Peer-reviewed publications

Kumar, T. and Stenberg, M. “Why political scientists should study smaller cities.” 2023, Urban Affairs Review.[Pre-print] [Appendices]

Kumar, T., “Home-price subsidies increase local-level political participation in urban India.” Journal of Politics. 2022.[Pre-print] [Data and code]

Kumar, T., Post A., Ray, I., Otsuka, M., and Pardo-Bosch, F. “From public service access to service quality: The distributive politics of piped water in Bangalore.” World Development. 2022. [Pre-print] [Data and code]

Haas, N., Haenschen K., Kumar, T., Panagopoulos, C., Peyton, K., Ravanilla, N., and Sierra-Arevalo, M. “Organizational identity and positionality in randomized control trials: considerations and advice for collaborative research teams.” PS: Political Science and Politics. 2022.

Kumar, T., “The housing quality, income, and human capital effects of subsidized homes in urban India.” Journal of Development Economics. 2021. [Pre-print] [Data and code]

Kumar, T., Post, A., and Ray, I. “Flows, leaks, and blockages in informational interventions: A field experimental study of Bangalore’s water Sector.” World Development. 2018.[Ungated] [Data and code]

Available working papers

“Democratizing bureaucracy: Citizen voice and local government responsiveness in rural India” with G. Kruks-Wisner. (Pre-analysis Plan) Manuscript available upon request

Abstract How can citizens demand accountability from unelected lower-level officials, who are critical gatekeepers of public resources? Existing research often cites high barriers to responsiveness, suggesting that local officials are deeply constrained and beholden to senior administrators and politicians. We argue that citizens can lower these barriers through direct expressions of voice that focus officials’ attention and elicit empathy, along with collective action that activates officials’ reputational concerns. We illustrate our argument in rural India through qualitative fieldwork and an in-person survey of over 1200 personnel across every block in Jharkhand – one of India’s poorest states. Experiments developed with a community media NGO reveal that exposure to citizen testimony increases officials’ observed attention and emotional response, and that the prospect of citizens publicizing complaints through social media increases officials’ willingness to act on an issue. These findings suggest a citizen-led pathway to bureaucratic responsiveness – even for those lacking strong political connections.

“How complaint type shapes bureaucratic responsiveness to citizens: Evidence from Mumbai’s water sector.”

Abstract When do non-elected officials respond to citizen complaints? In the formal complaint system for Mumbai's water sector, handling bureaucrats took action in response to 44% of the 20,000 complaints lodged from 2016-2018. In line with literature on distributive politics, responsiveness to marginalized citizens is lower. Yet in interviews, officials emphasize that professional incentives lead to prioritization by what the complaint is about. In fact, once controlling for complaint content, the relationship between complainant identity and responsiveness disappears. Initial patterns of differential responsiveness by complainant identity arise from the fact that citizens from marginalized groups experience lower levels of service provision, which leads them to make complaints that are more difficult to address. The paper sheds light on the role of bureaucracy in distributive politics and shows that professional and capacity constraints in responding to complaints may perpetuate inequalities in service provision.

“Politics in the urban periphery: Citizen-led expansion and informality at the edges of India’s cities.” with A. Auerbach.

Abstract Why are some privately developed neighborhoods on the outskirts of India’s cities incorporated into municipal governance while others are not? And what are the consequences of uneven incorporation for public service provision? This paper explores these questions in the context of peripheral private developments in India. Peripheral private developments are planned neighborhoods at the urban-rural edge that frequently exhibit informalities stemming from weak or absent zoning approval. First, we explore how variation in authorization by the city shapes neighborhood access to basic public services. We next show how collective action among residents influences patterns of neighborhood-level authorization. Our study draws on qualitative interviews and neighborhood-level data collected from the urban development authority in Jaipur, a rapidly growing city of four million people. We interviewed neighborhood leaders across 25 of Jaipur’s cooperative housing society colonies—a common type of peripheral private development. These interviews with local leaders, as well as interviews with officials and data collected from the urban development authority, provide novel insights into the political economy of these proliferating yet understudied spaces.

“When do local governments improve transparency? Bureaucratic champions for open transit data in California” w/ I. Ratan, A. Post, and M. Sheth. Paul Sabatier Award for the best paper on science, technology, and environmental politics, APSA 2022. Manuscript available upon request

Abstract Which local governments are first to adopt new technology improving public service delivery? Much scholarship predicts that governments facing greater competition will be more likely to reform. In contrast, we develop a bureaucracy-driven account of technology adoption arguing that the actions of agencies are constrained by their size, resources, and employee motivations. We compare empirical support for both perspectives by examining variation in the adoption and use of online scheduling information for public transit (GTFS), a transformative technology that makes transit far easier for riders to use. In California, we find that city and county-controlled transit agencies adopted GTFS later than special districts less exposed to political competition, and that large agencies where internal champions faced fewer technical and resource constraints outpaced smaller ones. Interview and survey evidence provide support for the mechanisms underpinning our theory. These results underscore the importance of studying bureaucratic drivers of technology and policy adoption.