Researching the politics of development



Profile of a Research Associate – Farwa Sial

13 July 2020

In the second in our series of spotlights on Research Associates, we discover more about Farwa Sial

What are your current circumstances during the coronavirus pandemic? Where are you living and what’s it like working from home?
Unlike a lot of key workers and those without options, I’m lucky enough to be working from home in London. It has its challenges, but is a huge privilege compared to the circumstances of many others in the UK and around the world.
What’s your role with ESID and what drew you to wanting to work with us? 
I’m a post-doctoral research associate at ESID. I am currently working on supporting the ESID team on a couple of on-going projects, primarily around oil governance and pockets of effectiveness. One of the strengths of the entire project is research on ways of strengthening state capacity in developing countries. We are witnessing a surge in literature on planning, governance and the role of bureaucracies and ESID has been leading this research for much longer than many new projects.
Can you tell us about your own research interests – what areas do you focus on and in which regions?
Broadly, I am interested in the evolving structure of capitalism. Within this framework, I am interested in multiple aspects of public-private interactions, such as the political economy of development, changing role of corporations, role of finance, industrialisation and whatever parameters that allow us to consider the concept of ‘comparative development’. I’m also interested in history of economic thought, heterodox economics and political economy and raising awareness about the need to diversify and decolonise knowledge.
Which of your research findings are you most excited about?
My recent publication on rentier subcontracting in Tanzania was an exciting research experience. I built on a theory of rentier capitalism in developed countries and sub-contracting as one avenue of such accumulation and applied it to the structure of informality and sub-contracting in developing countries.
Which papers or publications are you most proud of? Why?
As an early-career academic I think that publications which bring any sense of achievement are still a work in progress!
Who do you most admire in international development?
International Development or Development Studies as a discipline and as a platform for advocacy, activism and poverty reduction has a complicated history. The idea of saving the lives of others has had its fair share of destruction as well as niches of progressive transformation. Obviously, the latter is something to be aspired to and comes from critical niches around the world. Models of international development efforts which lead to long-term sustainable development are therefore really important and need more attention.
What is one way you would like to see international development respond to the current coronavirus pandemic?
The current pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities of a system which has traditionally worked in favour of some, at the expense of many. Unlike other financial crises, this time we see a significant threat to the fragility of an economic system which has enabled unchecked accumulation. For international development to have any meaningful impact on the lives of people across the Global North and South, there has to be a concerted effort to first address the structural causes of inequality. Reversing austerity to build resilience in the developing South and now even in the developed North is another start.
Read Farwa’s blog on the impact of Covid-19 on oil and gas producers in developing countries