UM Professor Brian Min Wins 2011 Gabriel Almond Award for Best Dissertation in Comparative Politics


By Adrian Shin
Jul 27, 2011 Bookmark and Share

“My dissertation studies how governments provide electricity across the developing world. How do governments decide who to electrify? What types of governments are better at providing public services to their citizens?” said Professor Min. He shows that democracies provide electricity to more citizens, even in the most impoverished parts of a country. His findings challenge the assumption that election outcomes matter little to the daily welfare of the poor. 

To measure the distribution of actual public service provision, Prof. Min analyzed satellite imagery of the earth at night using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software, which extracts information from geo-coded imagery. Describing how he came up with the approach, Prof. Min recalled, “After our first child was born, I stayed home taking care of him for six months. I couldn’t leave home and I was worried I would never find the data to write my dissertation.” It was during that period that he recalled an image of the earth at night and began wondering whether he could use that imagery to study how states distribute resources. “That was really how the idea started.”

Although learning to use GIS was a significant challenge, the information from the images turned out to be richer than Min initially expected, providing plausible measures of how states redistribute electricity at a high level of geographic detail across the globe and over time.

Min also visited India three times over the course of the dissertation. “It was an eye-opening experience. I learned more than I ever expected and was forced to revise many of my initial hypotheses,” he remarked.  He learned which villages were connected to the power grid was actually not the most important phenomena, rather, what really matters is whether the power is working. With blackouts affecting tens of millions at a time, the presence of infrastructure does not necessarily imply public electricity provision in India.

One finding of the dissertation focused on the electoral rise of the Bahujan Samaj Party, a pro-poor party in Uttar Pradesh in Northern India.

“Looking at satellite imagery over time, I was able to show that places which elected leaders from the Bahujan Samaj party were more likely to benefit from access to electricity,” a significant finding which would have been difficult to achieve without the satellite technology.

Min’s regional interests, however, are not limited to India. He also has conducted research in Africa and across Inuit lands in the Canadian Arctic. For more information about his research agenda, visit his website.

Since 1972, the American Political Science Association (APSA) has awarded the prize annually to the best dissertation in the field of comparative politics in recognition of Gabriel Almond’s contributions to the discipline, profession and Association. Professor Min joins his dissertation co-chairs as a recipient of this prestigious award. Professor Golden received the award for her dissertation, “Austerity and Its Opposition: Italian Working Class Politics in the 1970s” in 1983. And, Professor Posner’s dissertation, “The Institutional Origins of Ethnic Politics in Zambia” received the 1999 award.