Urban Politics, Local Politics, Development, Political Participation, Housing, Mobile Technology
Tanu Kumar received her B.A. from Bowdoin College and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of California, Berkeley. She studies political behavior and service delivery in developing countries.
One strand of Kumar’s research is on how policies to house and provide essential services to growing urban populations shape, and are further shaped by, the behavior of urban citizens and politicians in India. One project explores how housing policies shape local politics in urban India. Providing free or subsidized housing to poor and lower middle-class households is a major policy initiative in many rapidly urbanizing countries, including Kenya, Ethiopia, and Brazil. In India, it is a policy upon which the government spends, as shown by central government figures, up to 1.65% of its GDP annually. These policies often provide beneficiaries with homes to own, and therefore propel them into a class of urban homeowners. She explores how these initiatives affect household behavior and, in turn, local politics in Mumbai. She is also working with undergraduates at William & Mary to collect and use granular data on urban politics in India to understand the tradeoffs officials face when balancing the competing needs of different constituencies under situations of limited resources and state capacity.
Another strand of her research is on how low-income households use mobile phones. This set of studies highlights how intra-household dynamics can affect the use of technological interventions, an aspect of both technology adoption and asset ownership that remains relatively unstudied. She has conducted a field experiment in Bangalore on how text-message solutions to alleviate problems of water service intermittency and predictability can be hindered by gender differences in access to a household cell phone. She is also working with Professor Phil Roessler on a collaborative project in Blantyre, Malawi, that aims to understand how providing women with smartphones affects household consumption, and whether interventions to promote cooperative intra-household use of the phone further affects outcomes.
“Home-price subsidies increase local-level political participation in urban India” submitted in September 2020 to Journal of Politics. Abstract available for view.
Kumar, T., Post, A., and Ray, I. “Flows, Leaks, and Blockages in Informational Interventions: A Field Experimental Study of Bangalore’s Water Sector.” World Development 106: 149-160, 2018.