PhD thesis defence: Judith Favereau, February 14th, 2014

On February 14th, Judith Favereau (CES, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne) has publicly defended her PhD thesis entitled J-PAL’s Experimental Approach in Development Economics : an Epistemological Shift? (in French) in Paris (France)

Comitee:
Prof. Jean-Louis Arcand, Graduate Institue, Geneva
Prof. Annie L. Cot, université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne (supervisor)
Prof. Agnès Gramain, université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne
Prof. Emmanuel Picavet, université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne
Prof. Daniel Serra, université Montpellier 1 (referee)
Prof. David Teira, UNED, Madrid (referee)

Abstract:
This thesis focuses on the experimental approach used by J-PAL’s researchers in development economics. The goal of these researchers is twofold: (1) to produce evidence concerning the efficiency of development programs, in order (2) to guide policy decisions. The aim of this thesis is to conduct an epistemological analysis of the J-PAL’s approach. This analysis studies two dimensions: a methodological one and a theoretical one.

The methodological dimension aims to question the method used by the J-PAL: randomization. Two main questions guide this methodological analysis: (1) randomization’s methodological status of « gold standard », (2) and the possibility of transposing the results obtained by the J-PAL to the political sphere. The second dimension questions the J-PAL’s contributions to the (theoretical) debates within development economics over the past ten years. The study of these two dimensions allows an examination of the J-PAL’s approach as a whole.

The thesis shows that the results of this approach have a strong internal validity at the expense of a weak external validity. This makes difficult the use of such results in the political sphere. This tension between internal validity and external validity points out the antagonism of both J-PAL’s objectives and defines an epistemological problem: the refusal of a theory along with the lack of emphasis on the underlying mechanisms of the J-PAL’s results prevents it from producing clear political recommendations.

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