Links & Contents I Liked 38

Hello all, 

This week's focus is on some great pieces on 'civil society', NGOs and the challenges of philanthropy. You can also enjoy my comment on Duncan Green's latest post on a 'annoying paper' from the perspective of an academic writer. Plus, an interesting piece of Timor-Leste's changing 'fragility' and three pieces on (mis)education, plagiarism and no-show classes for college sports student.


What can we learn from a really annoying paper on NGOs and development?

I’ve got a paper I want you to read, particularly if you work for an NGO or other lobbying outfit. Not because it’s good – far from it – but because reading it and (if you work for an NGO) observing your rising tide of irritation will really help you understand how those working in the private sector, government or the multilateral system feel when they read a generalized and ill-informed NGO attack on their work.
Duncan Green's post is a great start to kick-off this week's links with a critical post and a range of equally readable comments which show once again that good discussions can happen in the blogoshpere...
A lot has already been said content-wise but with the exception of one commentator I find that the underlying issues around (academic) publishing, (academic) impact and disseminating research deserve more attention. What Duncan Green labels as 'annoying paper' seems to be a book chapter in a forthcoming (i.e. 'new') edited volume. The book is apparently selling well enough that the academic publisher is interested in a second edition and this is a done in a way hundreds of academic publications appear every year. But we as academics have to ask ourselves what role we have to/want to play in the academic publishing industry. The book chapter is general, not exactly groundbreaking and most of the issues have been discussed elsewhere. The 'brand new' book that readers will pick up next year is in fact an artifact of ritual communication: Experts in an academic field reaffirm their expert status by publishing regularly on a topic in expert publications (books or journal articles): 'I am an expert therefore I write books'. This practice is encouraged by many universities as it enhances the reputation and potentially the impact of the expert and the environment he/she researches. The cynical academic in me is tempted to say 'I couldn't care less whether some NGO people are interested in my paper as long as it gets published'-but obviously I'm not a cynical academic...I'm also not a cynical development blogger, because otherwise I would be very cautious when it comes to 'dialogue' or working together. Researchers, teachers, NGO staff, civil society activists and the general public have very different demands and subscribe to very different discourses that shape their professional reputation. In conclusion, I can understand and sympathize with both Duncan's frustrations and the motivations for writing the book chapter in the first place and I also with there would be better spaces and communication approaches that could provide more meaningful rituals...

A United Way’s Misguided Focus on Big Charities

While the United Way board of directors, composed almost entirely of corporate executives and unrepresentative of the community at large, seems insensitive to the needs of low-income residents and their small nonprofits, it has little skepticism about big groups. It never questions why they get to continue receiving money or whether they are doing enough to meet Washington’s social-service, health, and education problems. If the United Way really wanted to increase its impact, why didn’t it exclude nonprofits that have big budgets already and do not need help to operate successfully?
Talking about the problems of civil society, donors and philanthropy

Redefining development: a new role for foundations

(HT: HowMatters)

Today I am confronted by activists in South Africa wanting to discuss a budget before they have a meeting or a campaign. A whole development industry has spawned a class of poverty consultants. Global development assistance has been packaged into projects. A new obsession with evidence-based funding has razed the ‘green shoots’ – projects with promise – to conform to a narrow basket of indicators used to assess ‘best practice’.
The emphasis on supply-side innovation and business models fails to understand or locate the role of the people. The poor are ‘victims’ to be given a charitable hand out of their poverty. These models ignore the resilience of the billions of poor who make tough decisions every day as they support their families on less than $2 per day.
Ten years of working at a global level has shown me the fault lines in the modern system of development assistance. The rush to seek single-issue solutions to complex problems fails to recognize or respond to the overarching structural social and political factors that connect them. Typically, the search is for a new technology or a market-based device that could change lives dramatically.
Jay Naidoo's post is a great way to wrap-up this week's discussion on the challenges of 'civil society' in the development industry.

Episode 32: Gender and Development

Andrea Cornwall talks of ‘empowerment-lite’: the view that small-scale interventions often provide a palliative without addressing the structural causes of inequitable power relations; that they often tackle symptoms but not underlying causes of power imbalance. She argues that a focus on ‘results’ tends to emphasize instrumental interventions and does not give
enough priority to interventions which help bring about changes in power dynamics.
Prue draws on her experience in working with women journalists in Africa to give examples of how the right small-scale instrumental interventions can change the political context and tackle causes of imbalance, focusing on stories that relate to women and children such as high teen pregnancy, unsafe abortion and female genital cutting.
I just started to read through the transcript of the latest 'Development Drums' podcast...definitely worth checking out!

Timor-Leste Fluid fragilities

Recently arrived in Dili, I could see it in the faces of the people I talked to. I myself felt it. Within two weeks, though, a sense of tranquillity returned. Timor-Leste is different, something has really changed. Perhaps we can hope to say, Timor is starting to overcome its fragilities.
Now that “fragility” may no longer be a platform to overrule and disregard the ownership by “fragile country’s” people, despite the institutional weaknesses and eventual fragile legitimacy of their political leadership, of the efforts to overcome their challenges of “development”, who knows what new word will appear.
My colleague Ricardo Santos recently arrived in Dili for his PhD fieldwork and I'm looking forward to reading more about his discoveries. This promises to be an interesting exercise in dissecting global aid language and how 'fragile' countries can create their own sense of ownership of the development discourse without fully absorbing OECD language and power dynamics.

The Naked and the TED

Khanna’s contempt for democracy and human rights aside, he is simply an intellectual impostor, emitting such lethal doses of banalities, inanities, and generalizations that his books ought to carry advisory notices. Take this precious piece of advice from his previous book—the modestly titled How to Run the World—which is quite representative of his work: “The world needs very few if any new global organizations. What it needs is far more fresh combinations of existing actors who coordinate better with one another.” How this A-list networking would stop climate change, cyber-crime, or trade in exotic animals is never specified. Khanna does not really care about the details of policy. He is a manufacturer of abstract, meaningless slogans. He is, indeed, the most talented bullshit artist of his generation. And this confers upon him a certain anthropological interest.
Evgeny Morozov take apart a few recent TED ebooks. I have been posting TED-critical links here before and I really think that TED requires more thorough critical inquiries from academics...

Anthropology I: Human Nature, Race, Evolution in Biological Anthropology

An updated 2012-2013 introduction and perspective on biological anthropology, illustrated through the themes of human nature, race, and evolution. Emphasizes biology and evolution as dynamic processes and anthropological documentation of human possibility.
Free ebook alert (only until tomorrow, 17 August, though)!
Shockingly, Academic Wives Get Short Shrift

A Stanford University survey of 30,000 professors and researchers at 13 major universities found that, while 50 percent of academic husbands believe their careers are top priority, only 20 percent of academic wives were similarly self-important about their own work. Even though, according to the researchers, academic couples are more "equitable" in the career values than couples camped in emotional squalor at the base of the Ivory Tower, the tendency for men to overestimate the importance of their work remains an annoyingly persistent phenomenon.
Some interesting new research on some old questions around gender, career and academia.

VroniPlag Wiki Case # 29

The cases of plagiarism in dissertations seems to be a never-ending story. VroniPlag Wiki's case # 29 was awarded the best grade and a prize at the TU Dresden in 2009. This thesis, submitted to the business faculty, deals with statistics and risk management. Currently, 32 % of the pages contain text or formulas that closely parallel other works. Are the universities actually doing anything to fix this obviously broken system? Yes, they are having the submitters swear on oath that they did everything correctly. And purchasing software (that can only suggest text parallels, never determine the absence or presence of plagiarism).
I some ways, the German discussions around academic plagiarism seem to be much more advanced than in any academic system I know of. I'm still surprised that there aren't crowd-based initiatives in other countries yet even though they are unlikely 'better' or 'worse' than the German system. Debora Weber-Wulff's blog is definitely highly recommended reading!

Don't Confuse Technology With College Teaching

Education is not the transmission of information or ideas. Education is the training needed to make use of information and ideas. As information breaks loose from bookstores and libraries and floods onto computers and mobile devices, that training becomes more important, not less.
Educators are coaches, personal trainers in intellectual fitness. The value we add to the media extravaganza is like the value the trainer adds to the gym or the coach adds to the equipment. We provide individualized instruction in how to evaluate and make use of information and ideas, teaching people how to think for themselves.
‘No Show Class’ Cover-Up At UNC

‘So far the evidence out there shows that you had the department head of the African Studies department at North Carolina who was creating classes where the students who got into them never had to meet. There was no class time. No classrooms,’ according to Kane. There was a high percentage of athletes enrolled in those classes. However, in 2 classes there was only ONE student enrolled in each.
I think that the last two links are a good indication of some of the extremes that many higher education institutions and systems are currently facing. On the one hand, defending holistic ideas and ideals about 'education' is important, because learning is much more than engaging with technology. But then again, as the case from the University of North Carolina shows, so many parts of the higher education are already broken and make it easy for critics to take away even more critical learning and replace it with degree-producing measurables. There will always be demand and a need for good education but many institutions need to get there act together to show that they are interested in learning and teaching and haven't sold out to the neoliberal discourse that board members, college sports and many parts of the for-profit world push for!


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