I research care; development & HUMANITARIAN AID; & the gender data gap.

I’m a scholar-activist – I see a critical role for academic research in the practice of global development, from policy-making and programme design to finance and philanthropy. Institutional ethnography, developed by Canadian sociologist Dorothy Smith, helps me understand how the world works. It casts light on how institutions organize people’s everyday lives in ways that are often hard to see. It’s an action-oriented approach to research; it generates an understanding of power that is useful for those who seek to change it.

Why do I care about care?

In 2009, the Canadian government cut funding to women’s resources nationwide, and the women’s centre I worked at was forced to close its doors after 25 years of service. I came to understand this event as an indication of ‘uncaring’ priorities. I’ve worked in many countries globally and seen similarly uncaring priorities sideline women’s rights in the name of fiscal austerity and ‘responsible’ social spending. I’m motivated by the conviction that a more just and caring world is possible.

And why do I care about measurement?

My research on conditional cash transfer programs showed how a narrow handful of quantitative metrics obscured women’s experiences of participating in the program and produced a number of unintended consequences. While the numbers pointed to a programmatic success, they hid coercive implementation practices, underfunded public services and infrastructure, and the unpaid caring labour that women expended to overcome gaps in service supply. When it comes to gender inequality, I’m curious about what gets counted, how, and why–and the implications.

Where do i do my research?

I’m an Assistant Professor of Gender, Development, and Global Public Policy at the University of British Columbia’s School of Public Policy and Global Affairs, and an Associate Member of the Geography Department. I’m also the co-founder of Ladysmith, a feminist research collective that connects academic scholarship to practitioner problem solving by helping international organizations collect, analyze and take action on gender data.

Email me at: tara.cookson@ubc.ca