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CPAID Researcher Spotlight

Tom Kirk

Research Officer at CPAID


With the CPAID team spanning the globe, our spotlight series celebrates the researchers who make our work unique, seeking to understand a little more about their research, motivations and backstory.

In this CPAID spotlight, we speak to CPAID Investigator Tom Kirk about her research.

Please tell us a little about yourself

I'm a CPAID researcher and consultant. My interests include the provision of security and justice in conflict affected regions, social accountability, civil society, activism, governance and public authority. I’ve lived and worked in Afghanistan, Pakistan, South Sudan, India, Timor-Leste, the DRC and Kenya. In my spare time I enjoy reading bad sci-fi and, sometimes, trying to keep fit.

Please tell us about your current work

All my work is undertaken in partnership with CPAID colleagues. Currently it looks at how large INGOs understand and engage public authority in fragile and conflict affected states. I have been doing this through a grant from Mercy Corps to explore a water governance and provision programme in the Eastern DRC. I am also beginning new research on the same theme in South Sudan. 

Can you share any interesting results you’ve learned from your work?

The two main things I have learnt from the project in the DRC are, first, the residents of places such as Goma often live such precarious and risk-laden lives that trying to gather fine-grained data which reveals how they manage their resources and networks is challenging, even when researchers believe they have established a modicum of trust. Second, development programmes that believe they can impose their own logics over the top of existing political economies may succeed in the short-term, but their sustainability should be doubted.

What do you hope the impact of your work will be?

I believe my work will help to advance methodological approaches to understanding how households manage their finances and networks in fragile and conflict affected states, whilst challenging previous claims to have gathered ‘good’ data. I also believe it will add to the calls for development programmes to understand their contexts when designing interventions that aim to disrupt the status quo. 

Could you share a bit about the moment you realised being a scholar was the path for you? 

I realised scholarship was for me progressively. Three books stand out right now but they change depending on when I am asked and how I am feeling. On the structural side, it was North et al’s Violence and Social Orders as it helped me to make sense of what was happening in Afghanistan in the late 2000s. Whilst on the ethnographic front it was Fredrik Barth’s Political Leadership among Swat Pathans and David Mosse’s Cultivating Development. The former helped me to shed any rose-tinted ideas I had about the role played and power wielded by large landowners in Northern Pakistan. The latter, that ethnographic and participatory method can be usefully used to examine development practice.