Papers & Talks


Papers & Talks

Works in Progress

“Development in light of populist movements”


There has been a resurgence of populist movements in Western Europe and the US. Along with Brexit and Trump’s election, populism has been re-emerging in other European countries, such as Austria, France, and the Netherlands. At the same time, anti-immigrant sentiments are on the rise as are calls by citizens that their governments turn their attention to domestic issues of poverty and inequality rather than spending taxpayers’ money on international development assistance. Isolationism and protectionism have led to speculations of declining foreign aid and growing poverty in the least developed countries. This paper examines the history of foreign aid in the UK and the US since 1960s. Although “America First” and Brexit are unique phenomena emerging within a specific global historical context, they do reflect on specific political partisanship in each of these countries. Drawing on existing literature, the paper asks to what extent the election of Trump and Brexit will impact developing countries. Does lack of welfare state generosity at home translate into lower development assistance abroad? Based on existing data, the paper finds the answer to this question to be on average positive. In other words, it finds that governments that are more inward looking tend to lower foreign aid provision and spend less on international development. However, the paper also detects opportunities existing in the gloom of lower development aid.

“From MDGs to SDGs: The Long Road to Owning Development”

This paper compares the process that gave rise to the Millennium Development Goals to the current process that will generate Sustainable Development Goals. It takes into account the changes that the world has experienced since the year 2000 and argues that shifting wealth and power dynamics from the North to key actors in the South, diversification of ideologies, an exponentially growing world population, and rapid technological revolution have all contributed to making the post-2015 development agenda a process that is more focused on the path to the next development agenda and not only its outcome.

“The Normative Policy Space: A Domain of Political Alternatives.” with Hiroaki Abe.

In this paper, we offer a brief review of the history of political thought to illustrate how political choice as a normative project has been gradually transformed into a positive enterprise where causal explanation dominates the contemporary studies of decision-making. We draw on Lefort, whose notion of the ‘empty place’ points us to the background space, which surrounds political decisions, where ideologies and institutions are not preordained but perpetually open to contestation. Taking our cue from Lefort and building on Mitchell’s critique of the conceptual-empirical or state- society distinction, we then introduce our policy space model, a space of political contestation over the dominant ideologies and institutions of a political community which structures the choices of decision makers. We then elaborate on the active and latent dimensions constituting the policy space and the transformations possible based on interactions between these dimensions. Finally, we illustrate our theoretical analysis through an examination of the global development agenda, which by the turn of the millennium converged on poverty reduction. We use our policy space model to depict the process through which alternative conceptions of development were gradually marginalized so that the active domain of policy space came to be occupied primarily by the liberal epistemology of the Millennium Development Goals, with the dominant narrative converging multiplicity towards a single end point.


Seyedsayamdost, Elham. “Global Governance in the Age of the Anthropocene: Are Sustainable Development Goals the Answer?” Global Environmental Politics 19.2 (May 2019).

Seyedsayamdost, Elham. "Millennium Development Goals: Impact on National Strategies and Spending." Development Policy Review (June 2017) doi:10.1111/dpr.12314.

Seyedsayamdost, Elham. "Development as End of Poverty: Reform or Reinvention?" Global Governance 21 (2015): 515-535.

Seyedsayamdost, Elham. "Building on the MDG Experience to Create a Truly Transformative 2030 Agenda." ACUNS Quarterly Newsletter 1 (Spring 2015).

Seyedsayamdost, Elham. “Technologies of Ambiguity: The Dialectics of Iran’s Nuclear Power.” Northwestern Journal of International Affairs (Winter/Spring 2011): 110-135.

Vandemoortele, Jan and Elham Seyedsayamdost. “The MDGs Are Not ‘Mission Impossible’” World Guide 2005/06.


UNDP, Independent Evaluation Office. Evaluation of the Role of UNDP in Supporting National Achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. New York: UNDP, 2015. 

Harvard University, Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research. “Long-term Conflict  and Humanitarian Action: A Policy Perspective” ATHA Policy Brief January 2009.  

Ahmed Galal. The Road Not Traveled: Education Reform in the Middle East and North Africa. Washington, DC: The World Bank, 2008.

Office of the Chief Economist for Middle East and North Africa. The Status and Progress of Women in the Middle East and North Africa. Washington, DC: The World Bank, 2005.

UNDP, Bureau for Resources and Strategic Management. Millennium Development Goals: A Training Tool Kit for MDGs. New York: UNDP, 2004.

UNDP, Bureau for Development Policy. UNDP Support to PRSP Countries. New York: UNDP, 2002.


"UN Women's Empowerment Principles and Gender Equality," UN Global Network Anniversary Event: Transforming Our World Through Innovation and the Sustainable Development Goals, Panel Member, Dubai, UAE, 15 May 2017.

"Round Table on Enhancing Dialogue and Partnership between Academia and Humanitarian Actors on Regional Displacement Crises in the Middle East and North Africa Region," UNHCR and WANA, Amman, Jordan, 26-27 April 2017.

“Millennium Development Goals: Impact on National Strategies and Spending," Center for Governance and Sustainability, UMass Boston, 13 November 2015.

Development as End of Poverty: Reform or Reinvention?" hosted by Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein to the UN, organized by Global Governance, One Earth Future, and ACUNS, 22 June 2015.

“Beyond the 2015 MDGs: Empowerment and Equity for the Collective Global Good,” Berlin Model United Nations XXIII, Keynote Address, 19-22 November 2014.

“Contributions of the United Nations Development Programme to Achieving the Millennium Development Goals: An Assessment,” Independent Evaluation Office, UNDP, 22 July 2014.

“Development as End of Poverty: Reform or Reinvention?” Academic Council on the United Nations System, Istanbul, Turkey, 19-21 June 2014.