Welcome! I study the politics of inequality and social policy in the Global South, with a focus on the causes and consequences of privatized service provision. This has led me to study why politicians may adopt different means to expand service provision. When do politicians adopt state-centric or market-centric (private or hybrid modes of service delivery) to expand or reform social policy? Much of my research is sector-specific, with a focus on education reform. My broader research agenda aims to better understanding the politics of policy formation and feedback effects from the micro-level.
I also study survey methodology. My research examines how we can field better survey instruments and better interpret our own survey data. To this end, I am interested in developing methods to measure and improve attentiveness in surveys, and to better understand how respondents engage with survey instruments. These projects help us understand how to more accurately process the data we gain from public opinion surveys and connect it to the broader phenomena that interest us.
The State by Any Other Name? The Politics of Privatization in the Global South
For many citizens, social welfare brings them in close contact with their governments. Education, in particular, is a central part of citizens' lives. From a young age, it seeks to provide students with cognitive skills and human capital, alongside lessons of political and cultural socialization. As a core component of social welfare, governments have typically monopolized the production and maintenance of education; as a popular and pro-poor policy, governments have provided schooling in greater quantities as citizen voice has increased through democratization and democratic competition. Yet despite the centrality of education in the state's social welfare portfolio, education across the Global South is increasingly provided privately. In this dissertation, I offer a theory of private social welfare expansion, explaining why political elites facilitate the emergence of private welfare markets. I trace the rapid growth of private welfare in the Global South to the pressures of electoral competition. In the late 20th century, as elections became more competitive, politicians faced increased pressure to provide welfare, yet had limited time frames between elections and scarce fiscal resources. I demonstrate that politicians supported private sector social welfare projects to meet this demand. Drawing on evidence from India's primary education sector and using a school census of nearly 1.2 million public and private schools constructed since independence, I show that electoral competition prompts private welfare expansion and thwarts state efforts to centralize control over education. These results have implications for scholars and policymakers seeking to understand the scope and breadth of welfare institutions, and the role of government and markets in securing and ensuring social welfare. My findings challenge the idea that private alternatives to government services exist only during a transitional period between state absence and state consolidation. Instead, private welfare expansion follows a political logic that may not diminish as state capacity grows.
Job Market Paper:
The Electoral Logic of Education Privatization: Evidence from India
Governments typically assume responsibility for mass education. Yet particularly in the Global South, this trend has reversed: religious organizations, NGOs, political parties, and sectarian groups are increasingly educating citizens. When and why do governments cede authority over education to private providers? Existing theories emphasize state capacity and economic incentives, overlooking the political roots of private education. I argue that hybridization – increased private involvement in the traditionally-public education sector – results from the electoral incentives that politicians face in competitive elections. I draw on evidence from India's primary education sector, one of the largest education sectors in a country where over 100 million children are educated by private providers. Using a school census of 1.2 million primary schools and electoral data from 1977-2015, I demonstrate that electoral competition is associated with hybridization. Places with more competitive elections have more private providers. This result is driven by more recent years in the panel, constituencies are that unaligned with the ruling party, and the dynamics of incumbency. I use evidence from a regression discontinuity design, original interview data, and case studies to illustrate the mechanisms that drive hybridization. These findings challenge the idea that provision service provision is a transitional phenomenon that arises out of state weakness, instead showing that the private provision of education follows a consistent political logic, and help us understand the politics of education in a context where inequality, intolerance, and incohesion have increased in tandem with the explosion of private providers.