James Robinson appointed University Professor at Chicago Harris

Wen Huang
News Officer for Law, Policy and EconomicsUniversity Communications

The University of Chicago has appointed James Robinson, a renowned political scientist and economist and an expert on Africa and Latin America, as University Professor in the Harris School of Public Policy.

Robinson currently serves as the Wilbur A. Cowett Professor of Government at Harvard University and a faculty associate at the Institute for Quantitative Social Science and the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.

Some of Robinson’s best-known work looks at the conditions and institutions that shape national and global economic outcomes. Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty, which he coauthored with Daron Acemoglu in 2012, earned international acclaim in academic and popular publications.

Robinson’s appointment is effective July 1. He will be in residence beginning January 2016.

“We are excited to welcome Jim to Chicago Harris,” said Daniel Diermeier, dean of Chicago Harris. “Jim’s pathbreaking work has redefined the field of political development, identifying the political foundations of economic development and growth. It provides the rare integration of methodological rigor and theoretical insights with deep, historical knowledge and a broad global perspective.”

University Professors are selected for internationally recognized eminence in their fields as well as for their potential for high impact across the University. Robinson will become the 21st person to hold a University Professorship, and the eighth active faculty member holding that title.

“I am thrilled and honored to be joining Chicago Harris at a time of great expansion and new directions for the school, and I look forward to playing a role in helping the school to reach its full potential,” said Robinson. “What appeals to me about UChicago is the amazing strength across all departments. Everywhere I look at the University, there are scholars who have influenced the way I think and the way I do research. I can’t think of a better place to be to push forward my research agenda, and I hope to put Chicago Harris right in the middle of all this.”

Robinson’s research focuses on political economy, comparative politics and economic and political development, with a particular interest in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa. He has written and coauthored numerous books and articles, including the widely acclaimed Economic Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy (with Acemoglu). Recent articles include “Institutions, Human Capital and Development,” in the Annual Reviews of Economics; “Chiefs: Economic Development and Elite Control of Civil Society in Sierra Leone,” in the Journal of Political Economy.

Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty, his collaboration with Acemoglu, the Killian Professor of Economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, won the 2013 Eccles Prize awarded by the Columbia Business School. The book also was chosen as one of the Washington Post’s top 10 books of the year for 2012, one of the Economist and Financial Times’ “Best Books of 2012,” one of the Christian Science Monitor's “15 Best Books of 2012,” and one of Businessweek’s “Best Books of 2012.”

Robinson currently conducts research in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, Haiti and in Colombia, where he has taught for many years during the summer at the University of the Andes in Bogotá.

“James Robinson works at the intersection of economics and political science on fundamental questions of comparative politics and economic development,” said Roger Myerson, Glen A. Lloyd Distinguished Service Professor of Economics and recipient of the 2007 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics. “He draws insights from game theory and global history, and he tests them with rigorous statistical analysis. His use of analytical tools from economics to deepen our understanding of political institutions throughout the world makes him a perfect fit for the strengths of the Harris School.”

Robinson obtained his PhD from Yale University, his MA at the University of Warwick, and his BSc from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He taught in the Department of Economics at the University of Melbourne, the University of Southern California and the University of California at Berkeley, where he was a professor of economics and political science.

A senior scholar of the Harvard Academy for International and Area Studies since 2004, Robinson served on the board of the Global Development Network from January 2009 to December 2011, and on the Swedish Development Policy Council, a committee advising the Swedish Foreign Minister on Sweden’s International Development Policy from 2007 to 2010.

Listed by the UK-based Prospect magazine as one of the “World Thinkers 2013,” Robinson was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2012. He was a Florence Gould Foundation Fellow at the Paris School of Economics in 2010; a 2007 Walter Channing Cabot Fellow awarded by Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences; a Carnegie Scholar in 2002; and a Susan Louis Dyer Peace Fellow at the Hoover Institution from 1999 to 2000.

“This is a great, fantastic coup for the Harris School and the University of Chicago,” said Acemoglu. “James Robinson is not only renowned for his pathbreaking work on comparative political and economic development, but is also a real thought leader for modern social science and a role model for graduate students and young colleagues. His arrival will be transformative for political economy and the integration of political science, economics and history at Chicago.”

Robinson’s fellow University Professors currently at UChicago are: Wendy Freedman, University Professor of Astronomy & Astrophysics; Augusta Read Thomas, University Professor of Composition in Music and the College; Dam Thanh Son, University Professor of Physics, Enrico Fermi Institute, James Franck Institute, and the College; Kenneth Pomeranz, University Professor of History and the College; Haun Saussy, University Professor of Comparative Literature in Humanities and the College; Alexander Beilinson, the David and Mary Winton Green University Professor of Mathematics and the College; and David Wellbery, the LeRoy T. and Margaret Deffenbaugh Carlson University Professor of Germanic Studies, Comparative Literature, the Committee on Social Thought and the College.