Institute of African Studies - Columbia University


Monday, May 21, 2018

“There’s a quote I like from the philosopher Brian Barry’s book Why Social Justice Matters, that I have posted in my office and home to remind me why I study economics and focus on studying inequality within economics-- ‘Social institutions perpetuate cumulative inequality. If there is any determinism involved, it is political.’ My research and my work is driven by my personal and professional experiences growing up in Nigeria and the United States, and trying to understand, like many thinkers before me, why seemingly identical individuals, groups and regions in terms of resources and talents, have such disparate economic outcomes.”

Professor Belinda Archibong is currently an Assistant Professor of Economics in Barnard College at Columbia University, as well as a faculty affiliate at the Center for Development Economics and Policy (CDEP), the Earth Institute, the Institute of African Studies, and the Institute for Research in African-American Studies in Columbia University. She is Nigerian and was partly raised in Lagos, Nigeria, but she moved to Michigan when she was a teenager and later moved to New York for college. She attended Columbia University for undergrad and majored in Economics and Philosophy and continued on at the university pursuing her PhD in Sustainable Development. Her dissertation examined the impacts of historical institutions and geography on access to public infrastructure services in Nigeria.

Her research and work is driven by her personal and professional experiences growing up in Nigeria and the United States, and trying to understand, like many thinkers preceding her, why seemingly identical individuals, groups, and regions in regards to resources and talents, have such disparate economic outcomes. Motivated by scholars like Thandika Mkandawire, Toyin Falola, and Frantz Fanon, alongside her personal experience, her research seeks to understand and highlight the ways that institutions and environment contribute to persistent inequality. By examining the role of state policy in the underdevelopment of particular demographics, she believes she is able to come closer to answering this question and framing solutions to unjust inequalities in the distribution of utility enhancing economic goods and services.

Professor Archibong expresses how being one of the few black or African women in a white male dominated field, such as economics, is not an easy path. She is often the only one who looks like her in the room and it is only been recently that the economics profession has come to terms with the costs of the lack of diversity. However, she feels fortunate and is thankful to have had fantastic mentors from all backgrounds, including Black women, that have supported her along the way. She feels that it is extremely important to have more Africans, particularly African women, represented in economics or other STEM related fields. “There are real, direct impacts that increased diversity and visibility of Africans in economics can have in potentially changing perspectives, reducing bias and bringing innovative ideas and experiences into the field,” she states, “with important implications for the framing of economic policy, especially policy recommendations for African nations.”

Professor Archibong shares how IAS has been a great, rich environment and source of support for African students and scholars since her undergraduate days at Columbia and how she is happy to be affiliated with the institute currently. Attending events hosted by IAS and her conversations with scholars there have played a large role in shaping her intellectual development and career trajectory, and she looks forward to further contributing to the institute in the future.

Check out this list of some of Professor Belinda Archibong’s work:
Her most recent and ongoing work includes “Colonialists, Taxation and Punishment: Prisons and Labor Coercion in British Colonial West Africa,” “Convict Labor and the Costs of Colonial Infrastructure: Evidence from Prisons in British Nigeria, 1920-1938,” and “When Women March: The 1929 Aba Women’s Tax Revolt, Prisons and Political Participation in Nigeria.”