Africa as a Living Laboratory

Science is said to have two aims: theory and experiment. Theories try to say how the world is. Experiment and subsequent technology change the world. We represent and we intervene. We represent in order to intervene, and we intervene in light of our representations….

This book explores the points at which “representations” turned into “interventions,” as theory and research were applied in practice. Defined this way, interventions, including development projects, are part of an ongoing process of knowledge formation and reproduction.

That is Helen Tilley in an excellent book on imperial/colonial Africa as a Living Laboratory. The book focuses on scientific research (both in the natural and social sciences) in Africa between 1870-1950 and is a must read for practitioners and academics interested in International Development.

Slide from Easterly's Book Tour Talk

Slide from Easterly’s book tour talk

Chapter 2 is on Africa as “A Development Laboratory” (and the origins of the Africa Survey – see image), and will leave you feeling like there is, at least for the most part, nothing new under the sun in International Development. William Easterly makes this point as well in the Tyranny of Experts.

Oh, and Tilley’s book has some good data on the intensity of colonial administration and public goods provision in areas such as medicine, agriculture and infrastructure development.

A medieval sociology of IR

HT Melissa.

I found this rather fun to read. Here is my favorite bit of it all:

Like medieval priests, or oratores, the formal theorists in international relations claim special access to divine knowledge, available not through observation of the corrupt and impure world but though revelation and contemplation of the perfection of the divinity. Highly respectful of learning and abstract debate, the high formal theorists do no work whatsoever, other than to study the sacred dogma and refine ever more minutely the laws and teachings of the Holy Theory. Their debates on such arcane questions as, “How many angels can dance on the head of a subgame perfect equilibrium?” can get quite heated, but remain largely incomprehensible and irrelevant to the laity. Their function is to reveal the will of God to the lesser mortals, and to guide them in walking the correct path towards rational choice.