Links & Contents I Liked 32

Hello all!

This week's links will take you on a virtual trip from Rio to Haiti, Palestine, Angola, Bangladesh and Guatemala. Topics include a great essay about Haiti's temporary camps, a theatre play that tries to engage with aid donors and critical reflections on EU bureaucracy's call for innovative projects, the 'failed states' index and the political economy of Nick Kristof's a new Angolan-Chinese development dream (??), living ethnography and protesting against neo-liberal higher education 'reforms' in Guatemala.


New on aidnography
From the archives: Reflections on the original Rio Earth Summit 1992

As more and more snapshots from this year’s Rio+20 Summit arrived I did what any researcher/geek likes to do: I went to my nearest trusted academic library and browsed through some old books that were written shortly after the 1992 Rio Summit.


“Waiting for Helicopters”? Cholera, Prejudice, and the Right to Water in Haiti (Part II)

During the rainy season, most of the homes I sat in leaked water through the makeshift roof and gushed water through muddy gaps between ground and plastic. Many had to be re-hoisted, re-tied, re-sewed, re-hammered after every storm. Although families kept the areas outside their homes tidy, nearby drainage ditches brought all manners of trash and debris as daily gifts. In the majority of camps, respondents stated they had nowhere else to go, and an International Organization for Migration (IOM, a coordinating agency) survey of more than 15,000 camp dwellers concluded the same, stating “94 per cent of people living in camps would leave if they had alternative accommodation.” Part of the difficulty is that 80% of camp residents were renting homes before the earthquake, which made return extremely difficult given the massive post-earthquake surge in rental prices and the bleak job market.
But how did NGO officials perceive the situation?
In their interviews, foreign officials from NGOs and IOM expressed the belief that Haitians could handle the camp conditions and were simply waiting for handouts. Many officials stated that they viewed signs of day-to-day survival in the camps – such as women selling coffee on the street and families scrounging up building materials from friends – as proof that life was back to normal. Where these efforts may have provided the coffee vendor with enough money to purchase some water for her kids or bought the family an extra week before their shelter collapsed for the fourth time, many NGO officials touted them as “coping mechanisms” which indicated that camp residents were doing fine on their own. One official evoked the racist hypothesis that Haitians were “genetically strong” given the “horrendous conditions” such as “slavery and torture” they had endured over centuries. “You or I would not survive one month in one of those camps,” she said.

One camp resident summed up the sentiments the majority of residents expressed to me: “[NGO officials] come with an agenda, a plan, a program. They can always find people who are clients for them who help execute the plan. But they don’t meet with the majority of the committee to identify needs.”
Definitely this week's 'must-read'-and wherever the next disaster will strike we will be reading very, very similar stories once the aid industry arrives...

Play satirizes how aid donors sideline Palestinians

Faced with a dying friend and some knowledge of the aid system, Yasmine’s inner circle hopefully calls on international health expert Kate. She arrives only to conclude that Yasmine, nearing death, urgently needs medical supplies that she can access once someone writes a proposal for their acquisition. After Yasmine’s family and friends rush to finish a completely depoliticized proposal, they are then asked to sign a document assuring the donor that none of the money will go to “terrorists.” Highlighting the absurdity of these bureaucratic procedures, all of these events unfold while Yasmine lays helplessly beside them.
Actor and general manager of the Ashtar Theatre, Edward Muallem noted that the point of the play was to encourage discussion not only among Palestinians but also between Palestinians and donors. Yet representatives of donor governments who were invited to attend the performance hosted by the Freedom Theatre declined to do so.
Political art at its best! What a great way to engage with the problems of sidelining local people-and an unsurprising reaction from the donors-not showing up doesn't make the problem disappear...

Specificity killed the cat

I have two observations. Firstly, this is jargon overkill à la EU for what I imagine should be a wide-ranging call for proposals accessible to as many people as possible.
The problem with very specific funding criteria is that you encourage applicants to dream up projects specifically to meet your preconceived notions rather than to meet their own priorities.
Talking about donor language: Interesting post from Bottom Up Thinking on how a call for proposals for the Climate & Development Knowledge Network is likely to (re-)produce a narrow donor discourse rather than innovative knowledge...

When research is not good enough

While meant to be a humorous remark on bad research, the Bunkum Awards do point out that the preponderance of poorly supported advocacy is a serious issue which really isn’t considered as such, since it is usually dressed up as official policy research
On Think Tanks on bad research. I'm currently working on a book review that should be online next week and that deals with a similar issue on the limits of 'evidence-based policy-making' in dichotomised and highly politicised policy arenas.

The failed index from hell

One of our readers, the cartographer Jacques Enaudeau, called the index “a developmentalist ode to no-matter-what political stability and linear history.” He’s right, but as we’ve seen this stability fetish only applies to those states perceived as non-totalitarian. So how exactly can a democratic country like, say, Nigeria ever hope to satisfy the whimsical judgment of Foreign Policy magazine? The Occupy Nigeria movement that demonstrated against corruption and the removal of the country’s fuel subsidy in January was a peaceful mass movement that achieved major gains for working people. It was a thoroughly global protest, with Nigerians in the diaspora taking to the streets of Brussels, London, New York, and Washington, D.C., to demand better governance in Nigeria. Yet these protests are listed on the country’s “postcard” alongside terrorist attacks by Boko Haram as equal evidence of Nigeria’s “hellishness.”
More on discourses, governmentality and the challenges of 'measuring' and ranking everything in developmet, and, for this matter, pretty much else in society.

Nicholas Kristof: “If You’re Watching, It’s For You”

The New York Times is in the business of selling newspapers. Space in the New York Times‘ editorial pages comes at a premium. Don’t think for a second that the New York Times would publish Kristof’s columns in its editorial pages if they didn’t correspond exactly to what the New York Times‘ readership wants from a foreign correspondent.
If the New York Times has someone like Kristof writing in its editorial pages, it’s because there is a demand for it among the wealthy, educated, liberal readership of the New York Times. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.
Marc Bellamere discusses some interesting points regarding 'Kristof bashing' versus 'Kristof fanboi-ism'. As much as I agree with the general critique of Kristof I also can't help thinking myself whether I and other bloggers/writers may be a tiny bit jealous once in a while. Kristof lives a traditional life of a 'foreign correspondent'-which is increasingly rare these days. Plus he gets to write interesting stories and has a million plus Twitter followers. His life and writing could be worse-even though it's far from perfect...

Angola's Chinese-built ghost town

Perched in an isolated spot some 30km (18 miles) outside Angola's capital, Luanda, Nova Cidade de Kilamba is a brand-new mixed residential development of 750 eight-storey apartment buildings, a dozen schools and more than 100 retail units.
Designed to house up to half a million people when complete, Kilamba has been built by the state-owned China International Trust and Investment Corporation (CITIC) in under three years at a reported cost of $3.5bn (£2.2bn).
One student, a 17-year-old called Sebastiao Antonio - who spends nearly three hours a day in traffic getting to and from classes from his home 15km away - told me how much he liked the city.
"I really like this place - it's got car parking, places for us to have games like football, basketball and handball," he said.
"It's very quiet, much calmer than the other city, there's no criminality."
But when I asked if he and his family would move there, he just laughed.
"No way, we can't afford this. It's impossible. And there is no work for my parents here," he said.
Build it and they will come? Literally very 'concrete' examples of Chinese and Angolan development visions in Africa. But maybe it's still more of a Potemkin village than a real innovative urban development model?
BRAC’s Enterprises: Inspiration for Development Cynics

This means that not only does BRAC create jobs for women (they try to ensure that a majority of their hired workers are women, in fact), they are indeed able to rely less on donor money. Relying less on foundation funding, I’ve come to realize, is absolutely vital for success. Why? Foundations dictate your programs and fund based on their needs, not based on the needs of communities. That means NGOs are more tied to strict workplans and schedules, and are less free to innovate, admit failure (and complexity), quickly shift or abandon programs that are not working, and generally be flexible and open to change. If you’re self financed, who are you accountable to? Not your donors, but to whoever you choose: and you can choose to be accountable to the poor. You can choose to listen to and serve the needs of the poor. You don’t have to spend your time convincing donors of the ‘sexiness’ of this particular project. Of course, relying on the market is not foolproof either (and some of BRAC enterprises have also been criticized for not having a particularly high profit margin) – but I do believe it is one way to begin working towards being less-donor dependent while also concretely creating jobs.
Let's finish the development section on a more uplifting note and enjoy Akhila's reflections from visiting BRAC projects in Bangladesh!


Dude, Where’s My Fieldsite?

It wasn’t long at all before I noticed a parallel—sometimes disheartening, other times catalyzing—in these two contingent dimensions of my work. First, the task of translating innovation in anthropological approaches to “the Network Society” into a fertile, coherent, and practical masters programme (only a single year within the UK). Second, the relentless push to extend my own well-funded and fieldwork-driven research programme—while living and working in one of the acknowledged “core nodes” of that Network Society. Both these dimensions had as their vanishing point the same question: how to evaluate claims that such-and-such is a “community” or “fieldsite,” that this-or-that activity constitutes “fieldwork” or “ethnography” (see Carole McGranahan’s recent and illuminating post on the latter).

The academic job market in the UK has been no stronger than that of the US of late, and so it was statistically unsurprising when my partner (an anthropologist) landed her own tenure-track post back in the States last summer. The all-too-common precarities of academic coupledom have meant a year apart, and while we’d had plenty of previous experience with long separations we agreed to reevaluate after the first year. The fatigue of a trans-Atlantic relationship, London’s cost-of-living, and the affordances of my more malleable professional profile have left us, in this effervescent fountain of precarity, with yet another no-brainer. I’ll formally be leaving UCL at the end of the summer, with very little in the way of professional “certainty” on my immediate horizon.
This is a long post, but an interesting example of how transnational research, lives and academic jobs interact (or don't interact...).


Student Protests and Educational Reform in Guatemala

Their antagonism does not just come from the fact that these are reforms imposed from the top-down; the addition of two years to their university education will have a very real impact on their own professional and financial lives as well, particularly given the context of higher education in Guatemala. Out of Guatemala’s twelve universities, eleven of them are private (with the Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala as the country’s sole public university). Thus, adding two years to students’ study programs not only delays the time they begin working; it also means two more years of having to pay for a more expensive private education.
Neoliberal education 'reforms' and their impact...

Uncovering scientific plagiarism

The experiences of the past year and a half have shown that plagiarism is a widespread phenomenon – not only in Germany. It affects universities large and small, in many fields of study at all levels. Plagiarists may think they are being smart to be re-using electronically available materials for their own texts – but they forget that there are people well-versed with online research instruments and scientific texts who are no longer willing to let others achieve scientific merit by illegitimate means. Using wiki technology to collaboratively fight plagiarism, the latter have joined forces and have become major new players in the scientific community.
Great overview over academic plagiarism and crowd-based initiatives to uncover it.


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