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Hello all,

Happy International Women's Day!


It has been quite a busy week in the development blogosphere. But I promise you an almost Kony 2012 and Jeff-Sachs-for-President free zone in this post. Not that these are not important debates, but they have already been in the spotlight for a few days and there were many other posts that also caught my attention. There are also three new posts on aidnography that I hope you enjoy, too.


New on aidnography

Is writing reflective blogs on development a girl’s thing? And if so, am I really a female blogger?
In some ways, a pre-emptive Women's Day debate took place last week on the subject of gender and writing blogs. Tom Murphy's balanced post
Carefully Wading into Gender and Development Blogging summarizes the debate quite well - although more research certainly needs to be done ;)

Open data, crowd-wisdom and ‘hunting plagiarists’ – how a group of activists is challenging the German academic system

A Wikileaks-equivalent on uncovering plagiarised PhD dissertations is receiving quite a lot of attention in Germany (and Austria)

5 questions for a post-Kony 2012 debate
Well, yes, there is a Kony 2012 contribution. But the post focusses on more generic and broader issues in the dialogue between different generations of development experts.

Development
Donor policies fail to bring real and sustained change for women

The research suggests that piecemeal economic and political empowerment programmes might give individual women opportunities to improve their lives through loans or training, but they fall short of achieving real and sustained change. "Empowerment lite" might deliver the kind of results development agencies have been reduced to measuring – numbers of women on courses, numbers of girls at school, numbers of women on councils. But this rarely translates into the kinds of transformations that lie beyond such limiting measures, such as changes in women's sense of their own possibilities and horizons, and shifts of power that are the precondition for creating a more just and equal world. For all the warm and fuzzy images of smiling women and laughing girls that appear in marketing materials, the vision of change purveyed by "empowerment lite" is frighteningly stark: one in which women and girls are recruited for their industriousness, and put to work to maintain a status quo that is deeply unjust. Men appear as shadowy figures, menacing or useless, never as allies or agents of positive change – women and girls are left to bear the responsibility of improving everyone's lives.
Great article by Andrea Cornwall.

Just do women’s empowerment

If anyone knows, can they please explain to me why the UK taxpayer is paying the Nike Foundation to empower women when its mother company Nike squeezes its suppliers so hard they pay those same women rock-bottom wages? Or is it all an incredibly cunning plan to empower women by treating them so badly that they are forced to fight for their rights … ? After all, impossible is nothing.
Many (corporate) social responsibility initiatives are window-dressing. As long as the CSR part is done outside the company's value chain the leverage for true and sustainable change will be limited. Nike, for example, good 'empower women' by simply increasing their wages by 20% or more - but that's not as 'sexy' as having a well-publicised charitable foundation doing the 'work'.

Barefoot College turns rural women into engineers

Barefoot's founder Roy, named as one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in 2010, believes that the key to improving living conditions in poor areas is empowering rural women -- the theme of this year's International Women's Day on Thursday. Training older women rather than focusing on men is the key, he said. "Men are very restless, compulsively mobile. The moment you give them a certificate they leave their villages," Bhagwat Nandan, a senior coordinator at the college, told AFP. "We deliberately confer no degrees," he explained. "People are obsessed with the idea of getting degrees, certificates and recognition but we recognise the hands-on, learning-by-doing process." (...) An estimated 10,000 women students have passed through the college's doors, while alumni are running more than 800 night schools across India providing a multiplier effect as knowledge gets passed on by word of mouth.
This example from India highlights some of the positive change and challenges that remain when 'empowering women'. Barefoot College is a great institution, but as Andrea Cornwall points out in her commentary is turning women into 'industrious subjects' in a capitalist society enough to ensure sustainable shifts in power and gender relationships?

4 Reasons Why Short-Term Volunteers Are Bad for ICT4D Projects

This is not to say all volunteers are bad or that there are not benefits for ICT projects in accepting volunteers. In fact, long-term volunteers can be a great asset in ICT deployments. They can bring advanced skills, like project management or wireless networking, that can take years to teach and may not be affordable or even available in the local ICT community. Last but not least, as volunteers, they are often driven by a higher cause than a paycheck and will bring unparalleled energy and excitement to a project. What is "long-term" volunteering? When I ran IESC Geekcorps, we always aimed for at least six months in-country. With the likes of VSO it can be one year and Peace Corps asks for two years plus three months training. The point in all these engagements is that volunteers need time to adjust to the local conditions before they can be productive.
Many of the problems of short-term volunteers equally apply in many other development contexts.

Stories in two flavours

In practice we often try to use both approaches together, that is we try to collect “authentic” stories, but then we also selectively pick those which serve our purposes, or selectively edit those to better make the point we are using the story to illustrate. And the level to which a story is a faithful representation or a carefully selected and edited story line is not always immediately clear to our audience (or perhaps even sometime to ourselves). Often we do this for expediency “well we are doing this great qualitative research that uses authentic voices, but we can also make use of the stories in our fundraising material”. A particular KM related example of this mixed approach is in how good practice case studies are used. Here the main aim is to try to faithfully document what happened in a project and what positive features we can learn from and potentially replicate. But at the same time we risk to overemphasize the positives in an experience without really taking adequate account of the negatives as an equally valid learning opportunity, especially if we are publishing externally.
Ian Thorpe's follow-up post on the use of stories and narratives to document change.

How to Work in Someone Else’s Country (A Book Review)


In all of the ongoing discussions of aid effectiveness, this has always been the most glaring absence—the conduct of aid workers. While Stark does little to explore or explain the roots of the aid system and the inequities at its core, she does aptly describe the situations that they produce, and what she has personally found as the best ways to navigate them. To fumble is an inevitable part of working cross-culturally. To be humble is not, thus the need for a book such as this.
For your reflective practice reading list...

Anthropology

Anthropology – A plea for engagement
It's a bit odd to link to somebody else's link list, but Jason Antrosio has compiled an interesting list of recent contributions from anthropologists on public debates ranging from open-access publishing to the Occupy movement and writing on Maya women in the news.

Academia

How To Cite A Tweet In An Academic Paper

The Modern Language Association has finally dealt with this burning question for academics on how to cite from Twitter

The disappearing virtual library

The publishing industry we have today cannot - or will not - deliver our books to this enormous global market of people who desperately want to read them. Instead, they print a handful of copies - less than 100, often - and sell them to libraries for hundreds of dollars each. When they do offer digital versions, they are so wrapped up in restrictions and encumbrances and licencing terms as to make using them supremely frustrating. To make matters worse, our university libraries can no longer afford to buy these books and journals; and our few bookstores are no longer willing to carry them. So the result is that most of our best scholarship is being shot into some publisher's black hole where it will never escape. That is, until library.nu and its successors make it available. What these sites represent most clearly is a viable route towards education and learning for vast numbers of people around the world.
Anthropologist Christopher Kelty on the shut-down of library.nu - which I never used, of course, because it was not legal...

Challenges and Opportunities for Think Tanks and Advocacy Organisations in the Western Balkans Today

You can vote a politician out of office. But you cannot vote an expert, a think tank, out. The public gets tired of them, or disagrees with them, but cannot get rid of them. They are still called to offer their views on TV. This is a very interesting idea. Think tanks need to refresh their staff, their ideas, their approach, their allegiances, every once in a while. Does it mean that they have to respond to ‘popular demand’, too?
I'm filing this under 'Academia' because I like the idea of 'refreshing staff' not only for Thinks tanks, but other academic or development institutions, too. Maybe this is an unintended positive side-effect of having less permanent positions and more interesting people moving around globally? I also find the issue of 'popular demand' an interesting one. How can 'the public' influence think tanks - or shouldn't they at all?

Journal for Occupied Studies

The Journal for Occupied Studies is an independent contribution to the global Occupy movement, one which springs from the New School for Social Research in New York City but which fills its pages not only with student and faculty perspectives on Occupy Wall Street but with contributions from diverse individuals outside that university and indeed outside the USA.
Every social issue needs an academic journal ;)! But this one does sound interesting and the New School is a great base for the endeavour.

Arms and Legs

Debt and austerity don’t just happen, they must be imposed upon a population, and one of Occupy’s greatest contributions has been to reveal the kind of instruments the state expects to use. As the California student movement puts in: “behind every fee increase, a line of riot cops.” Across age demographics, Americans expect the worsening that has already begun. There have been casualties, and the body count will only rise.
A long, radical essay from latest The New Inquiry issue on 'Youth - But what could they want?'. It's dark, gloomy and naturally I don't agree with everything Malcolm Harris writes, but its definitely a great demasquerading of many contemporary issue around protest, violence, debt and growing up in the current global climate.

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