Melina Platas, assistant professor of political science, spends several months per year conducting research throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Fieldwork, she said, is essential in her line of work to gain first-hand insights about unique social and political processes.
What research are you currently working on?
I am writing a book documenting and explaining why Muslims tend to have lower levels of formal education than Christians in most sub-Saharan African countries. Together with colleagues, I am also analyzing the results of two field experiments that took place in Uganda, one in which we look at the effect of watching political debates on voting behavior, and another in which we examine whether a new SMS platform can improve service delivery in health, education, and water.
Where exactly do you conduct most of your fieldwork? About how often?
I conduct fieldwork in sub-Saharan Africa, mostly in Uganda, but also in Malawi, Rwanda, Nigeria, and Ghana, among others. I make several trips a year, and usually spend summer months in Uganda.
The data I employ in my work includes household surveys, surveys of service providers, administrative data, and semi-structured interviews that can only be collected in the countries where the programs and phenomena I study take place.
Why is fieldwork critical for your research?
The data I employ in my work includes household surveys, surveys of service providers, administrative data, and semi-structured interviews that can only be collected in the countries where the programs and phenomena I study take place. Fieldwork is essential for data collection but also to gain insights and intuitions about social and political processes.
How does your location in Abu Dhabi contribute to your scholarly work?
I am able to participate directly in the process of data collection, by making regular trips to sub-Saharan Africa, in a way that would be much more difficult and costly in terms of time and resources if I were based in North America, or even Europe. Being in Abu Dhabi also allows for interaction with individuals from all over the world, including students, faculty, and staff, and for conversations that sometimes generate new research ideas and questions.