Postdoctoral Research Fellow
University of Cambridge, 2015, PhD


I’m interested in what women’s everyday experiences of caring for others can tell us about contemporary development. My speciality is institutional ethnography, which is an approach to studying how institutions organize people’s everyday lives in ways that are sometimes hard to see. It’s an action-oriented approach – it creates an understanding of power that is useful for those who seek to change it.

I recently published a book called Unjust Conditions: Women’s Work and the Hidden Cost of Cash Transfer Programs. It analyzes one of the fastest growing ploys in international development — using cash incentives to change poor people’s behaviour. Mainstream accounts suggest cash incentives are effective and efficient. My study of Peru’s conditional cash transfer (CCT) program revealed a host of gendered costs that are largely hidden unless we look at how women accomplish care in the context of uneven development. The book is available Open Access at the University of California Press:

This project led me to explore the gendered and spatial aspects of measurement regimes in international development – in other words, how we come to define problems of inequality and track progress in alleviating them. I’m especially interested in efforts to close the ‘gender data gap’, a term used by authoritative actors like the UN and philanthropic institutions to describe a lack of sex-disaggregated data, which they frame as a key driver of persistent gender inequality. How we measure a problem shapes the responses to it, so I see this area of exploration (e.g. who decides what ‘gender data’ is?) as an entry point into understanding the power dynamics around how women’s everyday lives, and especially their caring contributions to society, are considered, made visible, and valued.

In 2009, the Canadian government cut funding to women’s resources nationwide, and the women’s centre I worked at was forced to close its doors after 25 years of service. I came to understand this event as an indication of the state’s ‘uncaring’ priorities. I’ve worked throughout the Americas and seen similarly uncaring policies sideline women’s wellbeing in the name of fiscal responsibility. I’m motivated by the hope that a more caring world is possible, and that universities provide space to dig into what this might look like.

My current research is funded by a Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) fellowship, and I am honoured to be a Gates Cambridge Scholar.

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Cookson, T.P. (2018) Unjust Conditions: Women’s Work and the Hidden Cost of Cash Transfer Programs. University of California Press. Available Open Access at: 

Cookson, T.P. (2017) The Unseen Gender Impacts of Conditionality: Extra Official Conditions.  UNDP IPC-IG. Available at:

Cookson, T.P. (2016) Working for inclusion? Conditional cash transfers and the reproduction of inequality. Antipode 48(5). Available at:

Holeman, I., Cookson, T.P., Pagliari, C. (2016) Digital Technology for Health Sector Governance in Lower Income Countries. Journal of Global Health 6(2). Available at: