Links & Contents I Liked 99

Hello all,

After a stimulating seminar with students and colleagues in Berlin the weekly link review is back! To make up for the short hiatus there are a few more recommended reading included this week:

From Brazil's homicide epidemic to mobile money in Kenya the development news section offers a glimpse at new reports and publications. There is quite a comprehensive section on the challenges of the open government/development/transparency discourse, plus the future of graduate employment at AusAid and reflections on what 'local' really means in peace and development work.
An excellent interview with anthropologist Tim Ingold, the human randomness of academic search committees and outsourcing of exam marking are the highlights of the anthropology and academia sections. 


New on aidnography
A few reflections on the ‘blended professor’ of the future
What we will likely see more of is a generation of academics that will use (or forced to use) a mix of blended technology, pedagogy and skills – from TA-ing as a professor in a MOOC to adopting teaching from near-high school levels to PhD supervision. This may not be as ‘radical’, ‘revolutionary’ or ‘disruptive’ as fancy op-ed writers claim regularly, but especially for those at the beginning of their academic careers or post-graduate studies it will be important to think about some of the changes of academia as a profession in the nearer rather than further future.

south sudan

Words + images from the process of making #Jonglei Public Radio in #Bor #SouthSudan work.
Given all the images of disaster and destruction from the Philippines, Pernille Bærendtsen shares some peaceful pictures from South Sudan.

Fifty thousand homicides

In addition, more people are killed in Brazil than in any of the world's most lethal war zones. Between 2004 and 2007, almost 200,000 people died of homicide in Brazil, exceeding the 169,574 people killed in the twelve largest armed conflicts in the world during the same period. Iraq in 2006, at the height of the insurgency, saw only half as many homicides as Brazil in any given year.
Oliver Stuenkel shares some scary statistics from the under-reported violence in Brazil.

Organised crime and peace

In our report we use the Peacebuilding and Statebuilding Goals (PSGs) of the New Deal to discuss the impact that organised crime has on building peace in fragile states and societies. Organised crime is often overlooked in peacebuilding discussions, despite its potential to contribute to conflict and perpetuate fragility.
International Alert's new report makes a valuable read for peace and conflict aficionados.
All In Diary: A Practical Tool for Field Based Humanitarian Workers - 4th edition
Over the past months, we have been carefully reviewing and assessing each and every one of our 70 information pages, updating the content, resources and weblinks. Our aim is to ensure we are reflecting current thinking, lessons learnt and best practice
Definitely a resource worth checking out!

Forget feast or famine, it's time to tell the complex story of development

As long as poverty exists, so too should NGOs. But until we acknowledge that the solutions to poverty are complex and begin communicating them as such, we will appear increasingly irrelevant. What we are communicating is not working. Let's move beyond guilt and optimism and try something new – complex and sometimes troubling reality.
I agree with David Humphries that 'the world' is ready for honest and complex communications from the realities of development.

Mobile money is transforming the business of agriculture in Kenya

The uses go beyond simple sales. Mwangi points to the example of the Coffee Development Fund. Coffee farmers in the Central and Rift Valley provinces are provided cash advances while they wait for their coffee haul to be valued. The access to money means that the farmers can pay for a child’s education or a health need immediately, rather than wait for the final payment.
Farmers looking for ways to improve irrigation may have interest in the MoneyMaker pump. The device looks and acts just like a StairMaster. Water is drawn upward by the stepping motion and a farmer can water his or her crops. Buying one is not cheap, so KickStart, the NGO behind the pump, offers farmers the opportunity to pay off the balance slowly through M-PESA.
Tom Murphy's interesting reminder on how M-PESA is changing Kenya's agricultural sector among many other cultural and business innovations facilitated through mobile technology.


Of course, (RED)washing our consumption is bull shit. We will not and cannot consume our way towards the end of AIDS, the eradication of poverty, or the elimination of social injustices. And, allowing those of us with the power, privilege and purchasing power to buy the “world’s most iconic brands” to believe that we can is just plain wrong. It is worse than wrong. But, my Mom reads this blog and I promised that would no longer use the four-letter word I want to use to explain how wrong it is.
Just a short public service announcement from Shawn Humphrey: 'Conscious' consumption does not have a development value!

Heteronormativity: why demystifying development’s unspoken assumptions benefits us all

As a consequence, the IDS Sexuality and Development Programme has just launched an online guide to heteronormativity on ELDIS to encourage a greater focus on the perils of ignoring heteronormativity in development interventions.
My colleagues Kate Hawkins, Georgina Aboud and myself have brought together a concise guide to the concept, its usefulness for development thinking and the ways in which it impacts upon gender, LGBT rights, economic justice, health care, human rights and law. We’ve also collected some key publications together on the topic for those wanting to explore it further, alongside research materials that show how it has proved useful in the field.
Excellent collection of material by IDS colleagues!

Open Gov: Enough Commitments and Tools. Where are the Results?

What these diverse initiatives illustrate is the challenge of a technocentric view of open government. This is understandable. With technology such an obvious and visible driver of innovation, the space is dominated by technologists with novel and creative ways to use their skills in the service of the public good. And government officials and civil society groups alike have been seduced by technology’s novelty and capacities to relieve them from the hard work that social change has historically required.
So long as a government embraces new technologies, releases some datasets, and makes high-profile commitments to the international community, it is a card-carrying member of the open government community. But as we work to advance open government, we must also ensure that we not only preach accountability, but practice it, too.
No matter how technology has changed development discussions, the discursive formations of the linguistics behind development commitments have changed very little since the days of 'sustainability', 'gender' or 'participation'. They have just become a little bit more attractive and persuasive with number, datasets and fancy websites...

Communications and Society Program Launches Series on Open Government

The central irony of open government is that it’s often not “open” at all. Conversations on open government are dominated by those with the means to participate. Studies — including those from Turkey, Japan and Italy — show that participants in open government and civic engagement initiatives are often more privileged members of society. Demographics differ in context, but over-represented groups include: the young or educated, who know how to use the technologies that enable many open government initiatives; those already politically active individuals who have another channel to push their agenda; and the relatively wealthy, who can afford both the time and the tools to participate.
The practical result of those with power, privilege and access tinkering for solutions, while large citizen segments remain uninvolved, is that open government initiatives are clouded by our own biases and tunnel vision. As advocates of open government, we assume that citizens and governments are eager to join the movement. As technologists, we assume everyone is an enthusiast and early adopter.
This is another interesting post by Reboot's Panthea Lee which complements the previous reflections on the challenges of open government.

Ethics and risk in open development

Participants felt that there is not enough honest discussion on this aspect. There is a pop culture of ‘admitting failure’ but admitting harm is different because there is a higher sense of liability and distress. “When I’m really scared shitless about what is happening in a project, what do I do?” asked one participant at the OK Con discussion sessions. “When I realize that opening data up has generated a huge potential risk to people who are already vulnerable, where do I go for help?” We tend to share our “cute” failures, not our really dismal ones.
Academia has done some work around research ethics, informed consent, human subject research and use of Internal Review Boards (IRBs). What aspects of this can or should be applied to mobile data gathering, crowdsourcing, open data work and the like? What about when citizens are their own source of information and they voluntarily share data without a clear understanding of what happens to the data, or what the possible implications are?
And finally another great post by Linda Raftree some serious ethical issues that do not just apply for open development, but for many other development activities where people rush in without thinking ethics first.

Culture, signaling and the transparency fad

But has anyone tested if this theory holds? How many of the transparency commitments are fruitless signals that promise something they don't deliver?
The accounting literature has done work on this question. Looking at countries that commit to adopt international standards that require lots of disclosure and openness, various authors in this literature have found that implementation varies. And often it varies because a country has norms and values that support secrecy over transparency. My badly drawn diagram sums part of this work, showing that some countries are pro secrecy and conservatism (Latin countries and others) while some are pro transparency and optimism ( the USA UK and Nordics amongst others).
Interestingly we see the pro transparency countries as champions of the transparency agenda and various others forced to sign on. But a signature is just a signal, and if the accounting studies are anything to go by we should expect little more from this transparency agenda in many cases...
And another contribution to the open government/aid/transparency debate and how culture(s) matter no matter how much you focus on seemingly objective numbers...

8 reasons Orwell matters to aid workers

As a depiction of life in imperial Burma, the novel has nothing and everything to do with aid work. You should read it, but in case you don’t, here are eight relevant lessons from the novel.
Great post on how novels matter for reflecting on development-very fitting with the Popular Representation of Development book that I keep hinting at here and there ;)!

Amid typhoon response, concern over future of AusAID after graduate jobs terminated

The department also blames 12,000 job cuts across the public service and the abolition of AusAID as an executive agency.
Many of the graduates are pointing to the move as being a worry when it comes to the future of Australian aid.
Ms Lord says terminating the graduate roles is "short-sighted" and disregards what Australia's aid budget is supposed to do - "assist people overcome poverty while advancing Australia's national i
Emily Hadgkiss, 27, had resigned from her role as a researcher in public health at a hospital in Melbourne
"It was a surprise to me that that decision was made," she told the ABC.
She says she was "aware there'd be changes and cuts" but that these were not supposed to affect the graduate programs.
The graduates are now considering how to respond as a group and appeal the decision.
I wonder whether something similar will be happening in Canada as well...

Are you local?
So at the heart of this there lie systems of thinking and sets of assumptions that guide the language we use. Or rather, perhaps it is more precise to say that they are ‘systems of unthinking’. The danger is that we use language uncritically, that it becomes part of the furniture and we fail to notice its meanings and baggage.
The peacebuilding and development worlds have developed a vernacular professional language that has had remarkable success in gaining a foothold in many conflict-affected societies. It is difficult to pass half an hour without hearing stock phrases like ‘lessons learned’, ‘capacity-building’, ‘local participation’ etc.
Obviously we need to share the same language in order to understand each other. But it is worth stopping and thinking about the meanings that we give words, and perhaps we should start with ‘local’.
Roger MacGinty on the complexities, uses, abuses, non-uses and reuses of the term 'local' in peace and development work.

We Did It!

Advocacy organization Falling Whistles, which we’ve covered in the past, has recently revealed that they and their followers “stopped M23.” That’s pretty swell and all, but we’d be more impressed by their success if it weren’t for the fact that we’ve just arranged for the destruction of Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons.
That’s right. We wanted those weapons to be gone, and said so to a whole bunch of people. And wished super hard every time we found a stray eyelash. And now the weapons are dunzo, so clearly our campaign worked! Hooray for us.
There really was a bit of a second Kony 2012 in the making when another DIY-startup announced a few days ago that there work 'stopped' M23 rebels in DRC. This gave Amanda Taub and Kate Cronin-Furman the chance to talk about their modest efforts in securing world peace, harmony and development...:)

Fresh Ink on a Classic: Going ‘Beyond “Writing Culture”’

Celebratory attempts at canonizing Writing Culture as a long overdue postmodernist critique of anthropology often turned a blind eye to evident problems embedded in this landmark text. By contrast demonizing dismissals, portraying Writing Culture as threatening the existence of the professional discipline, frequently failed to really take seriously the epistemological and political challenge as to how to know as well as speak about (and for) the other. If our book has one single lesson it is the foundational acknowledgement that these challenges have to be, and arguably can be, addressed – preferably in what we call “recursive” ways, since theorising about intersections of epistemology and representational practice inevitably entails already realising such intersections
Admittedly, this is a post for anthropological nerds ;)...but all heavy theoretical language aside, this seems to be a very interesting book on a core text of modern, post-modern or whatever-modern anthropology!

Interview: Tim Ingold on the Future of Academic Publishing

On the face of it, open access looks like an admirable principle to which we would all want to subscribe. But the appearance is misleading, and the current call for open access is in fact playing directly into the hands of government, large corporations and predatory publishing houses, all of which must be taking much delight in our academic gullibility. For anthropology, to endorse open access unequivocally would be an own goal. Here’s why. Whatever regime is in place, specialist academic publishing is an extremely costly business. The question is whether these costs are borne up front by the producers of research, or by its consumers (readers and subscribers). Open access would shift the burden from the latter to the former. With rare exceptions (for example where scholars might be independently wealthy), these costs are way beyond what any individual researcher could afford. For externally funded research projects, they might be borne by the funding body (e.g., a research council). For academics with permanent positions, they might be borne by their universities. However, universities with limited resources would then have to decide what work of their academics gets published and what does not. In effect, managers and bureaucrats would find themselves in charge of decisions currently taken by editors. As for all the scholars who are not lucky enough to hold tenured positions, who may be in between jobs or have no jobs at all, their work would have absolutely no chance of being published, as they would have no means to pay. Not only that, but the scholarly societies would find their subscription income cut out from under them, and would probably be unable to continue. Yet these societies have come to play a more and more crucial role as protectors of disciplinary integrity and as a last line of defence against corporate interests and government interference.
This is an important and long interview with Tim Ingold who ultimately remains optimistic that anthropology will continue to be relevant and will produce relevant publications and other 'outputs'. But in the foreseeable future the fight for (permanent) academic positions and substantial research money will be fought by established departments that use established metrics to measure 'impact'.
Plus, this is also an encouragement to check out the Allegra Laboratory with excellent writing on various aspects of anthropology!

Notes on Thoughtfulness in Scholarly Publishing (1): A la Carte Pricing

One kind of thoughtfulness in publishing decisions focuses on the end price to legally access the scholarship that we give to publishers with the hope that they will get it before the eyes of interested readers. If I used only the data presented above, I cannot easily make a case for one toll access publisher over another. It gets easier when other considerations are brought into play. Still, if you recoil at the idea of someone paying $35 to read your book review or at the idea that someone would pay the same about to rent access to your article for a single day, then the thoughtful thing to do is to not publish in such venues or, if you must, to do so in a way that allows you to legally share your work in green open access ways.
Jason Baird Jackson does some interesting number crunching on how much you have to pay for academic articles outside institutional subscriptions. He mentions one point that I find particularly relevant: Book reviews in mainstream academic journals have become almost useless if the price to access a book review is higher than buying the reviewed book. It should be in the best interest of publishers, reviewers and readers to have easy and free access to book reviews-for example the ones I regularly share on this very blog.

The Professor Is In: Search Committees Are Made of People!

I realize you may have scant sympathy to spare for the travails of the tenured. But many of them are operating under significant strains. Never forget that their task is to get from a pile of 500 (let's say) to a pile of 25 (the long short list, let’s say), most likely late at night after a day of teaching, and class prep, and bullshit meetings, and getting the kid to daycare and home from daycare, and fed, and bathed, and played with, and dinner made, and the kitchen cleaned, and the kid in bed, and laundry folded, and the partner who was supposed to fold the laundry but didn’t snarked at, and grading finished. The operations of search committees may seem like a black box to candidates, but they are actually human processes conducted by real human beings with stressed-out lives
I thought about this post for a while. Yes, on the one hand search committees are made of people and odd, maybe even random, decisions can affect the outcome of an application. But isn't this also an indirect call for 'professionalization'? Should academia employ human resource software, external/internal consultants and a different system of recruiting altogether? I don't think there is one right or ideal answer, but challenges remain as to find the 'right' candidate in a professional environment constantly asked to do more with less time and resources...

Strike on offshore marking

An RMIT academic, who was recently co-ordinating a course with a Vietnam colleague, told the union that the Vietnamese staff ''were not up to speed with us and could not make appropriate marking decisions … They could not understand the difference in HD [high distinction] and pass.'' Dr Slee believes the Singapore students ''are the biggest victims of all … Students in Singapore will be outraged if they knew that their exams were being marked in such a short amount of time by people who were not taught into the course'', she said.
Between capacity building (Vietnam), global branding (Singapore) and local roots (Australia)-an interesting case study from the frontline of globalized academia.


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