Links & Contents I Liked 39

Hello all,

This week's links feature three highlights: First, do watch Daniela Papi's TED-talk on voluntourism and service learning! Second, have a look at Jennifer Lentfer's interview questions for aid organisations (and why they are great but may not lead to employment...) and third, have another look at this week's education debate on the paradoxes of studying, teaching and working inside and outside academia with a PhD.

And if you happen to have a book recommendation on 'development' books that would be great, too!


New on aidnography

More development (fiction) tales
After my review of
Disastrous Passion I received a few messages regarding recommendations of books that portray development in a similar way-fictionalised, but not 'invented' stories. I didn't want to think too long and 7 books came to my mind that are in some ways similar to Disastrous Passion even if they are not 'development fiction' in the narrow sense.
Some of them are fictionalised accounts of real events, one is purely fictional, but there are also titles that are not fictional and present 'development' in different first-hand accounts, giving you some ideas about the range of writing-styles that academics and practitioners have employed between 1959 and today.


Learning Service TEDx Talk

I recently gave at talk at TEDxOxbridge about “Learning Service” and why I think we shouldn’t be encouraging young people to go abroad to volunteer. (Lessons learned from my own actions.)

As skeptical as I sometimes am about the 'TED-hype', Daniela Papi's talk is an excellent 10-minute primer on key issues of voluntourism and the future of 'service learning'.
Key sentences for me were:

- 'If you build it [e.g. a school building] they [good teachers] will not necessarily come'
- The voluntourism industry in Cambodia 'is fuelling the separation between parents and children' as most 'orphans' still have one or both parents
- The double standard when sending kids/youth abroad: If you do your first internship in a law firm, nobody will be a lead prosecutor on their second day. But volunteers expect to be in charge of 'their' project the moment they arrive
- In a nutshell, Daniela want to move 'from sympathy volunterering to empathy learning'
- She was very clear that educational travel should be encouraged , but that in-country reading groups and other forms of learning that require reading, talking and thinking rather than 'helping' should be encouraged
All in all, a great primer that could easily be used a teaching resource to trigger discussions and students can once again complain that all the teacher does is showing videos ;)!
The only thing I missed from this talk was the question why 'empathy learning' needs to be done abroad and that doing it at in your home community could trigger all sorts of learning, too.

What happened to the power in empowerment?

Channel money for empowerment and governance initiatives primarily through NGOs and other civil society groups, accept that official state aid will be primarily be spent on salaries and physical assets, and seek to work with that flow rather than against it. Whatever you do, please do not ever pretend that sending some senior officials on the next foreign junket (aka international workshop on governance best practice) is even remotely empowering for anyone who actually needs empowering.
I mentioned the gender and empowerment Development Drums pocast last week. Bottom Up Thinking actually listened to the whole piece and provides an excellent overview plus adds his own comments.

Interview questions you should be asking of aid organizations

Last week at happy hour, we found ourselves giving advice as to a budding aid worker who was about to have her first round of interviews for her first “real” aid job. She wanted to know what questions she should be asking of the organizations and people with which she’s interviewing. These are the questions that one has to have ready, when inevitably interviewers say, “Now what questions do you have for us?”
These are great questions-but in the ritualised context of a job interview I would ask them with caution. They are absolutely spot-on and go straight to the essence of what a development organisation should be about, but I have doubts that many organisations would truly appreciate them (in the sense of giving you a job in the end). My experience from academia suggests that by sending in an application and accepting an interview you implicitly have bought in the discourse that surrounds the industry or organisation. Some of Jennifer's questions may appear (from the side of organisational HR who believe that they already did you a huge favour by inviting you) as arrogant, or, even worse, that you are a critical thinker who may not be 120% convinced that this organisation is already the best learner, the closest to people on the ground and the most critical trend-setter in the industry (why else would you apply?!). Again, these are exactly the questions you should be asking, but I'm not sure how the ritual communication of job interviews really enables an environment where they are seen as 'appropriate'-especially at an early stage of your career where many organisations assume your eternal gratefulness for offering you a job in the first place...


Transcending Socialization
A Nine-Year Ethnography of the Body’s Role in Organizational Control and Knowledge Workers’ Transformation

A nine-year ethnography is used to show how two investment banks’ controls, including socialization, targeted bankers’ bodies, how the bankers’ relations to their bodies evolved, and what the organizational consequences were. The banks’ espoused and therefore visible values emphasized autonomy and work-life balance; their less visible embodied controls caused habitual overwork that bankers experienced as self-chosen. This paradoxical control caused conflict between bankers and their bodies, which bankers treated as unproblematic objects. The conflict generated dialectic change that cognitive control theories overlook because they neglect the body
I only discovered this article now-and best of all, it's (currently?) available as a free download!

Anthropology is the worst college major for being a corporate tool, best major to change your life

Anthropology is the worst college major for immediate career, but anthropology is the major most likely to change your life. And anthropology may help you change the world, although standard disclaimers about “starving artists” apply. But anthropology is also a great major to acquire lifelong learning skills–language, culture, thinking, writing, analysis–that enables success in several careers. Perhaps paradoxically, anthropology is a great major for analyzing corporations and capitalism, and you probably have just as much chance–if not more–of landing in the top 1% as an anthropology major as you do with any of those Kiplinger top 10 college majors.
The closing of American academia
In most professions, salaries below the poverty line would be cause for alarm. In academia, they are treated as a source of gratitude. Volunteerism is par for the course - literally. Teaching is touted as a "calling", with compensation an afterthought. One American research university offers its PhD students a salary of $1000 per semester for the "opportunity" to design and teach a course for undergraduates, who are each paying about $50,000 in tuition. The university calls this position "Senior Teaching Assistant" because paying an instructor so far below minimum wage is probably illegal.
In addition to teaching, academics conduct research and publish, but they are not paid for this work either. Instead, all proceeds go to for-profit academic publishers, who block academic articles from the public through exorbitant download and subscription fees, making millions for themselves in the process. If authors want to make their research public, they have to pay the publisher an average of $3000 per article. Without an institutional affiliation, an academic cannot access scholarly research without paying, even for articles written by the scholar itself.
But all Americans should be concerned about adjuncts, and not only because adjuncts are the ones teaching our youth. The adjunct problem is emblematic of broader trends in American employment: the end of higher education as a means to prosperity, and the severing of opportunity to all but the most privileged.
Mid-Career Reflections on Non-Academic Work for Social Scientists
I’ve spent most of my 15 years since grad school doing the former, so I can speak more confidently about that path. The good news is that there seems to be a sizable number of public-sector and contractor jobs for social scientists nowadays; the pay’s often pretty good; and the demand appears to be growing. Lots of government agencies hire social-science Ph.D.s to work on interesting problems, and many of them also pay outside firms lots of money to do still-more research they can’t cover in-house.

On Leaving Academe

Earlier this year, I resigned from my position as an associate professor of computer science at the University of New Mexico; in July, I started as a software engineer at Google. Countless people, from my friends to my (former) dean, have asked, Why? Why give up an excellent—some say "cushy"—tenured faculty position for the grind of corporate life?
Terran Lane elaborates in his essay on these issues in much more details:

Making a difference, Work-life imbalance, Centralization of authority and decrease of autonomy, Budget climate, Hyperspecialization, insularity, and narrowness of vision, Poor incentives, Mass production of education, Salaries, Anti-intellectualism, anti-education, and attacks on science and academe.

This really turned out to be a 'special edition' of my weekly links regarding the future of academia and academic employment-so that's why I don't comment on them individually. So anthropology is the 'worst' course to take if you want a (corporate) job. Yet, students pay quite a lot of money for the degree. They are taught by adjunct faculty who often lives around the poverty line. Another social scientist suggests that looking for employment in the public sector (or the corporate consulting infrastructure around it) may be an option. Or, if Google offers you a job, you may want to consider leaving academia altogether.

This doesn't add up.

It really highlights the many paradoxes around doing a PhD and working in academia. I don't want to get into a full-fledged reply/rant/reflection. Interesting, qualified, well-paid jobs with a perspective are difficult to come by as neither the private sector hires significantly nor does the public sector-let alone academia. Some of it is politically driven as universities still rely on public funding (if the state on whatever level likes social scientists so much then she should provide more money for full-time staff) and 'big government' is seen as undesirable. Some of it is ideologically driven as pretty much the only academic 'skills' that are 'accepted' outside academia involve number crunching, statistical skills or any other 'objective' science. When governments demand 'evidence-based policy' that consulting firm is unlikely to hire an ethnographer (maybe for a few tokenistic textboxes to make the report more lively...). Anyways, there are no easy answers and I will be back next week ;)!


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