With my research, I am seeking to understand whether or not programs funded by the United States Agency for International Development and their private partners facilitate the opening of new markets in post-conflict countries where the United States has influence over public policies and whether or not that allows USAID’s private partners to financially benefit from resources in those nations. I became interested in this project after reading literature on the conflict resolution field and the question of empire. I found that there was literature grounded in theory about this question, but the question was supported by little empirical data. This project relates to my long-term goals of finding ways to empirically study the question of empire and understanding the ways in which it operates within the conflict field.
My research focuses on a single project that is being implemented in Africa. Due to my inability to travel to Africa this semester, my research concentrates on analyzing project reports, legal documents, and electronic media sources on my topic. On a weekly basis, I search through these documents—a very time consuming task—and analyze the implementation of projects, determine whether or not the projects sought to change public policies in the countries I am studying, and analyze the reaction of civil society to the implementation of such projects. As I find this information, I utilize a process-tracing technique to effectively tie together all of these components to provide a basis for causal inference.
This week, and every week since developing this project idea, I discovered that completing academic research that involves analyzing the actions of private companies, even when they are partners with public organizations, is very difficult. This is because oftentimes data and reports on projects conducted by private partners are not always easily accessible. While this has highlighted the limitations of certain types of research, and made completing my project challenging, it has also made me more excited to continue exploring these difficult questions.