In this special roundtable discussion on the Governance Podcast, we sit down with Jennifer Murtazashvili (Pittsburgh), Liya Palagashvili (SUNY Purchase) and Shruti Rajagopalan (Mercatus Center) to discuss their research on self-governing social orders outside the west, the future of economic methodology and the challenges women face in academic science.

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The Guests

Jennifer Murtazashvili (bio) is an Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Pittsburgh. Drawing from diverse research methods including field experiments, public opinion surveys, and ethnographic fieldwork, Murtazashvili focuses her work on Central and South Asia, and the former Soviet Union. She also has experience advising for the U.S. Department of Defense, the United Nations Development Program, and UNICEF. Her work focuses on formal and informal political institutions, the political economy of development, decentralization and local governance, and post-conflict reconstruction.

Liya Palagashvili (bio) is an Assistant Professor of Economics at State University of New York-Purchase and a research fellow with NYU Law. For the 2018-2019 academic year, she was a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Political Economy at King’s College London. She is currently investigating the regulatory and public policy environment for technology startups and is broadly interested in questions of governance, polycentricity, and the role of external influence and aid on institutions. In 2016, Liya was selected as a Forbes ’30 under 30′ in Law and Policy.

Shruti Rajagopalan (bio) is a Senior Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, and a Fellow at the Classical Liberal Institute at NYU School of Law. She is also Associate Professor of Economics at State University of New York, Purchase College (currently on leave). Her research interests specifically include law and economics, public choice theory, and constitutional economics. Her research has been published in peer-reviewed journals, law reviews, and books. She also enjoys writing in the popular press and has a fortnightly column called  The Impartial Spectator in Mint.

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0:45: When we talk about self-governing social orders, we use concepts like federalism, polycentric governance, constitutional governance, all of which tend to originate in western and specifically American empirical contexts, so we often assume a specific set of norms and institutions that may be absent or difficult to nourish in the developing world.

Collectively, your research addresses really important questions about the nature and viability of self-governing social orders across almost every continent. Jennifer, you’ve been working on Central Eurasia, Shruti, you’ve been working on India, and Liya, you’ve been working on diverse cases in Africa and Native American groups in the US. I want to start with a couple of broad questions which you can take in whichever order and direction you want.

Firstly, within your own research programs, what does a self-governing or polycentric social order look like? And what do you think are some of the biggest challenges to the emergence of polycentric social orders around the world?

5:39: What functions do mahallas in Uzbekistan play in terms of the provision of public services or social order? Are they compensating for a lack of state infrastructure?

7:20: Liya, your work has looked at a different angle in which self governing communities have been sabotaged in both Africa and the US. What sorts of mechanisms are you observing that are undermining local and community governance?

11:26: Shruti, you’ve looked at a case on environmental governance in India where local communities following ancient traditions have been successful at managing the environment following a deep history of state-led control. What’s behind the success of this community-led governance and are there downsides to it?

18:50: It seems that across your cases there is an emergent story which goes something like this: historical movements, whether colonisation, Sovietization, or any kind of centralization of power have devastated local communities and practices and the mechanisms communities have used to either maintain their natural resources or to resolve any number of collective action problems. But at the same time it seems there is also a danger when we pick the success cases… Is there a danger in going too far in a utopian direction and romanticizing self-governance as something that always leads to more accountable government or participatory government… ? How do you evaluate where to draw a line and say sometimes it can be problematic, but if that’s the case, what do you do about it?

28:35: I guess the benefit of paying homage or respect to self-governing systems is that you might end up with this vast array of experiments in living across countries, within countries, and you end up with a lot of variation in terms of public service provision, economic development, and people would in principle be free to vote with their feet in an ideal world… But often we do have a situation where you have the privilege of being included in a local council and if that represents your interests as a woman, you find that beneficial, but also you might be signing on to a very patriarchal order. So in some ways there is an unclean tradeoff and it’s hard to tell what kinds of governance to privilege.

31:00: Along with that, given that you’ve all done really interesting archival research and fieldwork and going into the details of case studies – which is not usual for economists to do – have you been surprised by what you’ve found in terms of the assumptions you’ve been using as an economist? Have you found interesting information that you’d bring back to the table, to theory? Have you changed the way you think about governance more generally?

43:09: It sounds like a lot of what your work entails is sociology and anthropology, what might be considered “softer” social science disciplines that aren’t doing RCTs and testing policy interventions with experimentation. And most people wouldn’t say you shouldn’t do one method or another, but why do you think this more fine grained sociological approach isn’t entering the economics profession? It’s not something you’d come across as an econ student. If you’re taking an econ course, you’re exposed to a lot of mathematics and formal modeling. Why is this kind of methodology not getting the attention it needs?

58:06: I want to drive in on the sociology of science itself… science gets better the more perspectives there are from the methods, conceptual frameworks, from the kinds of data that we look at, and also from the kinds of people who bring new ideas to the table… Speaking on one element of diversity, you are three successful women economists and social scientists, and I wanted to finish the podcast by asking you, how do we get more women into economics?