Links & Content I liked 08

Hello all!

Quite a few interesting, profound and quirky development-related things have caught my eye since my post last week - especially in the context of media & development - and there is also a new book review available! Enjoyment, comments & sharing welcome!
New on aidnography
Book review: Eleanor O’Gorman’s ‘Conflict and Development’

If you are looking for a concise introduction to the complex field of 'Conflict and Development', I can recommend Eleanor O'Gorman's book. Great for undergrad teaching and learning or for trainings!

Seeing Beyond the River

In the video, Richard Kavuma of Uganda's newspaper The Observer describes the way Africa is portrayed to a river.  This river is full of blood, guns, starvation and disease. These are the stories.  However, he says, there is beauty growing right on the banks of that very river of reporting.  If there ever was a strong simile for Western media's reporting on the global south, this is it.
Teasing it out a bit further, the proximity of the banks are important.  They are impossible to miss, but easy to ignore when concentrating on the flowing river. Furthermore, it is the banks that are a major determinant of how the river flows.  A narrowing pass forces the water through more quickly while wider portions slow it down and dams can completely control the flow.  There are times when the river overflows, touching all that surround, but that is the exception rather than the rule.

Tom Murphy's summary of the video on the British Media in the Global South is among a range of postings on this video and topic. Actually, there are not many surprises in this video. 'Media' is mainly used as a synonym for 'newspapers' and 'television' and the stories about newspapers cutting cost and staff or the ever-increasing speed of 24/7 news is part of an often heard story of 'what can you really do?'. First, the knowledge and reporting gap will stay with us in the future. As television channels and newspapers are losing their young audience, they will continue in their ways for the remaining core audience for which a printed daily tabloid newspaper or a 15 minute 'news of the day' broadcast at a certain time in the evening will be the primary encounter with news and in this process with the 'Global South'. I am not sure how much time and energy should really be spent on engaging with outlets that are unwilling to go beyond the headline and the soundbite. Second, big, often publicly-funded, broadcasting already knows better - they are just unable or unwilling to bring this knowledge into the news mainstream. On the same evening when CBC Radio's 'As it happens' has a long story on the Haiti earthquake anniversary, including a critical speech by former Governor General Michaelle Jean, the television news have a 90 second piece of which I remember a reconstructed school and something about cholera. No depth at all. Same CBC in a way. Third, as some of the other links will show below, there is already an interesting and growing alternative media landscape 'out there'. Just because some old-fashioned journalist does not believe in blogging or local journalism does not mean it is not relevant. I like Jon Snow - he's just not an authoritative voice when it comes to development issues...

Running a hybrid - NGO and media cultures combine

Well, as an NGO running newspapers we are subject to the pressures of both. We can't afford to miss deadlines, to put out papers that readers won't buy, or to upset our donors too much by straying from our main objective - to make local government more responsive and accountable.  Our donor support means we're under less financial pressure than a newspaper that's funded only by sales and advertising, but unless we get readers and advertisers, the papers won't survive long. All this can make life complicated, creating some tensions that are not easy to resolve.
Nice coincidence to read a story from the 'frontline' of local journalism, media development and NGO work in rural Tanzania.

The Rise and Fall of Poverty Porn
But in the last decade, there has been a fundamental shift in the way NGOs tell their stories. More and more, nonprofits are replacing misery with opportunity, making a bet on inspiring a sense of human connection rather than tapping into reserves of white or wealthy guilt. Part of this is strategic; it supposes that after decades of being battered over the head by relief organizations flaunting horror images, there’s not much left but table scraps in the guilt bucket.
The article highlights some interesting points, but fails in my view in putting it into the larger context of the evolution of the 'development industry'. PP still exists and is used widely, e.g. in the area of child sponsorship or for 'emergency appeals' - mainly on TV. Similar to my comment on news media above, PP is targeted at a specific group of people who have very simplified assumptions about 'development' - and who are unlikey to change soon. My second point is that 'bad news' are not automatically the equivalent of PP. Wars, poverty, displacement or working conditions - you name it - are still 'responsible' for grim pictures and stories. Yes, there are also hope, joy and dignity, but exploitation, the results of arms deals or many aspects of injustice are not easy on the eye. The really big challenge is to find a balance: Do not go for PP - but also do not go for a neoliberal version of entrepreneurial p@rn, maybe even promoted by foreign volunteers with good intentions. Nathaniel talks about a new 'generational sensibility' and new organisations that did not start as 'academic exercises', but by listening to local people. That's great. But the root causes of poverty and underdevelopment should still leave you uneasy, puzzled, maybe even shocked sometimes - so focussing on 'good news' will not be enough to 'end poverty'.

Development NGOs can no longer pretend to fight ‘poverty’ in a generic way, as if the same intervention strategy is applicable in today’s different poverty realities. They need to be targeted strategies that make choices and sharpen their focus and the knowledge base of their interventions. Although development NGOs are looking for a new answer in a time of identity crisis, they will discover that there is not a single new answer but several. There is no holy grail that will buttress NGOs’ future development work.
To be blunt, I did not find many of the 'Future Calling' contributions to The Broker's blog on the future of NGOs particularly inspiring. However, CORDAID director René Grotenhuis' contribution is a good summary of the debates with a balanced view for the chances and limitations of NGO in the future.

Metric Mania: The Growing Corporatization of U.S. Philantrophy
The fact, for example, that strategic philanthropies see no conflict of interest in having their staff serve on the boards of grantees just helps to underscore this observation. Strategic philanthropy thus shifts the focus from the grantee’s goals to the foundation’s agenda. This inevitably requires the grantee to be accountable for meeting certain benchmarks and outcomes predetermined by the donor. The fact that the donor determines what the metrics are is just the tip of the iceberg. The problem lurking underneath is, as the former president of the Ford Foundation, Susan Berresford, put it, “Most strategic philanthropy planning exercises involve using benchmarks to measure progress. But sometimes data miniaturizes ambition because they focus on what can be measured in the near-term, not what might be the most important long-term goals.”
This is a long, detailed and very interesting article, although it does not focus on 'development' directly (however, many of the large foundations cited in the article are active in international development). As 'setting up your own philantrophy' seems to be becoming more and more attractive in the U.S., one of the future trends that deserves more attention will be in how far the 'third sector' will start to look like the 'second' sector. The article is not condemning the corporate sector per se, but with more 'social enterprises', NGOs and other charitable activities mushrooming in the 'Generation Y' that Nathaniel mentions in the PP article above, it will be more important than ever to remind donors that complexity and development are difficult to measure and benchmark... 

What do the poor deserve? 
The first post on the new blog hosted by Tales from the Hood, Alanna Shaikh and Shotgun Shack. Definitely one to watch in 2012!


Shooting Freetown
A decade since Sierra Leone's devastating civil war, from the ashes rises a new dawn of creativity in audio-visual media. Inspired by Jean Rouch's ‘shared anthropology’ and ‘ethno-fiction’, Shooting Freetown follows three people forging their way in film and music in the nation's capital, facing the constant struggles with vision and resourcefulness. By incorporating collaborative video projects, their stories give a fresh image of post-war Freetown - presented to the world through their own lens.
Great documentary with lots of 'alternative' views from Freetown!

Prishtina, where being famous is the same as having many friends. Where the nicest park is fenced to be reserved for politicians. Where Muslims celebrate Christmas, and one of the largest new buildings in the city is a cathedral. Where you work six days a week in a coffee bar, just to be able to pay for your coffees on the seventh day. Prishtina, where it is both a curse and a blessing to be an international. Prishtina, where friendship is everything.
A great poetic answer from Prishtina to the question 'What is development?'


It is only through a critical examination of the broader context in which the community finds itself (and including such things as externally funded projects and programs) that the community can achieve the degree of self-understanding sufficient for it to undertake effective action both in the context of specific initiatives and in larger environments. Only in this larger sense would it become possible to design and evaluate strategies for self-development which, by recognizing the range of forces and interests within which the community is enclosed, would allow for some possibility of successful implementation at the community level and the broad achievement of the goals for implementation and collaborative action. It is through providing support in this latter relationship that the researcher/academic becomes not simply a source of “technical” support to the community but through the contribution of their analytical skills that the most dynamic and powerful relationships can be developed.
Behind a slightly confusing post title hides a fascinating collection of open-access published papers. As far as I can see none of them addresses the context of developing countries, but they should be interesting nonetheless to answer important questions about community and research-involvement.

For the vast majority of colleges, however, the time has come to prove their worth if they have any plans to continue the price increases of the past several years. In the face of several stinging reports about the limited learning that goes on during the undergraduate years, prospective parents and students want to know if their experience will be rigorous enough to justify the cost and reap the rewards in the job market.

Sure, the climbing walls, the new dorms, the fancy food in the dining hall, and the sports teams will continue to be a sales tool employed by many colleges to reel in students. But academic rigor will play a greater role in the value proposition, as a simple credential will no longer cut it in some employment circles. And on that front, many colleges just don’t measure up.
The debates about the long-term value of college education and degrees is certainly not new, but I wonder whether there should and will be a debate in the context of development studies degrees, employment 'in development' and alternative paths to contribute to social justice.


  1. Great links and comments as usual!

    I'm very much in agreement with what you said about Whittemore's fall of poverty porn and the "neoliberal version of entrepreneurial porn" that seems to be replacing it. Actually, literally as I read that, I have been going over some research from a few months ago which I'm hoping to turn into a paper. It looks at land conflicts in northern Tanzania and in particular an American ecotourism company that is implicated in the dispute and human rights violations. What's pertinent is that in this paper I'm essentially making a similar point when exploring how this company and its sister charitable foundation utilise particular hybrid images of local partnerships and groups they've donated to. These are, almost to the point of being formulaic, part poverty porn (marginalised, vulnerable women who need help, and customers can literally go past the donated 'projects' as part of your eco safari) + part neoliberal entrepreneurial porn (optimistic talk of empowering them as businesswomen who are taking advantage of the new tourism opportunities to improve themselves and their communities). Poverty porn is certainly not dead, you don't need to look far to find evidence of that, but equally thess new types of 'positive' representations tied closely in to narratives of entrepreneurialism, growth and globalization are complex and ambiguous, and fascinating when they hybridise with more traditional humanitarian narratives.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Catherine! This sounds like a fascinating case study and I would be interested to read a draft of your paper!


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