Antoinette Handley Joins PIIRS as World Politics Fellow for 2016-17

Antoinette Handley
Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Antoinette Handley has been named World Politics Visiting Fellow for the academic year 2016-2017. Handley, who earned her Ph.D. in politics at Princeton, is currently an associate professor of political science at the University of Toronto where she teaches comparative, developing country politics, including African politics and government, African political economy, and the politics of epidemics. Prior to her current position, Handley served as the director of studies at the South African Institute of International Affairs in Johannesburg, South Africa, where she led the institute’s research and publications division.

Handley’s research focuses on the nature of the private sector, specifically, business as a political actor and the role of these actors in the political economy of development more broadly. More recently, her work has focused on how African economic elites respond to moments of national social or political crisis. One such crisis that she examines is the wide-ranging and devastating impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in certain Southern and East African countries; another is presented in moments of national political turmoil and violence. Her work considers why, in some instances, business, often at some considerable cost to itself, seeks to play a key role in resolving the crisis in question, while in other instances, firms attempt much more narrowly to simply insulate themselves from the costs of the crisis, doing little or nothing to resolve it.

While at Princeton, she will be working on a new project: attempting to develop a political economy account of state formation in Africa. This will examine how iterated interactions between particular economic and political elites, and the public and private sector, have shaped the ongoing construction of the state across the continent. She seeks to understand whether the power of political elites and the states that they build is constrained or enabled by the concomitant development —or not— a dominant economic class.

“Business doesn’t get much of a look in Africa; people who study the region for a long time have tended to focus on many other subjects, but there has recently been an amazing resurgence of economic growth in some African economies and this has redirected our attention to the role of the private sector in these developments,” Handley explains. ”There have always been people who make money in Africa, there have always been economic elites — it hasn’t always been just poverty and economic despair—but who those people are and how they make their money has been the question— and it’s coming into focus in a new and urgent way. Who holds wealth and generates income, and who holds power in these societies? Are they one and the same, or do different groups of people control the political and economic resources? I am really looking forward to continuing a conversation I’ve started with a number of colleagues at Princeton on the states’ capacity in the developing world, where it comes from, and how political economy questions fit in here.”

Handley says she is looking forward to being back on campus, although she “fully expects [she] won’t be able to find her way around — there has been so much construction! When I was a graduate student, I spent a lot of time running on the canal at Princeton and even completed my first NYC marathon while I was there. I don’t run that much anymore, but I enjoy walking. I look forward to walking around the beautiful campus, getting to know it again, and—of course! — spending lots of time at Firestone Library.”