The Franklin L. Burdette/Pi Sigma Alpha Award is presented annually by the American Political Science Association (APSA) to honor the best paper presented at the previous year’s Annual Meeting.
Aditya Dasgupta is an assistant professor of political science at the University of California, Merced. His research is on comparative political and economic history/development. He works on three main topics: (i) democratization; (ii) technological change; (iii) and state capacity. Much of his work is on rural India, including his book project on the political consequences of technological change, but he also works comparatively. He is building a lab on the Political Economy of Agriculture and Rural Societies (PEARS).
Citation from the Award Committee:
The committee is pleased to award the 2021 Franklin R. Burdette/Pi Sigma Alpha Award to Aditya Dasgupta for the paper titled “Explaining Rural Conservatism: Technological and Political Change in the Great Plains.” “Explaining Rural Conservatism” is innovative and rigorous in its theorizing and methodology, resulting in a paper that challenges prevailing accounts while also opening a new research agenda in U.S. politics and likely the politics of many other places.
Dasgupta’s main substantive contribution is to provide an account of the political transformation of the “American heartland” that hinges on technological change. He argues that the introduction of greatly improved irrigation techniques — specifically, diesel and petroleum-powered deep-well groundwater pumps and center-pivot irrigation — after World War II led to more capital-intensive and productive farming on the Great Plains. This economic shift also brought with it political shifts, as a more commercialized agricultural sector came to prefer Republicans’ economic and environmental agendas to Democrats’.
The author makes a compelling empirical case for this account by using the introduction of the new irrigation technology as a natural experiment and creatively incorporating GIS and satellite imagery. Exploiting the fact that the new irrigation technologies were only useful to farmers whose land overlapped the large Ogallala aquifer, he compares a matched sample of counties with and without access to the aquifer and examines how they changed over time. With a precise difference-in-difference design, he is able to show that counties overlapping the aquifer changed both economically (with more agricultural commodification) and politically (with increasing Republican presidential vote shares) compared to otherwise similar counties. Dasgupta also carefully rules out alternative explanations for the overtime changes he observes, including increases in religiosity and rurality.
“Explaining Rural Conservatism” is also notable for the many themes it weaves together: partisan politics, elections, economic inequality, political economy, and technology. Given its many merits and broad relevance, this paper is likely to be read and its contributions appreciated by many members of the American Political Science Association.
APSA thanks Pi Sigma Alpha for its support of the award and the committee members for their service: Elizabeth Suhay (Chair), American University; Joanne Miller, University of Delaware; and Hans Peter Schmitz, University of San Diego.