Award of the Ester Boserup Prizes – University of Copenhagen

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23 February 2015

Award of the Ester Boserup Prizes

12 June 2015, 13.00-15.30, University of Copenhagen, Bülowsvej 17

The Ester Boserup Prize is awarded by The Copenhagen Centre for Development Research for outstanding social science research on development and economic history. The prize is awarded to a scholar whose research has improved and deepened our knowledge of development dynamics and economic history, of poverty and wealth, of marginalization and political participation, and of lawlessness and justice.

This year’s recipient is Professor Susan Reynolds Whyte.

Susan Whyte is an anthropologist concerned with societal and family efforts to secure well-being under conditions of adversity. She has carried out research in East Africa on changing life conditions, family organization and post-conflict recovery. She has been highly productive in many aspects of the anthropology of health, publishing high-impact books, edited volumes and journal articles.

The Ester Boserup Thesis Prize will be awarded for the first time in 2015.

It will be awarded to Steven L. B. Jensen for his PhD-dissertation, Negotiating Universality: The Making of International Human Rights, 1945-1993. The PhD Review Committee praised it for being “written with verve and passion… and [for being] an impressive contribution to international historical scholarship on the evolution of international human rights norms”.

Read more about the award of the Ester Boserup Prizes (pdf)

About Ester Boserup

The prizes have been named in honor of the Danish economist Ester Boserup (1910-99) whose seminal contributions to the understandings of societal change transcended both national and disciplinary boarders. Perhaps most well-known is her theory of agricultural development, which she published in 1965 under the title 'The Conditions of Agricultural Growth: The Economics of Agrarian Change under Population Pressure'. In this work, based partly on observations from her travels in India, she argues that technological change in agriculture is a consequence of population density: As low-input, extensive agriculture is generally more labour efficient than intensive agriculture, farmers in sparsely populated areas have little incentive to innovate and intensify cultivation.  

Where population density rises, however, there is a need to cultivate intensively, and farmers are induced to innovate and employ production methods, which increase the output-to-land ratio, at the expense of labour efficiency. This theory, fundamentally challenging the Malthusian theory, has been supported by much subsequent research, and has greatly influenced later theories of agricultural change.

Another work of Boserup with far-reaching influence is her 1970 publication 'Womans Role in Economic Development'. Here, she presents an empirical analysis of the role of women in developmental processes in Africa and East Asia and argues, inter alia, that external support for land ownership changes and introduction of technologies and cash-crops, had contributed to a deterioration of the status of women in these societies, and that economic growth would require a greater focus on women in development. This work has been seminal in sharpening the gender focus of development policies of many bilateral and multilateral donors.