Our Approach

Reconstruction efforts in Afghanistan do not take place in a socio-cultural vacuum. As with all social processes, reconstruction interventions and outcomes are very much a function of the formal and informal institutions through which Afghanistan as a nation state organizes itself or is organized. These institutions collectively structure actions and interactions among private and public individuals and organizations with a stake in reconstruction efforts. Here, the term institutions is used broadly to refer the manners in which interactions take place at different levels of interrelation, at different scales of governance, and in different spheres of the political economy. This meaning of institutions includes habits, values, norms, and customs as well as the more tangible official rules and regulations.

The Afghan political economy and its system of governance must be viewed as being a product of challenging, borrowing from, and displacing pre-existing institutions. There is no question that institutions can and do change under certain conditions and over the long-term. In addition, institutional change occurs when stability based on an existing set of beliefs, norms and practices is undermined and undergoes a process of deligitimation. In a political economy, deligitimization sets in when the political system loses its support base in the population and the resources and authority to function. The conditions for change in a post-deligitimization period, such as the post-2001 period in Afghanistan, are set through a coming together of external and internal factors that collectively and cumulatively introduce new rules, forms, and values to institute new or significantly changed beliefs, norms and practices. From this perspective, institutions are inseparable from the geopolitical context of social and economic interaction and time. APPRO’s approach to social research in Afghanistan is based firmly on this understanding and interpretation of institutions.

APPRO’s approach to institutional analysis begins with operational recognition of institutions by observing the following in a given context:

A number of people doing things according to identifiable patterns
A number of rules giving the activities repetition, stability, and predictable order, and
A number of social mores (or traditions) explaining or justifying the activities and the rules.

Doing can be seen and thus identified. Rules can be identified by ordering the doings into repetitive event sequences. While it is relatively easy to identify people doing and the rules that govern their activities, it is more difficult to identify social mores as that requires longer term observation and being embedded in a given situation. Social mores explain why the activities are going on, how they are related, what is important, and what is unimportant in the patterns of regularity. In identifying social mores the eye is a minor instrument and the ear is a major one.

Operationally, APPRO’s approach to research is at once historical, re-interpretive, and based on in-depth conversations through interviews with key actors and discussions with groups of individuals in focus group meetings. In all cases the findings from these conversations are verified through secondary interviews, discussions, and other forms of seeking feedback.

This approach is synonymous with holistic and inductive methods of inquiry. A holistic approach carries the underlying assumption that the whole of the elements gathered together through data collection and analysis is greater than the sum of the individual elements. An inductive approach requires understanding the phenomena or situation under study without imposing pre-existing expectations on the research setting. Specific, open-ended observations therefore need to be made in order to build toward defining organizing patterns in the situation under study. The holistic/inductive approach is dynamic and process-oriented focusing on actual events, interrelations, phenomena, or situations over a period of time.

To conduct analytical research along the above lines requires identifying or discovering the full spectrum of institutions and then documenting and classifying them for further analysis. Mapping can assist in the identification and discovery of institutions in a given context. Despite the primeval soup that emerges out of most mapping exercises, mapping is crucial for discovering the full range of institutions embedded in the history and the culture of the context of study. Mapping and categorization of institutions allows closer examination of specific sets of relationships among specific actors in a given context in order to understand why, as well as how, change occurs and whether or not the identified relationships and the institutions through which they are conducted can be meaningfully observed for research purposes and controlled from a policy making perspective.

Conducting this type of inquiry requires getting close to the subject(s) under study. Physical proximity for a period of time and development of closeness in the social and cultural sense of intimacy and confidentiality increase the validity and adequacy of empirical data. To maintain a standard of rigour, all research findings by APPRO are tested against what is known through intuition and the established and recognized historical trends.

For more information on institutional analysis see:

Neale, Walter C. 1987. “Institutions.” Journal of Economic Issues 21 (3): 1177–1206.

Parto, Saeed. 2005. “Economic Activity and Institutions: Taking Stock.” Journal of Economic Issues 39 (1): 21-52.

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