Political Scientist Joel Toppen Presents Paper
Posted June 26, 2003
HOLLAND -- Dr. Joel Toppen, assistant professor of
political science, will present a paper during the 19th
World Congress of the International Political Science
Association (IPSA), held in Durban, South Africa, on Sunday-
Friday, June 29-July 4.
Approximately 2,000 are anticipated for the event,
which will focus on the theme "Democracy, Tolerance,
Justice: challenges for political change." Toppen noted
that he appreciates that this year's world congress is being
held in Africa, particularly given the theme.
"This year's conference is special because the
attention of political scientists from around the world will
be brought to political issues facing Africans. These
issues are often neglected outside of Africa," Toppen said.
Toppen will be presenting the paper "Ideology,
Science, and Bush's Millennium Challenge Account" during a
panel titled "External Constraints and Incentives to
Sustainable Economic Development." Panelists will include
scholars from Botswana, Brazil, Canada and Mozambique as
well as the United States.
President Bush announced the "Millennium Challenge
Account" (MCA) in March of 2002 to fund initiatives to help
developing nations improve their economies and standards of
living. Criteria for nations to receive aid include ruling
justly, investing in their people and encouraging economic
Although Toppen personally favors the MCA as a
response to the 2.8 billion people around the world who live
on less than $2 a day, he is critical of the social
scientific thinking behind the policy. He argues that while
the MCA may seem "a pragmatic and non-ideological poverty
reduction initiative," its assumptions are based in a
numbers- and nation-oriented worldview that in the end may
not best serve the poor for whom the program is designed.
"This limited, orthodox approach obstructs the
creative analytic thinking likely essential to understanding
the incredible complexities of poverty reduction," he said.
"The science behind the MCA may be valid and reliable at the
same time that it thoroughly distorts our view of the
Instead, Toppen believes, poverty and the
political interests of poor people should be approached more
"In addition to thinking of global poverty
reduction as a technical problem for policy experts and
elites, political scientists should think of it as a massive
social and political problem requiring massive social and
political change," he said. "From this alternative
standpoint, certain questions often ignored become relevant:
how can the interests of poor people become politically
powerful? What are the conditions in which the Millennium
Development Goals (MDG), signed by 189 countries including
the United States, could acquire significant normative and
legal force? What coalition of forces would have been
necessary to prevent passage of the recent U.S. farm bill,
which will likely put millions of small poor farmers out of
business? How could a consensus among national and
international power brokers emerge that the security threats
posed by protracted civil wars are important? What would
the effect be of a massive global political movement
dedicated to the elimination of poverty? What about local
networks of mutual assistance and accountability? How can
political cultures like that in the Congo be demilitarized?
How was Jubilee 2000 able to put debt relief on the agenda?"
"These empirical questions are not normally asked-
-at least not by the social scientists whose work Washington
trusts and approves," Toppen said.
The IPSA was founded in 1949 under UNESCO
sponsorship. Its membership consists of 42 national
political science associations, as well as some 1,000
individual members like Toppen and 100 institutional
members. The IPSA organizes a world congress every three
years, in addition to sponsoring research and a variety of