Links & Contents I Liked 59

Hello all,

It's one of those weeks where basically all of my favorite topics are featured in the weekly link review in one way or another: The value of anthropologists in a great piece on Mali; the chances and challenges of 'open development' in my own post and in an excellent review on technology & transparency; academic research on aid blogging and a more substantial part on storytelling, participatory video, communicating aid and complexity in capturing 'evidence' that development 'works'. Plus Ed Carr reflects on academic copyright and there is a fantastic link to lots of anthropological blogging and old-fashioned writing.


New on aidnography
Rituals, risk, development & Aaron Swartz – in response to Owen Barder
Owen Barder wrote an interesting piece on the legacy of Aaron Swartz for technology & development. In my reflections I am more cautious in invoking his legacy as research rituals, development's guarded professionalism and a general aversion to personal or organizational risk are unlikely to foster profound change and innovation.


A very different portrayal of aid

Reactions to Oxfam America's new campaign: which highlights the measurable impact that can be achieved when the US partners with local leaders, changemakers, and champions who are engaged in fighting poverty and injustice in their own countries.
A storyfied overview over reactions to Oxfam America's new campaign on why cutting aid is the wrong answer to global development challenges.

Behind Mali’s conflict: myths, realities & unknowns

We cannot say that the war in Mali is primarily about natural resources, Western meddling, or religion. We can say, however, that it is a direct consequence of state failure, which as I have argued elsewhere came about largely due to factors internal to Mali. My experience as an anthropologist has made me suspicious of reductionist theories and grand narratives of history, from Marxism to dependency theory to modernization theory. The notion that what’s today playing out in Mali is the product of a “great game” between major powers ignores the realities on the ground there. Those are precisely the realities that anthropology has trained me to appreciate.
A great piece about the background of the conflict in Mali - and why, you probably guessed it, it's complicated...this could also be filed under 'Anthropology' and I like Bruce Whitehouse's approach to link journalism and anthropology to a win-win outcome.

Bloggers imprisoned in mass sentencing in Vietnam

In a two-day trial, a court in the city of Vinh convicted and sentenced the bloggers on charges of participating in "activities aimed at overthrowing the people's administration" and "undermining of national unity" and of participating in "propaganda against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam," news reports said. CPJ research shows that many authoritarian countries resort to such vague state-security charges to justify punishing journalists. Political activists were also convicted on the same charges and sentenced, the reports said. All of the individuals received between three and 13 years in prison, news reports said.
As entertaining or valuable for research blogging can be, we should not forget that it can be a powerful investigative and journalistic tool and authorities in countries like Vietnam lash out against critical commentary and the bloggers behind it.

Studying the Aid Blogosphere

How powerful is the aid blogging community? A working paper from Ryann Manning at the Harvard Business School uses the case study of the 1 Million Shirts flap to examine the networks. Based on the way that aid bloggers engaged with Jason Sadler when he formed his idea and the ensuing changes affected by their influence, Manning concludes that the aid blogosphere "combines features of a public sphere, in which people convene to discuss issues of public interest, and an invisible college, in which experts create, verify, and legitimise knowledge and expertise."
Ryann's paper is rightfully gaining some momentum. Unfortunately two of my co-written papers around development blogging and Twitter are still stuck in publication limbo but they should be available soon (i.e. this spring...) - and don't get me started on peer review processes in development research...

Interviewing Nick Lunch about Participatory Video and indigenous people

Somewhere in the middle of our conversations I realised that we have been talking about Participatory Video with Indigenous groups, but I still hadn’t really figured out what was so particular about working with indigenous groups. So, why exactly does Participatory Video work so well with indigenous groups? One of the reasons is that PV fits very well with storytelling and the oral tradition that is dominant in most indigenous communities. Of course, this isn’t exclusively the case with indigenous groups. More important is the experimental way of working that is characteristic for indigenous people. Their knowledge about (local) food, plants and medicines comes from continuous learning by experience. This experimental way of learning is very much in line with the different steps that are taken in a Participatory Video process. The synthesis between a PV process and the indigenous learning by experiences is probably best expresses by Maria Flores, a Yaqui elder. After completing an InsightShare training in Northern Mexico she has only one thing to say: “PV is a process that seems to be designed for indigenous people”.
The headline pretty much says it all. It's a long post on Participatory Video and the next two posts made me think more about the topic of 'storytelling':

Changing Personal Narratives as an Outcome

So when you ask me about product or process, let me ask you:
How do you think about yourself as an outcome? And what experiences (or processes) along the way have been really important for shaping how you think about yourself

If you're a funder, are you thinking about the learning by doing part of what you are funding as product-generating, or looking for what you consider to be shorter routes to your desired end?

If you are investing in fixing people doors, how are you also looking out for changing people's narrative opportunities that may also be inside those doors but are hidden away - just because people think that you're not interested in that type of product?
Why Storytelling Is The Ultimate Weapon
So there are two big lessons to take from Guber’s book and from the new science of storytelling. First, storytelling is a uniquely powerful form of persuasive jujitsu. Second, in a world full of black belt storytellers, we had all better start training our defenses. Master storytellers want us drunk on emotion so we will lose track of rational considerations, relax our skepticism, and yield to their agenda. Yes, we need to tell to win, but it’s just as important to learn to see the tell coming--and to steel ourselves against it.
I found all three posts fascinating in their own right and kept wondering why many/most big/powerful players in development do not use the power of storytelling more proactively. Much of development writing/reporting/feedback has been taken the opposite route: The more 'data', the more measurable 'evidence', the more complex regressions the more persuasive the report. I think we need to find a middle ground between the 'scientific' aspects of talking about development and the power of storytelling without using it as a marketing tool to obfuscate reality with emotive stories of success or failure. I think big aid organizations should start hiring storytellers now!

Pritchett, feedback loops, and the accountability conundrum

My concern is that Pritchett is shying away from the implications of his own argument. As noted, in the CCT example, he identified 11 different parameters that can interact with each other in non-linear ways. It is hard to imagine how an ex ante specification of key design choices could do justice to this complexity (even for a relatively simple program). More importantly, it seems entirely contingent on whether or not key design choices are knowable ex ante. The very metaphor of “crawling” a design space implies an exploration. We may only learn about key design parameters as the program is being implemented. Moreover, the design space itself is not static. As a concrete example: a grantmaking program I designed for Sudan had to be radically re-designed as the result of new violence in South Kordofan. The important point here is not that this violence was impossible to predict, as many did predict it. Rather, the issue is that the new violence was not a design parameter. It was a complex reordering of the context in which the project was being implemented.
Interesting guest post on Dave Algoso's blog...and an interesting contrast to the 'storytelling' discussion earlier in this review. Without going into detail, I just think that ever-more sophisticated 'feedback loops' and parameters will ultimately not create the accountability, transparency and acceptance that development projects need and deserve.

Beyond Technology for Transparency

In order to achieve that clarity I propose that we stop discussing “technology for transparency,” but rather speak of:
Technology for transparency:
reducing corruption
making public administration more efficient
holding government agencies to account
improving the performance and efficiency of public services
informing citizens
increasing the trust between citizens and governments
increasing civic participation
increasing voter turnout
diminishing poverty
designing public policies
Excellent overview over the current state of debate(s) in the technology, accountability, open... community


Anthropology Blogs 2013

Pretty much self explanatory...a range of great blogs to explore in 2013!

Class of 2013

Pictured above is our top pick of artists and writers whose works will, on 1st January 2013, be entering the public domain in those countries with a ‘life plus 70 years’ copyright term (e.g. most European Union members, Brazil, Israel, Nigeria, Russia, Turkey, etc.). An eclectic bunch have assembled for our graduation photo – including the two founding fathers of anthropology from different sides of the Atlantic
Now you really have no more excuses not to check out Franz Boas' and Bronislaw Malinowski's works and start critiquing the biases that these 'founding fathers' of anthropology introduced to the discourse ;)!

Syllabus for my Food Policy Seminar

My food policy seminar will meet for the first time this afternoon. You can find the syllabus, which includes links to most of the readings, here
Because this course arose out of my research interests and was entirely my idea, I don’t think I’ve ever been this excited to teach a new course.
Marc Bellemare's reading list for his new course.

Copyright makes little sense for academic publishing…for academics

In short, we need to stop transferring copyright to for-profit entities any way we can…but this needs to happen in a manner that doesn’t blow up everyone’s careers. Until the senior faculty in each discipline decide to intervene and shift emphasis to low cost, open-access journals, this could be a useful first step.
In short, academics need to step up and start resisting an academic publishing machine that makes serious money off of our job requirements, but provides little in return. If we do so, perhaps we won’t need folks like Aaron Schwartz to liberate our work – we can do it ourselves.
Edward Carr on why the current copyright regime in development research and many other social sciences mostly benefits the publishers. Although I also think that we academics sometimes overstate our 'impact'-even in a world where every article would be easily and freely available we may discover that not that many people may be interested in our academic, theoretical musings and lengthy literature reviews to frame a short empirical vignette from our 'fieldwork'...

The Middle Ground: Bridging the Gap with

By keeping track of who is following his work and what keywords direct people to his profile, Hart is able to experiment on, showcasing his work and seeing what takes with different audiences.
“You get a gauge of not just what academics are looking for, but what the public is looking for at large,” said Hart, commenting on the possibilities created by Academia’s open access to research.
Central to Hart’s strategy is public visibility. By integrating his personal blog and Facebook page into his profile, Hart reaches a wide audience, integral to testing ideas that aren’t quite ready for publication as well as giving his profile views a boost. Each day Hart receives up to 100 document views as well as an extra 20 hits each week to his blog, all directed from curious perusers of his profile. As a sounding board for new ideas and styles of writing, serves as a middle ground, bypassing “the bureaucracy for the exchange of ideas,” according to Hart.
Interesting post from the official blog so it feels a bit like reading a blog post on an online dating site reminding people that all the cool singles are on online dating sites...but there are some interesting points about visibility as part of academic reputation building which I agree is becoming more and more important.


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