Thorsten Rogall


Thorsten Rogall is one of the latest additions to the VSE faculty roster. His main research and teaching interests are in political economy of development with a special focus on conflict. He has worked extensively on understanding how the political Hutu elites orchestrated the Rwandan Genocide. Despite these heavy research topics, Thorsten’s energy and care in his new teaching position are evident; he is always there to engage with students. 

Good question: I think there are two reasons that economics is a valuable field of study. The first is, economics gives you a very good theoretical basis for understanding how the world works in terms of our understanding of models, human incentives, human behaviour and other economic measurements. The classic example of when you open a newspaper having studied econ is a good one; you will definitely understand more and in more depth. My friends who’ve studied economics but then gone on to unrelated careers still tell me they are glad they studied economics for this reason.

The second reason is that studying economics gives you some very useful concrete empirical analysis skills, statistical tools and techniques that are applicable in other disciplines as well. These really help you to understand causal relationships. I remember before I began studying economics I read an article claiming that married people lived longer. While I didn’t go out immediately after and get married, I didn’t really give it a second thought, I just took it for granted. After studying economics you realize that claims like this make you start to think about what lurking variables might be present in given situations – maybe in the marriage example more people who are unmarried go off on crazy adventures that kill some of them, and that might bring that average value down, who knows? In any case economics helps you pick apart these scenarios with more rigour – tools that help a lot in daily life.

Well, as an academic in the field of political economy, I think I am biased towards thinking my own field is pretty cool. That being said, I think a lot of people get into economics because they want to answer the question: why are some countries doing better than others? What contributes to this reality? I think though political economy is a relatively new field it has a lot to say about this.

Currently my research in political economy examines the impacts of conflict and more specifically genocide on countries’ welfare. My Ph. D. dissertation was a collection of three papers on the Rwandan Genocide, trying to piece together why this event gained the momentum it did and what factors contributed from an economic perspective. I became interested in this topic as a result of my growing up in Ethiopia. I think my German background also influenced me, in that it inspired in me some curiosity about my cultural history and about understanding how the holocaust could have happened. I became really interested in figuring out why civilians would choose to involve themselves, what incited people to commit these acts of hatred. I wanted to test the classic civilian explanation given after these events “I was forced to do it.” My current research topics are an extension of these ideas and the results of my dissertation.

I’m not too sure. In high school I wanted to be an investment banker. Then, after when I got a job in banking I realized that it wasn’t for me; I am more interested in finding out new things than I am using an existing tool set to do similar research every day. I am a curious person, I didn’t want to do routine stuff. Another thing that contributed to me ending up as an economics researcher was my interest in history and math. when I started learning economics I realized the field combined these two disciplines in really interesting ways. At the time I was taking a few courses on the side of my banking job but after a while I decided to concentrate more time on my studies and then I ended up taking my Ph. D. So I guess that’s my kind of indirect route to getting here.

That’s easy: Torsten Persson who was or is my PhD advisor. He is fantastic. A great academic and on top of that a really nice person with a good sense of humor. I like that combination. It’s got to be him.

Well, I’m pretty new to the job, but so far I really enjoy teaching. I think a lot of people in my position see teaching as a tax, but I really enjoy it. I like when my students come to me with questions – I like that they give me good ideas. Those conversations are always awesome and always welcome.

I think so far the challenges are in balancing everything. You have to try to be a good teacher, something I’m getting better at. In order for that to happen you need to come to the classroom passionate everyday. At the same time, you have your research responsibilities and many other responsibilities that all vie for your attention. That being said I’ve really been enjoying myself so far, of course I’m still new so maybe that’s why.

Well, for one it really helps me to read the newspaper and to digest what can be at times a confusing barrage of claims or political statements that can be, again, both confusing and contradictory. So often, people quote empirical research and this can be misleading, because it can be used to one’s advantage so easily. For me studying economics helps me to properly understand these statements better and wade through them. Secondly, studying economics can also helps you more deeply understand human behaviour, and the effects of incentives and why people might make the choices they do. One thing it certainly hasn’t helped me with though is picking stocks – I feel like this is a pretty common misconception about economics.

This place is really friendly! You don’t see the little disputes or squabbles in this faculty you might see elsewhere that can make cooperative work unpleasant. I’m really drawn in by the relatively young political economy-focused faculty here who are doing great work, this was a major draw. Another was the close ties with the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR).