been preoccupied with documenting people’s descriptive understanding of economic inequality; we know much less about people’s beliefs about what causes income and wealth inequalities. Existing (experimental) studies also treat individual participants as the unit of analysis, implicitly assuming that beliefs are formed and expressed individually.

I will present the design rationale and preliminary insights from ongoing research aiming to address these shortcomings. I will demonstrate how we are using a focus group approach that allows us to study the discursive

Bad Neighbours: The Health and Well-Being Effects of Social Noise
Speaker: Prof Diana Weinhold, Associate Professor in Development Economics, Department of International Development, London School of Economics.
Date: 6 February 2020
Abstract: Heuristic reports suggest residential neighbour noise is ubiquitous and a major source of stress to those affected.  However there is little good evidence on the scope and severity of the problem as myriad methodological hurdles impede analysis.  Lacking “hard” evidence of harm, neighbour noise – if controlled at all - tends to fall under nuisance, rather than environmental health, regulations.  We analyze the health effects of residential noise annoyance using a longitudinal survey of over 5000 adults in the Netherlands between 2008 and 2013 that includes a broad variety of socio-economic, demographic, and health information.  Exploring to what degree a non-experimental, observational study like this one can address selection bias issues, we additionally collect data on home moving and a psychometric measure of sensitivity to stress.

Overall we find surprisingly strong effects of residential noise annoyance on both measures of subjective well-being as well as a variety of health outcomes, including cardio-vascular symptoms, auto-immune conditions associated with joint and bone disease, headache, and fatigue. Finally, we discuss the role of compelling yet suggestive evidence in social research and policy making.

Research for social change: A scholar-activist perspective
Speaker: Prof Carin Runciman, Associate Professor at the Centre for Social Change, University of Johannesburg.
Date: 20 February 2020
Abstract: Globally, the working class finds itself under attack through the advance of neoliberalism. In South Africa, black working class communities have, since the end of apartheid, continued to resist the structural inequalities created by neoliberalism, apartheid and colonialism. This paper provide a reflexive account on how my research with, on and for community organisations and social movements has attempted to play a wider role in forging progressive social change. The paper reflects on two interventions I have made into public and policy debates in South Africa. The first concerns the portrayal of black working class communities engaged in community protests for basic needs, such as housing, water and electricity. It is estimated that at least two such protests have occurred a day in South Africa since 2005. This has led to state responses that have sought to characterise protesters as part of an ungrateful and undeserving poor to outright state violence. The second considers the role of research in a campaign against amendments to the Labour Relation Act (LRA) in order to protect the right to strike in South Africa. The paper will reflect upon my experience of being a scholar-activist and what this means for research practice, design and methods. Critically, this paper will reflect upon the structural power I am afforded as a white, cis-gendered, middle class female academic to speak for and on behalf of those I research with and on, the implications this has for research and movement building

It's slippery at the top: churn and anxiety amongst elite families
Speaker: Dr Luna Glucksberg, Research Fellow, International Inequalities Institute, London School of Economics
Date: 12 March 2020
Abstract: This paper takes as a starting point the apparent paradox in the behaviour of elite families who strive to accumulate more and more wealth, fearing to lose their position at the top and slip down the inequality curve. To unpack this contradiction the paper explores the fundamental problem that all elite families face, or rather are told they face, by their advisers: the issue of ‘generational algebra’.

Michaelmas Term 2019/20

How the Financial Times uses data visualisation to find and tell stories
Speaker:
John Burn-Murdoch, Senior Data Visualisation journalist, Financial Times
Date:
3 October 2019
Abstract: 
Over recent years data visualisation has become integral to the Financial Times’ journalism, playing key roles in everything from rapid-fire analysis of elections, to deeply-reported stories on socio-economic inequality, to interactive explorations of the challenge of tackling climate change. At the heart of this move is a firm belief that visual communication can be a powerful way of conveying a message. This talk will demonstrate what new studies on visual perception and communication tell us about how people read charts, and how the Financial Times uses these findings to hone its visual journalism. The talk will also demonstrate how data visualisation is not only useful as the final step of delivering a message, but can also be a valuable tool for discovering stories in the first place.

When form leads to function: social network closure, social identity threat, and performance among women entrepreneurs
Speaker: 
Dr Raina Brands, Assistant Professor in Organisational Behaviour, London Business School
Date: 17 October 2019
Abstract: We examine how the structure of entrepreneurs’ social networks differentially shapes women’s and men’s outcomes. We contend that the degree of closure in female entrepreneurs’ social networks affects how concerned they feel about being judged through the lens of negative gender stereotypes (i.e., their experience of social identity threat), which in turn affects their entrepreneurial success. 

Using data from a survey of entrepreneurs in Study 1, we observe that women (but not men) entrepreneurs who report more closure in their social networks experience less social identity threat and, as a result, are more likely to have incorporated their ventures. Study 2 confirms that the trust that is inherent in closed social networks accounts for our effects. Using an experimental design, we find that individuals who are assigned to a closed (versus sparse) network experience more interpersonal trust, which reduces social identity threat for women (but not men). 

Our findings suggest that a closed social network may inoculate women against the risk of being derailed by negative stereotypes in the venture creation process. We conclude by discussing the theoretical and practical implications of our findings.

The effects of class and the privilege of politicians on self-percieved status: A survey order experiment
Speaker:
Joe Greenwood, LSE Fellow, Department of Government, London School of Economics
Date: 31 October 2019
Abstract: This research seeks to answer the following questions: how does a political class that is seen as highly privileged influence self-perceived status amongst the public and vice versa?

To do so it exploits a question order experiment that was included in one of the surveys fielded for Joe's PhD research. That experiment asked all respondents about their self-perceived status relative to society and their personal acquaintances, with one third being asked those questions first, one third being asked them after self-reporting their class, and one third after self-reporting their class and then indicating how privileged they think politicians are.

The prevailing view amongst respondents is that politicians are highly privileged relative to themselves and society at large, and the survey experiment will allow identification of the effect of that view on self-perceived status as well as the effect of self-perceived status on perceptions of the privilege of politicians. Crucially, if consideration of the privilege of the political class has implications for how the electorate see their own status then it provides another powerful reason to call for the diversity, and visible diversity, of political representatives.

Intersectionality and Peace Processes in Post-Accord Colombia
Speaker: 
Dr Elena Stavrevska, Centre for Women, Peace and Security, London School of Economics
Date: 21 November 2019
Abstract: Over the years scholars have problematised the notions of justice and peace and the critical importance of addressing structural injustices in creating sustainable peace. This has included gendered injustice that feminist peace scholars have often highlighted. Yet, we continue to lack a comprehensive understanding of the intersectional aspects of sustainable and just peace.

This talk provides a framework for an intersectional analysis of peace processes by combining insights from Kimberlé Crenshaw’s theory on structural intersectionality and Nancy Fraser’s tripartite social justice model. Using that framework to analyse the Colombia Peace Accord of 2016, the talk highlights the gendered, classed, and racialised ways in which indigenous women in Colombia have been affected by it and questions the possibility of reconceptualising transitional justice and peacebuilding efforts in a manner that takes into account intersectional discontents.

Dimensions of statehood: A conceptual approach
Speaker: 
Dr Randi Solhjell, Senior Research Fellow, Norwegian Police University College and the Center for Research on Extremism, University of Oslo
Date: 5 December 2019
Abstract: Many scholars have attempted to understand the “state” in sub-Saharan Africa, often leading to conceptualizing of what the state is not, rather than what it is. As a response, a growing body of critical literature have engaged in a deeper immersion into constituent parts of the state. In light of these contributions and based on long-term fieldwork in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), my approach is to show that statehood is not given, but rather consists of multiple realities of state-society interaction to be empirical investigated. I argue that statehood can be seen as constituting (at least) of three different dimensions, namely space, distinction and ideology. By this, I mean that statehood are sites (space) that entails contestations (distinction) and narratives (ideologies).  These dimensions are seen in relation to each other and together can enable scholars to engage with a “thick” understanding of statehood. Moreover, these dimensions are layers of abstraction, both concrete and abstract, on the mundane social processes that produce and reproduce statehood in Africa and beyond. Dimensions of statehood mean to address the relations between performing and enacting the state in how they attribute meanings to statehood expressed through the lens of public goods.