Links & Content I liked 06

First of all, a warm and friendly Happy 2012 to all readers!

Quite a few things have caught my attention during the holidays' semi-hiatus, but before I shall proceed to the usual annotated link-roundup, I want to highlight a few interesting posts on blogging and development 2011 reviews and 2012 previews:

Thank you all for reading, sharing and commenting on My development blogging 2011 review! Dominic Furlong's excellent post on his relatively new blog Global Dev Round-up: A Round-up of 2011 Round-ups is a great overview of other round-ups. His Research Uptake Round-up may not be an annual review, but many of the bloggers and topics featured have significance throughout the year. And Jennifer Lentfer's 12 to watch in 2012 is an interesting starting point for discussions on what topics, people and organisations may matter this year. Both Chris Blattman's and Duncan Green's There's lies, and then there's blog stats annual blog statistics are interesting. As much as I enjoy their blogs they also show a big challenge with regards to 'impact': It is not original content that tops the list, but 'hat-tipped' links, quotes and material. These are still interesting and more or less relevant for development, but they also raise questions about the size of the development blogosphere and their regular readers. Many visitors arrive through (non-development-related) Google searches on the blogs, although both well-known blogs have a large regular readership. The question for me then is about 'impact' and 'influence': Is it more important to have a large, loyal readership or does your impact increase if readers arrive on your blog looking for something else and then being enlighted by the development contents? And how many policy- and decision-makers were looking for Tina Fey or extreme chapati hurling and then got sucked into the development blogosphere...?

But let's look at the 'in other news' stories:


The stories of development
Chris Blattman highlights some simple and simplified development stories in response to Tyler Cowen's TedX talk on stories from 2009 that was transcribed in December 2011 by Less Wrong. I think Chris Blattman and I have a different understanding about the concept and its value in development (I am a qualitative researcher after all...). I would describe his examples as narratives whereas stories are not necessarily IQ-lowering 'good vs. evil' tales, but can be powerful ways to approach data, people and places differently. Mats Utas' ethnographic article Victimcy, girlfriending, soldiering. Tacit agency in a young woman’s social navigation of the Liberian war zone is one of my favourite examples of how a story can explain so much more than any dataset could ever achieve.

The Challenge of Telling Global Stories
Talking about stories...Tom Murphy shared an interesting article about a well-known journalist who could not seem to find an outlet for a story on the crisis at the Horn of Africa. As much as I agree with the 'compassion fatigue' syndrome, I was missing a piece on critical self-reflection and changes in international journalism. First, commercial mainstream news media have become less and less the beacons of democracy, pluralism, checks & balances that they like to portray themselves as. I am still looking for data that supports claims such as 'our readers don't want to read the same old stories from Africa' or 'our advertisement will be affected if we report for 4 months continuously on a crisis we deem important'. Newsmakers want 'new' stories, ideally stories that can be accompanied by lots of photos where people need to click through to inflate the website statistics. Second, I am still looking for empirical evidence that media reporting influences development policy-making other than short-term measures in humanitarian emergencies (and that coverage took place on the Horn of Africa). If you believe your medium can achieve this, why do I read the interesting reflections on Haiti (see below) on a blog and not in the NYT? Which brings me to my last point: Maybe development-related reporting is changing. Yes, newspapers are reducing foreign bureau staff, but is the 'journalist travels to a region for a week talking to NGOs' model really best practice? Locally-based journalists, bloggers and organisations themselves are putting out some great stuff. I still remember a long piece on the PBS Newshour they did in collaboration with MSF in Somalia and American journalism students. I am looking forward to see the angle that journalists will take who can still apply for one of the small grants that Tom Murphy and Mark Goldenberg are offering:
DAWNS is committed to lowering the barriers associated with humanitarian journalism and story telling. With revenue collected through the sales of DAWNS Digest, we will issue grants to writers, bloggers, citizen-journalists, photographers, documentary film makers or any other manner of storyteller.  Nominations are open until January 25. We will announce the recipients of our first grants on February 8.
Haiti: Seven Places Where Earthquake Money Did and Did Not Go
Yet Haiti looks like the earthquake happened two months ago, not two years. Over half a million people remain homeless in hundreds of informal camps, most of the tons of debris from destroyed buildings still lays where it fell, and cholera, a preventable disease, was introduced into the country and is now an epidemic killing thousands and sickening hundreds of thousands more.

It turns out that almost none of the money that the general public thought was going to Haiti actually went directly to Haiti. The international community chose to bypass the Haitian people, Haitian non-governmental organizations and the government of Haiti. Funds were instead diverted to other governments, international NGOs, and private companies.
Very interesting reflections on the 'disaster capitalism' - and one of those stories that affect 'public policy' and is rarely written about in mainstream media.

For those debating Sachs: Remember, it's not's Economics
Daniela Papi's frank, but still balanced reflections on encountering Jeffrey Sachs on a panel in Oxford are great food for thought & debate.

Occupy LSX, unruly politics and subversive ruliness

Overall, it seems that the greatest potential for transformation comes from finding a way to combine “subversive ruliness” with unruly contestation. This is something that I learned from working with indigenous movements in the Brazilian Amazon. They initially baffled me with their tendency to make sudden switches from orderly participation in formal, bureaucratic health service monitoring meetings to war-painted, bow-and-arrow-wielding occupations of government offices – until I realised that it was precisely this ability to maintain the element of surprise by mixing apparently incompatible political strategies that had enabled them to overcome their political, social and economic marginalisation and force the Brazilian state to recognise their rights.
IDS Fellow Alex Shankland links his impression from the Occupy The London Stock Exchange to broader questions about the power of 'unruly politics', an area he and other colleagues have been working on for some time now.

Tales from the Hood takes up my holiday challenge
Tales from the Hood's guest post on Tom Paulson's blog is a good starting point to share with those who may be less profesionally and emotionally involved in development:
Three things I wish more “ordinary people” understood about humanitarian aid:

1) It’s possible to do aid wrong.

2) The overhead rate doesn’t tell you anything useful.

3) There are no magik bullets.


'I'm not listening': Kenyan Whiteness

It is, perhaps, too simple to say that Kenya remains deeply segregated—class provides some opportunities for interaction, but not enough to matter. An inherited colonial whiteness has been buttressed by a multi-national and NGO whiteness. I use the singular, perhaps wrongly, to suggest that whiteness has clustered or, to use a metaphor I adore, agglutinated into a one-ness anchored by its relationship to non-whiteness.
Colonial Kenyan descendants, Europeans, North Americans, and Southern Africans clump together into something insular that can be incredibly ugly.

I am angry. Consequently, I am overstating my case. I know this. Yet, the case I am making about contemporary Kenyan whiteness is rarely made in public because money is at stake; rarely made consistently, allowing Kenyan newspapers to continue publishing racist screeds about “African inferiority”; rarely made into a cause for action because, again, money is at stake.
And issue that pops up in development time and again...
How can the ideas of the open source movement help foster learning? What are the most effective ways to bring learning to everyone? How does openness help the spread of knowledge? Part exhibition catalog, part manifesto, this is a concise, fun-to-read introduction to what Mozilla is doing to support learners everywhere.
There is also a fascinating book on the Mozilla Festival which I have not read yet, but which I probably should. Development studies is certainly in need of some new forms of teaching and learning...Cathy Davidson sums the overall direction of the book up nicely in her keynote speech:
Virtually every feature of traditional formal education was created between 1850 and 1919 to support the Industrial Age. The whole basis of assessment is the standard deviation, the invention of Francis Galton! A eugenicist who believed the English poor should be sterilized! We’re stuck with Henry Ford’s assembly line from kindergarten through grad school! But our world has changed! With the Internet we don’t need the same kind of hierarchical structures.

That's the first and fairly comprehensive link round-up for this year. Enjoy and keep in touch!


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