Theses Doctoral

The Political Economy of Heterogeneous Communities: Local Governance and Cooperation in the Congo and Sierra Leone

Van der Windt, Pieter Cornelis

In much of the developing world, the community is the arena of social interaction. Heterogeneity at this local level, combined with a weak state and economic underdevelopment, has been found to make communities particularly receptive to conflict. We know little about cooperation between members of different groups in such communities, and we know even less about the influence of actors, such as the village chief and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), that substitute for the state at this level. What role do the village chief and NGOs play in governing communities characterized by the influx of migrants? Do NGOs strengthen cleavages in heterogeneous societies? What is the role of the village elite in managing cooperation within a village? And which tools should researchers use to understand behavior at this local level? To answer these questions, this dissertation collected original data in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Sierra Leone. Specifically, this project builds on carefully designed lab-in-the-field and field experiments, as well as original survey and ethnographic data, to explore the political economy of heterogeneous communities. The first essay shows how local institutions in the DRC are resilient to outside intervention. Importantly, I find causal evidence that local institutions, not NGOs, are key in sustaining high levels of intra-village cooperation in the presence of migrants. The second essay shows that NGOs in the same context influence how individuals relate to their social categories. I find that NGO activity can strengthen social categories that relate to access to development resources at the cost of those that benefit local cohesion. The final essay explores discriminatory behavior based on social status in rural Sierra Leone. I find that classic experiments may be insufficient in understanding behavior at the local level. In summary, this dissertation emphasizes the importance of research tools designed to measure local behavior, and challenges the basis for current international interventions by showing the positive role of the village chief and by providing micro-level evidence for the possible harmful role that NGOs can play in heterogeneous communities.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Political Science
Thesis Advisors
Humphreys, Macartan N.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
January 11, 2016