SOCIAL INNOVATION | CORE
Political scientist Evan Lieberman studies ethnic identity and African politics
Democracy, as the old saying goes, is not a spectator sport. But it may seem that way if you live in a country where the citizens, or some of them, are not used to engaging with the government.
MIT political scientist Evan Lieberman sees this first-hand when he conducts research in sub-Saharan Africa, a region he has been studying closely for a quarter-century now.
For instance: In the U.S., Lieberman observes, many parents of schoolchildren feel entitled to question local officials and ask what can be done to ensure their kids get a good education. Not so in some African countries.
“It doesn’t even occur to parents to ask difficult questions or think that what they say or do would have consequences,” Lieberman says.
So Lieberman, who joined the MIT faculty in 2014 as the Total Professor of Political Science and Contemporary Africa, has been designing research, such as a field experiment that he will pilot this summer in Tanzania, that also serves as an intervention of a kind. In it, trained facilitators help citizens to recognize that they can analyze evidence and participate in the workings of democracy.