Links & Contents I Liked 52

Hello all,

As a ground-breaking Thanksgiving change to the link review I have reversed the order this week and start with interesting insights from Academia before moving on to Anthropology and finally Development!
It is worth the scrolling as there are many interesting nuggets on learning styles, the curious case of the academic job market, transformational leader, peer coaching, social entrepreneurisms blind spots, great book reviews and insights from the epic Twitter conversation between @JeffDSachs and the rest of the twittering development research universe ;)!


Tap Into the Surprising Benefits of Gratitude

Researchers affirm that gratitude can also boost our mental health and well-being. They found that people who kept notes on what they’re thankful for have reported higher levels of positive emotions, more joy and pleasure, more happiness and optimism. They felt more alert, alive, and awake than others who did not practice gratitude. Notably, people who are focused on things they are thankful for are less depressed and less angry. In fact, researchers have found that gratitude can increase your “set point of happiness” by 25 percent.
Shana Montesol Johnson reminds us on the benefits of gratitude that hopefully last longer than just until 'Black Friday' when you push aside that old lady to be the first to grab that super discounted big inch TV ;)!

Students prefer good lectures over the latest technology in class

The results indicate that students and professors don’t always agree on what works best in the classroom, says Dr. Fusaro. “Our analysis showed that teachers think that their students feel more positive about their classroom learning experience if there are more interactive, discussion-oriented activities. In reality, engaging and stimulating lectures, regardless of how technologies are used, are what really predict students’ appreciation of a given university course.”
As with most research, the story seems to be a bit more complicated as many commentators suggest. The bottom line is that good lectures (with or without technology) matter and that good teachers still have to be 'lecturers', ideally using technology to enhance a stimulating learning environment.

Transformational Leadership?

Superstars come and go. Frequently, people build reputations as superstars by making a big splash in a short time, and then either catching a wave or getting out of town before the full consequences come to the surface. On the rare occasions when a superstar is genuine, the main issue is succession: what happens when the superstar moves on?
I’m much more a fan of sustainable systems. To my mind, the major challenge facing the next generation of community college leaders isn’t about developing a cohort of superstars, as enticing as that is; it’s developing a sustainable -- which means adaptable -- system in which ordinary mortals can do good work.
Although suburbdad writes from the perspective of a Community College professor it is easy to see the links to the development industry and its quest for organizational superstar fixers...

Listing wildly

Weary of cronyism, many in Italy welcomed a metrics-based research evaluation - until they saw the catalogue of approved publications, 'crazy lists' that ignored many journals in favour of provincial newspapers, religious circulars and yachting magazines.
The "crazy lists" affair is only a symptom of a deeper malaise. For one thing, the design of Anvur's semi-mechanised system for the management of careers across public universities reveals a dramatic lack of confidence in the academic sector as a functioning entity. The agency seems to be working under the delusion that a perfect mix of quantitative parameters can be found that will settle, once and for all, the question of how to produce objective research evaluations, turning untrustworthy committee members into mere operators of the bureaucratic machine. That governmental agencies should aim for explicit and therefore mechanisable procedures to govern academic life is certainly not big news. In the Italian case, however, this mechanisation is pushed to the extreme.
This is a long an interesting reflection on the Italian university system which, incidentally, also raises questions for development's quest to prove 'impact' and provide 'evidence' through ever-more sophisticated indicators and 'scientific' experiments...

The Idiocy of Promotion-and-Tenure Letters

Our margin of error in evaluating tenure candidates is pretty high, because our sample is not random and far too small. Nonetheless, on that basis, we make a case to the higher authorities that this candidate should be promoted.
If we conducted our research like that, we would be laughed out of the profession.
What we ought to do is make the process more random. For example, each department could compile an extensive list of experts, perhaps at least 100. It could then randomly choose a set. A random sample of experts would at least attempt to remove the subtle biases.
Naturally, I cannot tell you what percentage of letters I have read that are favorable, but my estimate is more than 90 percent. Random letters would very likely produce favorable percentages a good bit lower. Would that result in a smaller percentage of candidates being tenured? Possibly, but after all, tenure is a lifetime contract. The hurdle should be high.
In a way this is linked to the previous post on Italy. While I agree that the current system of promotion and tenure letters may be flawed, I remain skeptical about the idea of a random selection from a larger sample. This sounds like a lot of work with potentially similar results. Academia insists on being one of the few workplaces that relies on significant outside input for essentially internal decisions that ultimately affect students, colleagues and the university's administration. If people like you and you have produced good work that colleagues can vouch for, why not extend the contract?!

Your Unofficial Job-Application Checklist

In short, it's time for an update and recasting of the role of social media in academic-career advancement. The political consultant Raymond Strother always argues that, "The most important message in any political campaign is the candidate." Indeed. When academic departments make their hires this year, they will not be selecting just CV's, but job candidates and their official and unofficial application materials.
One of these days I will write a longer post on why I almost feel a bit uncomfortable after reading David Perlmutter's posts. In short, there is an underlying neoliberal discourse about the never-ending spiral of self-improvement that has become quite pervasive in many industries - not just academia or development. He almost makes it sound like political campaigning where the perfectly groomed candidate with a perfectly groomed application package works on grooming his perfectly styled blog or LinkedIn profile. I am fully aware about the competitive job market, I am also aware about the digital world, hence I would never blog about something I may feel embarrassed about in a job interview and I absolutely agree that you should always send in carefully written and proof-read documents. But I also believe that good work should get you a good job rather than the constant guilt-trip as to why you were not invited to that interview. It was unlikely that Flickr picture or rant-ish blog post from 6 months ago...

“As it had to fail”

The reality was that Lesotho was not really an idyllically-rural-but-poor agricultural economy, but rather a labor reserve more or less set up by and controlled by apartheid South Africa. The gulf between the actual political situation and the situation as envisioned by the World Bank — where the main problems were lack of markets and technical solutions — at the time was enormous. This lets Ferguson have a lot of fun showing the absurdities of Bank reports from the era, and once you realize what’s going on it’s quite frustrating to read how the programs turned out, and to wonder how no one saw it coming.
This contrast between rhetoric and reality is the book’s greatest strength: because the situation is absurd, it illustrates Ferguson’s points very well, that aid is inherently political, and that projects that ignore that reality have their future failure baked in from the start. But that contrast is a weakness too, as because the situation is extreme you’re left wondering just how representative the case of Lesotho really was (or is). The 1970s-80s era World Bank certainly makes a great buffoon (if not quite a villain) in the story, and one wonders if things aren’t at least a bit better today.
Brett Keller's comments of Ferguson's 'Anti-Politics Machine' are an excellent reminder that this is still an important book that should be on many reading lists. However, as Ed Carr points out in his comment:
While I think Ferguson got the issues of discourse and the shaping of knowledge completely right, he really has no insight at all into how these discourses were formed, shaped, and maintained, let alone put into practice. His entire analysis of the project is predicated on project documents, which are the outcomes of organization-specific practices and conversations that he has no access to – in short, he can see the outputs, but not the causes, of the events he documents in Lesotho.
I agree with Ed and development anthropology has moved on since the Ferguson days of the early 1990s. I can recommend highly 'Adventures in Aidland: The Anthropology of Professionals in International Development' to get more nuanced insights from 'inside' policy-making and institutions.

Book Review: City, Street and Citizen: the Measure of the Ordinary

The Walworth Road, the south-east London street Hall selected, she construes as ‘at once a global and local street’ (31). Emphatically ordinary, exceptionally diverse, its evident promise as the site for the research was first realized by Hall as she looked out through the bus window on her way to the LSE each day. How is social diversity reflected and expressed within the everyday settings and encounters of this street and its workspaces? This is the key question the ensuing research asked, and which its final output, this book, articulates and explores engagingly.
In the book Hall gives a meticulous account of her careful methodology, outlining how she creatively combined her newly acquired ‘fine grained’ and up-close ethnographic research skills with her training in visual and spatial analysis from architecture. She makes a convincing case as to why such an approach is appropriate and timely: we need to rethink multiculturalism through focusing on the boundaries and spaces of everyday urbanism rather than the nation; and to reconfigure policy debates through evidence gleaned from observing the street, and listening to people as they go about their daily lives.
I *heart* ethnography and a good book review ;)!

Building an Anthropology of Bicycling

Now, if you think of studying bicycling and culture as nothing more than studying “bike culture,” i.e. bike messengers or freak bikers or dudes in spandex or whatever dominant image that calls to your mind, I would agree that there’s not much meat for a community of scholarship there. The thing is, humans incorporate bicycles into their everyday lives in very different ways; it makes a lot more sense to talk about bike cultures. In the Netherlands or Denmark, people might say that there simply is no bike culture; it is an unremarkable thing to ride a bicycle. And the funny thing is, because those countries are seen as highly desirable by many bike advocates, they sometimes talk about a future where there is no bike culture.
But in anthropology we don’t think that’s what happens, right? We don’t necessarily think that the globalization of trends and ideas and values leads to an inward convergence of all diversity into one singularity; we leave room for multiple cosmopolitanisms, for situated knowledges, for subaltern heterotopias. This attention to context is an important contribution anthropology can make to the study and design of bicycling and its enabling technologies. What is most significant to me, though, is that anthropology is good for tracing the effects of power, and there’s a helluva lot of power happening as raced, classed, and gendered bodies, on and off bicycles, circulate in shared, historied streets.
I also *heart* cycling and the wonderful ways anthropological language can make your head spin...subaltern heterotopias ;)!

Invitation for Nominations: International Bremen Peace Award 2013

On November 29, 2013 the Threshold Foundation will confer the International Bremen Peace Award for exemplary commitments to Justice, Peace and the Integrity of Creation for the sixth time. With this award we want to honour people and organizations that set an example through their work contributing to reconciliation, human rights, overcoming of racism, sustainable handling of nature and environment as well as to intercultural and inter-religious understanding.
A really nice bottom-up initiative.

Welcome to the launch of our Peer Coaching Pilot Program!

To give you an idea of what we’ve been hard at work doing, we worked remotely with a professional from South Africa in creating an algorithm to match aid workers from different parts of the world. In partnership with Shana, we formulated guidelines, terms and conditions, coaching agreements, risk management strategies and other resources to give participants the best possible experience.
And now, after many months of hard work, we are pleased to announce that we are ready to accept registration for our pilot program.
Great idea, great people, great everything really ;)! Looking forward to this interesting project!

Why You Should Say No to Orphanage Tourism (And Tell All Tour Companies to Do the Same)

I believe the later to be true. While living in Siem Reap, Cambodia, one of the hotbeds of volunteer travel, I watched the growth of child's rights violations increase, fueled by the good intentions of travelers. During the six years I lived in Cambodia, the number of orphanage tourism offerings, and number of orphanages themselves grew as the number of tourists grew. In fact, according to a recent UNICEF report, three out of every four children in Cambodian "orphanages" have one or more living parents. A well-meaning tourism sector is spawning some horrible orphanages, fueling the separation of children and parents, keeping kids out of school to entertain tourists and aiding corruption by adults who are using these children to profiteer, all in the name of "service."
An important pre-Christmas reminder by Daniela Papi. She also raises an important point that the debate is not only about individual volunteers, but also about companies and other organisations that need to be educated about the detrimental side-effects of their good intentions...

The Rise of the Social Entrepreneur

With the new attention has come confusion about what social entrepreneurs do, however. One problem stems from the word “entrepreneur,” which, to many, is synonymous with “businessperson,” and therefore implies that social entrepreneurs simply redeploy business skills and tools to build enterprises to solve social problems. However, some of those who track this work most closely say that the greatest strength of social entrepreneurs isn’t in the way they build ventures to deliver products or services, but in the way they connect people in new configurations and, in so doing, help people work together more effectively, influencing their career or life pathways.
Today, as problems have grown increasingly complex, a big question is how can we reorganize the problem-solving work of society so it is more responsive to needs. Three generations ago, the federal government could address many forms of injustice through legislation — mandating a 40-hour workweek, instituting a minimum wage, establishing housing codes. Today, our societal challenges — in education, health, or the environment — demand innovation from many directions.
This is an interesting summary about the social entrepreneurial discourse. There are lots of things many of us can easily agree with, but in the end, as with any discourse, the articles fails to engage with the concept in a more, shall we say, 'Foucauldian' way: I still think that governments could address 'social injustices' - but their decision-making has become occupied with rating agencies, banks and budget concerns. And in many areas where astronomical sums of money are spent, defense for example, no 'social entrepreneur' will get a reasonable foot into the door. We may be at a crossroad, but 'old governance' still matters and social entrepreneurs may just be a sexy concept of our times rather than a wave of transformative social change.

Participation makes a difference. But not always how and where we might expect

Donors and policy makers who encourage participation must also be willing to help protect and strengthen the space for citizens who do exercise their voice, and to support the other enabling conditions for citizen engagement to occur.
There is abundant evidence to show that participation can make a difference, but often in ways and in places that are not donor created. The challenge now is for donors and development institutions to take a broader and longer-term view of what participation is about, develop a better understanding of the conditions under which it makes a difference, and be willing to support those whose participation may raise uncomfortable truths, even when these challenge the status quo.
John Gaventa responds to the World Bank's latest report on 'Localizing Development' that I featured last week.
The Frost Interview - Desmond Tutu: Not going quietly

The archbishop takes Sir David Frost on a tour of his beloved South Africa; he talks about his time in the anti-apartheid struggle movement, his work with the TRC, and his alarm over recent developments in the "rainbow nation".
My effort to get an economist to understand geography…
So, quite by surprise, I found myself on the end of an extended twitter exchange with Jeff Sachs. I’ve hassled him via twitter before, and never had a response. So, I was a bit taken aback to see my feed light up about 30 seconds after I tweeted with @JeffDSachs at the front end! To give Sachs credit, he stayed quite engaged and did seem to be taking on some of my points. Granted, 140 characters is hardly enough to really convey the issues at hand, but I did the best I could to represent contemporary human geography.
Ed Carr on an epic Twitter battle conversation that took place last night!


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