Dr. Simone Dietrich, who is Assistant Professor of Political Science and also holds an appointment at the Truman School of Public Affairs, studies a broad range of political subjects with a particular interest in international aid allocation and effectiveness. Her field work in international development across the world informs her development of data-oriented inquiries into the political and economic mechanisms of international aid. “Academics don’t explain trees—we explain forests,” she tells us, and in her main projects, she combines many different pieces of data to develop a clear picture of larger trends in the politics of international aid.
Marvin Overby has been described as the Political Science department’s "utility infielder" in American Politics, and over the years his expertise has only spread. His research interests range from legislative procedures in the U.S. House and Senate (and Canadian Parliament, too) to the politics of minority groups. And his interests continue to grow.
Can nest conditions predict what kinds of predators can masticate a bird? What effects do controlled drugs have on the formation of persistent follicles in beef cows? How resourceful is the neglected art of video poetry? These were just some of the questions that approximately 120 undergraduate students were attempting to answer during the summer of 2007.
The Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievements Forum, held at the end of July at the Bond Life Sciences Center, allowed students to present their scholarly research projects to the public. MU students specializing in an array of concentrations were stationed at posters describing their findings.
What a society counts as moral or immoral is subject to the particular zeitgeist—the spirit of the times. “At the time of the slave trade, for example, most people who were slave owners thought it was moral. Even a few blacks, once they were freed, had slaves,” explains Sharon Welch, Professor of Religious Studies. As a social ethicist, Welch researches not just the way individuals make moral choices, but how a whole society begins to decide “what counts as moral.” To that effect, all of her projects coalesce around such issues of social morality.
In this video Dr. Dietrich describes a popular lesson she teaches to undergraduate students that traces the global life-cycle of a cotton t-shirt. Through examining this simple item—from production, to initial purchase, and to eventual reuse—Dr. Dietrich is able to show her students how politics interact with economics, how comparative advantage impacts international trade, and how charity can have unintended consequences.
Dr. Dietrich is currently working on a paper that examines aid and democracy consolidation in Africa. The goal of this study is to understand what conditions make foreign aid likely facilitate national transitions to democracy, and what conditions can lead to “democratic deepening.”
Before earning her PhD Dr. Dietrich spent time as a development practitioner in Bosnia. She tells us that this experience was important in forming her specific interests in political science. In this video Dr. Dietrich explains one of the major initiatives she observed in Bosnia, and tells us how her observations there have developed into a book project on how government ideologies affect foreign aid decision making.
There is a scholarly debate in the world of political science over the effectiveness of international aid. In this video, Dr. Dietrich describes how she entered the literature on this subject by examining the tactics that donors use in allocating and delivering aid.
When asked about why they were drawn to this area of research or creative activity, MU faculty provide interesting and compelling responses. In some cases, they continued in school because the drive to learn new things was so great, because family provided a sense of identity and career direction, or because of initial interest in a related field. In other cases, they stumbled upon the field quite by accident. Regardless of the reason, the passion they hold for their work is obvious.
Even though the student researchers are usually not going to get their studies published in an academic journal, these researchers have an opportunity to make a difference with their findings. For example, every summer approximately twenty researchers go to Jefferson City to present their finding to lawmakers. “We work with the students to take their posters, turn those posters into something that very accessible to the public and elected officials,” Blockus explains. “This is our way of reminding the state officials of some of the things we do, and the special ways we are adding value to student experiences here at MU.”
Regarding her book After Empire (2004), Welch says: “One of the things I’ve always been very interested in is the ethics of peace and war and the kind of debate that is going on now about whether the United States should take on proudly and without hesitation the mantle of empire.” Examining both sides of the issue Welch notes that “every empire becomes one of domination and coercion. And a basic lesson of history is that people don’t like to be dominated, and they’re going to resist. There’s a cost to empire. There’s a cost not just to the people who are controlled, but there’s a cost to us who are the empire.” Hence, it is crucial at this uncertain historical juncture that “rather than use our power to be an empire, we use our power to put in place a kind of world order that we would like to see when we’re no longer the dominant political power, bringing the rule of law to the international sphere” between nations.
In After Empire Welch offers practical suggestions for moving toward an international rule of law: “A lot of people are opposed to war, but really don’t know what the alternatives are. They don’t know that there are millions of people all over the world trying to put in place those alternatives.” She speaks especially about one group of which she is a part, Global Action to Prevent War, an international consortium of NGOs and peace studies programs in over thirty countries. Having worked with the coalition that established the International Criminal Court, they are now working on the formation of a United Nations emergency peace service. Although Welch describes many “little successes,” they are not given much attention in the crisis-driven media. “We don’t really have a cultural script for the little successes,” she observes. “It’s not as glamorous to prevent a war. And how do you know you’ve prevented it? Maybe it wouldn’t have happened anyway.” Moreover, while war may be averted, racial and economic problems still remain: “With war, there’s a least the illusion of a definite end—one side surrenders,” whereas, with peaceful solutions “there’s no defined end; the struggles are ongoing.”
This research project explored some issues within political philosophy, specifically within egalitarian theory. After reading major contemporary political philosophers and discussing them with Professor Vallentyne, I ultimately wrote a paper entitled “Autonomy, Uncertainty, and Brute Luck Egalitarianism,” in which I argue against Alan Carter’s pluralist egalitarian theory in favor of what is known as a “brute luck egalitarian theory.” I do so within the context of deciding what role of respect for autonomy should play within an egalitarian theory, which I try to show as related to the uncertainty involved in the practice of politics. The paper will be submitted for publication in an undergraduate or graduate philosophy journal.
How does activism fit in with pedagogy on campus? What is a just war?
Ugarte’s current project: Looking at the relationship between Spain and Africa from the late 19th century through the 21st century.
In order to raise awareness of their research, Gompper and his team work closely with a number of agencies, including the Missouri Department of Conservation, the Arkansas Fishing Game Commission, and the U.S. Forest Services.