Links & Content I liked 11

Hello all,

After last week's round-up of interesting links focussed more on development, this week's list contains a few more anthropology- and research-related items.


New on aidnography

In the end, the questions outlined in the official summary are not sufficiently addressed. But what sounds primarily as a shortcoming of the book is actually more a shortcoming of the authors and their disciplinary rituals. They neither add any self-reflective insights into their profession, their theories and the shortcomings of keeping up with real-life developments nor do they provide bold, critical comments on the origins of the crisis and how democratic institutions and systems have been hallowed out to a box-ticking exercise of theoretical phrases such as ‘free and fair elections’. Almost all of the contributors stick to their ‘theoretical guns’, models that have been discussed for 15, 20 or more years – 15 or 20 years in which many people, communities and states have lost important battles against transnational corporations, the ‘markets’ and those seemingly unchanged social, cultural and political institutions that have always been putting private profits before public goods. From a development perspective the book is an indication of how the ‘West’ has really lost its case and how traditional political science seems unable to offer meaningful interactions with emerging or ‘poor’ countries.

Book Review: Damned Nations, by Samantha Nutt

I’m going to recommend this book to pretty much everyone who writes to me wanting to know more about aid, and I’m going to give it to my entire extended family next Christmas. Professors should be assigning this to their undergrads.
A short recommendation on an introductory book to development by Alanna Shaikh

My fellow aid and development bloggers have a lot going on. Somewhere in between blogging and full-time jobs, many of them squeeze in some fascinating side projects. Here are a few new ones and a few old that you might find interesting.
This is a neat overview from Dave Algoso over some development blogger's side projects. As an academic development blogger, I feel a bit compelled to add that in addition to practical projects the intellectual work shouldn't be dismissed. Discussions with students, feedback on papers or dissertations and many other, often virtual, encounters do often take place in the 'spare time'. But then again, true academics don't really have spare time anyway...

Africa Does Not Need More Orphanages

When we measure services offered to at-risk families in the U.S. against what we fund and promote in Uganda there is a disparaging gap that should upset all of us. I don’t believe in satisfactory care. I believe in researching and educating ourselves before starting NGO’s in cultures SO vastly different from our own. I believe in offering the best care possible, whether it is in North Philadelphia or East Africa. Performing needs based assessments, studying evidence based/best practice models, and determining the cultural appropriateness of potential services and aid programs is critical. Because if you are not doing this, you are committing a serious disservice to the population you are serving. And you just might be doing more harm than good

The title alone is already a good summary. But I do like the thoughtful reflections of a social work college major on best and not so good practices in social care between the United States and Uganda and how insights gained from research and practice in the US are ignored by the 'orphanage industry': 
There has been a clear movement away from institutional care in the United States, with a movement toward family preservation. However, we insist on offering the developed world this sub-par level of care that countless studies have proven damaging not only to children and families, but to entire communities and cultures.
Last week I mentioned the summary report of the IDS project. You can now listen to a few presentations of key researchers such as Andrea Cornwall, Naila Kabeer and Susie Jolly during the official launch of the report in London.


Through an account of capoeira, the Brazilian dance-fight-game, we uncover two simultaneous stories of security: first, the gradual monopolisation of violence by the state; second, a somatic, lyrical representation of a history of violence, oppression and liberation.
Zoe Marriage's post was shared widely last week, but what I found almost more interesting than the contents and what made me put it under 'anthropology' is that it also says a lot of how academic publication, transnational professionalism and multi-sited research work in practice. Similar to Tango, Italian food and quite a few other Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like, Capoeira has entered the global scene of development- and researcher-lifestyles relatively recently. If London-based Zoe Marriage with her background of research in (post-) war societies writes about the Capoeira-development/security nexus, we can assume that it has entered a transnational space of work, research and (expat) living. Still a very interesting article, but also a good starting point to reflect on how research topics 'get discovered'.

I am hoping in these guest posts to examine episodes of how anthropology gets taken–starting with a follow-up to Kerim’s archive on Jared Diamond, and then tackling the Anthropologie Store, the TV series Community, and other instances where anthropology either gives stuff away or gets hijacked. But I’d also like to write about taking anthropology back
Savage Minds is one of the best anthropology blogs out there. In his introduction Jason Antrosio points out a great trajectory of anthropology in the public sphere and its shortcomings as a self-critical and reflective discipline. However, similar to many development debates, anthropology is at least trying to be more self-critical and reflexsive, compared to, say banking or natural sciences.

For music listeners, rather than publishers, an issue of ‘importance’ arises — how can you tell that the assistant musician in your department is ‘important’ and deserves tenure in an era when platinum hits are getting rarer and rarer? What counts as importance is itself shifting. I can see a number of ways out of this dilemma but whatever route departments chose will require a choice. And standing up and deciding for yourself how to handle something as important as the professional credentialing of the professoriate is a big challenge which requires a lot of confidence in one’s own academic judgement. 
This is a great segue to the academic section below...I get the idea behind the comparison, but a core challenge in academia is not how to sell the most units, but how to get into journals whose 'impact' is measured by a third party. So in theory, an article in a top journal, even if nobody is ever going to read or cite it, is much more poweful than 1,000 views of the same article in a open-access journal. So the commercial interest, even of for-profit publishers is limited for as long as they can sell expensive subscription to universities. But in the end the article asks an important question about active decisions by departments and universities as to how they accept and define 'impact' or success. 

But academics who’ve signed on to the boycott are thinking about their futures in a future without Elsevier journals. “It’s really frustrating because it’s so much extra work now to figure out alternatively where to submit my papers,” Abrahams said. The Albert Einstein College of Medicine geneticist noted that he’d have to balance his own stance on Elsevier with the good of his students and collaborators. He admitted that if he’s in a collaborative situation in which the decision of where to publish findings is not his to make, he’ll likely voice his opinion but ultimately yield to the consensus, even if that means publishing in an Elsevier title. “At that point, that’s going to be a very hard decision for me,” Abrahams said. “Then, I don’t think it’s in my students, or my institution’s interest to walk away.”
Despite its catchy title, this is an interesting and balanced post on the challenges of engaging with academic publishers such as Elsevier. It's also a supplment to the previous post on academia as music industry. At the end of the day, publishing remains a contested subject, but it may take another generation of researchers and adminstrators in universities before some of the fundamentals are likey to change.

The failure of our leaders to work together responsively and responsibly grows more tiring as our problems increase. What many Americans may not realize is that the same fruitless grid-lock has long plagued higher education, although perhaps less visibly.
Academics are charged with teaching the next generation and conducting research on issues of import— roles that impact all Americans. Academics often hear that we are in ‘ivory towers’ disconnected from the real-world we aim to understand—implying we are useless. Unfortunately, the structure of higher education makes this somewhat true.
I agree. Despite better knowledge of the contrary, many elite institutions stick to old-fashioned party-, or disciplinary lines. The biggest challenge is that there is still only a binary way to engage: Either play to some extent by the rules (see post on academic publishing below) or disengage from the system, because starting your own party or university is unlikely to be a sustainable model in the current socio-political climate...

Overall, the research reported here offers only limited support for viewing climate change as an important influence on armed conflict. However, framing the climate issue as a security problem could possibly influence the perceptions of the actors and contribute to a self-fulfilling prophecy.
A special issue of the Journal of Peace Research (open-access until the end of February!) on climate change and violent conflict. 

I am now starting the arduous, but intellectually more interesting, task of reading the latest two or three publications from each potential faculty member in the yellow and green schools. This will allow me to narrow the list down to people I want to contact and be prepared to discuss how their work intersects with my interests.
Angela Van Den Broek takes the search for the right place to do her US-PhD in anthropology to a new level with Google maps and all...This is definitely a thorough approach and for those in a simialar situation it may be worthwhile to connect with Angela.

Weave (BETA 1.0) is a new web-based visualization platform designed to enable visualization of any available data by anyone for any purpose. Weave is an application development platform supporting multiple levels of user proficiency — novice to advanced — as well as the ability to integrate, disseminate and visualize data at "nested" levels of geography.
This looks like a great way to play around with data and becoming the next Hans Rosling ;)...


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