Links & Contents I Liked 68

Dear all,

I have been a bit busy this week - for all the right and good reasons - and fresh & exciting content will be added very soon! In the meantime, enjoy some great reads!

Although there are some great reads on technology, learning and social change featured in this week's review (including a great ethnographic piece on 'performing success' in the context of OLPC) you should definitely check out very interesting reads on new research that suggests that corporations from the unhealthy commodities industry should have no place in policy-making, 'feel-good activism' and the moral complexities between 'inquiry and insult' when participating in an exercise such as the 'Two Dollar Per Day Challenge' (i.e. pretending to be poor when you really aren't...). If you are still curious, do check out a good Bono-bashing piece and the inaugural open access issue
of the new Peacebuilding journal!


Lancet Article Highlights Links between Corporations and Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs)

The report looks at the efforts and effects of the tobacco, alcohol, and ultra-processed food and drink industries, concluding that: “unhealthy commodity industries should have no role in the formation of national and international NCD policy.” Ultra-processed foods and sugar drinks are associated with the rise in obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease around the world. Major corporations, such as Coca-Cola and PepsiCo produce more than half of the world’s sugar beverages. Further, processed food makes up 75% of the world’s food sales, “whose largest manufacturers control more than a third of the market,” including companies like Kraft Foods, PepsiCo, Nestle, Mars, and Kellogg.
The article reports several key strategies used by tobacco, asbestos, and pharmaceutical companies that are now being implemented by alcohol and food industries
Which (once again) begs the question: does any of this money ever actually reach people in need through philanthropic action or does it just filter back into other transnational corporations?
Just as I came across a forthcoming event on the Global Giving Report which will be attended by a 'Who is Who' of players involved in health funding, the article and post confirm my suspicions when it comes to private sector engagement in development (cf. last year's discussion and my commentary Only get an MBA if you are not interested in sustainable development).

‘Factivism’ and Other Fairytales from Bono

It’s not just Bono’s own unimaginable riches and his dubious versions of ancient and recent history that make his “equality” talk so sickeningly misdirected. It’s that, whatever the precise facts about extreme-poverty reduction, we know for certain that the recent history of the world is a story of dramatically increasing inequality. Four out of five people live in countries that are becoming more unequal in terms of income. For Bono, “equality” is just another feel-good word, a warm set of syllables to be deployed even to describe its exact opposite.
Like so much of his work, Bono’s idea of “good news” is a distraction, deliberate or otherwise, from the sort of radical redistribution of resources that would lead us toward a world where equality, justice and the genuine eradication of poverty were really imminent possibilities.
Harry Browne's commentary around Bono's latest TED talk is not simply a leftist rant, but engages in detail with some of the numbers and statistics behind his 'factivism' of what 'works' to eradicate poverty.

Why the invasion of Iraq was the single worst foreign policy decision in American history

In my act of the play, the U.S. spent some $2.2 million dollars to build a huge facility in the boondocks. Ignoring the stark reality that Iraqis had raised and sold chickens locally for some 2,000 years, the U.S. decided to finance the construction of a central processing facility, have the Iraqis running the plant purchase local chickens, pluck them and slice them up with complex machinery brought in from Chicago, package the breasts and wings in plastic wrap, and then truck it all to local grocery stores. Perhaps it was the desert heat, but this made sense at the time, and the plan was supported by the Army, the State Department, and the White House.
Elegant in conception, at least to us, it failed to account for a few simple things, like a lack of regular electricity, or logistics systems to bring the chickens to and from the plant, or working capital, or... um... grocery stores. As a result, the gleaming $2.2 million plant processed no chickens. To use a few of the catchwords of that moment, it transformed nothing, empowered no one, stabilized and economically uplifted not a single Iraqi. It just sat there empty, dark, and unused in the middle of the desert. Like the chickens, we were plucked.
As the 10th anniversary of the invasion is marked, despite its grandiose headline, the piece from Le Monde Diplomatique is a highly recommended critical read.

A humanitarian surge and its demise, 1997 to 2003: a personal account
What I hope to achieve, in the course of my lecture this evening, is to describe the very important window of opportunity that arose between the end of the cold war in 1989–90 and the declaration of the War on Terror in 2001–2002, and to try to draw out some lessons from this experience. I do this, not simply to share with you my account of those years, but because reflection on the experience of those years could teach us important lessons about what needs to be done to advance humanitarian values. I want to suggest that humanitarianism is too often perceived as a marginal series of activities – famine relief, development assistance, peacekeeping, emergency humanitarian relief. While these are all worthwhile, they exist alongside the main thrust of foreign and defence policy and too often fail to challenge the central thrust of foreign policy thinking which frequently perpetuates the conditions in which humanitarian emergencies will continue to emerge.
Former UK Secretary of State Clare Short reflects on her work and development policy-making from the end of the Cold War to the beginning of the 'War on Terror'.
Make sure you also check out other openly accessible articles from the inaugural issue of the new Peacebuilding journal!
Inside Malaysia's Shadow State

For over thirty years, Sarawak has been governed by Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud, who controls all land classification, forestry and plantation licenses in the state. Under his tenure, Sarawak has experienced some of the most intense rates of logging seen anywhere in the world. The state now has less than five per cent of its forests left in a pristine condition, unaffected by logging or plantations and continues to export more tropical logs than South America and Africa combined.
The film reveals for the first time the instruments used by the ruling Taib family and its lawyers to skirt Malaysia’s laws and taxes. It shows how they cream off huge profits at the expense of indigenous people, and hide their dirty money in Singapore.
Traditional NGO advocacy is enhanced with approaches known from investigative journalism-a good example of a clear win-win!

Can Feel-Good Activism Save the World?

What overarching questions were you trying to answer in The Ironic Spectator?
There are two main questions. The first was a general question about how we communicate the suffering and vulnerability of others, something the field of development has struggled over for decades. The debate has been there forever – and it is a moral and political rather than just an aesthetic debate – but I thought we weren’t getting very satisfactory responses. I felt we needed to revisit those questions, approaching the topic in a different way or with a fresh perspective.
The second question – and the main trigger for the book – was a recent trend in charity campaigns. New forms of campaigning have emerged, which are very advanced in the way they market international humanitarian brands, but in doing so employ a new logic to previous forms of humanitarian communication. I was intrigued by these new campaigns’ clean aesthetic, their sanitisation of the message, their total focus on the consumer, and their suppression of the sufferer in their messages. I theorise this new logic as ‘post-humanitarian’ and wanted to understand what these new manifestations tell us about where we are today in terms of representing vulnerability.
Long, interesting interview with author Lilie Chouliaraki about her new book 'The Ironic Spectator'. I am definitely planning to review it, too!

Inquiry versus Insult

With those words, my eyes popped open. I was three days into the Two Dollar Challenge. I had been limiting my income to $2 a day, sleeping in a make-shift shelter with my students for the past two nights, and adhering to a number of other rules meant to assist us in gaining a deeper understanding of the economic lives of the poor.
“We create a spectacle and then proceed to blog, post and tweet about our experience. We get interviewed. We get our pictures taken. We are built up (by some) as something special.”

“I imagine that this can be insulting.”

“If you know this,” he jumped back in, “why do you continue to do it?”

“All of those things that insult you are the things that non-participants can only observe from the outside. There is so much more.”

“Inside the Two Dollar Challenge – as a participant – there is something special happening.”
I am still not fully at ease.

Is the Two Dollar Challenge appropriate? I do not know.

Does it have the ability to insult others? Yes.

Does it have the ability to give participants a necessary dose of empathy, humility and doubt? Yes.

Maybe, just maybe, being at unease with the Two Dollar Challenge is where I am suppose to be and should always be.
The complexities of experiencing, teaching and reflecting on 'poverty' if you are not really poor...

Tenured Radicals

What I have come to notice through this examination will not surprise many readers of this column. The high-minded leftist ideals expressed by many faculty members in public contexts—letters to the editor, rants on the faculty listserv, etc.—are routinely betrayed in everyday practice in the workplace. The colleagues who make waves about marriage equality or another worthwhile issue (while not actually inconveniencing themselves in any way—a far cry from the Civil Rights and Second Wave Feminist movements that I remember) routinely reproduce structures of oppression in the academy.
Such obvious examples of bad faith, exploitation of powerless people, hypocrisy, and, I don’t know, general asshole-ishness, are the defining feature of the American academy. The fact that we spend our free time sending radical Facebook posts to one another is simply a curious sideshow.
Anthropologist Michael E. Harkinon on why academia is a tough place for reform let alone revolutions of any kind.

Performing Success: When mythologies about a technology dominate first impressions

This vignette problematizes the value of first impressions by illustrating an example of participants’ desire to perform success to visitors, especially high-profile ones. In the process, it shows the value of ethnographies, as more sustained research initiatives which ideally last long after the novelty effect of the visitor and of the (techno-)social interactions they are studying have worn off.
Finally, these vignettes demonstrate the benefit of sustained and embedded observations of development projects, as can be provided by ethnographic inquiry, in overcoming these performances. The visitor in the second vignette was able to see more realistic classroom laptop use because he was willing to become a shadow-ethnographer, even though his visit was relatively short. He was also willing to honestly report his findings, good or bad (which are posted here). Careful, critical ethnographies are one of the few ways to overcome performances of success to witness the real benefits – and challenges – of development projects such as OLPC.
I just love Ethnography Matters!
Also check out the next link on education and technology.

Magical thinking about technology in education

I certainly saw that with instructional television in the 1960s, desktop computers and labs in the 1980s, 1:1 laptop programs since the mid-1990s and I now see a similar pattern with iPads, other tablets, and smart phones. Magical thinking about transforming teaching and learning–dumping teachers and traditional schools disappearing–is close to make-believe even when children have these powerful devices in their hands. Vendor-driven hype and wishful policy thinking over robots, increasingly sophisticated artificial intelligence software, and expanded virtual teaching feed private and public fantasies about replacing teachers and schools. Taking a step back and thinking about what parents, voters, and taxpayers want from schools–the social, economic, political, and individual goals–makes magical thinking more of a curse in the inevitable public disappointment and cynicism that ensue after money is spent, paltry results emerge, and machines become obsolete.
Valerie Strauss on technology, teaching and learning - and how new technologies often fail to meet the high expectations of 'transforming learning'. Very relevant for development discussions as well and obviously connected to the previous post on ethnography and performing success!
I recently wrote on OLPC (mentioned in the article) and MOOCs and the complexities of learning and development.

Why do more women than men in academia engage in the community?

So in that spirit, in a quiet, solitary moment, I again asked myself, “Why are more women than men from academia involved in community-based work?” The answer that immediately came to mind was, “We are trying to humanize an inhuman environment. We are resisting the inhumanity of academia.”

This answer was a shock. As the words seeped their way into the grooves in my mind, I realized the shock was partly one of recognition. Although I had never thought of my motivations in these terms, it was a valid way to describe why I have been passionate about community engagement. It is true that I have been engaged in acts of resistance to the norms of academia: the dissociation from the body, the erasure of emotion, the competitiveness, and the disconnection from societal issues.
If my insight is correct, we who are involved in community-university engagement, both women and men, can be seen as resisting the forces of dehumanization, including traditional patriarchal influences that have shaped so much of academic culture. We are trying to create environments where we can invest our whole humanity in collective effort, spaces where we can laugh and sing and dance and weep as well as talk. Is this something that more women than men are interested in? Apparently it is.
Is predominantly female engagement in community efforts a feminist project? Should it be one? Or is there a more mundane reason as more and more female students enter universities and look for community engagement as part of their skill- and CV-building? It's complicated...

Training for What?

Anya Kamenetz has a thought-provoking piece about the Milwaukee Area Technical College’s agreement to run welding programs for Caterpillar. Caterpillar is expecting a strike, so it wants the local technical college to train its managers and non-unit staff to be able to do union jobs if its welders walk off the job. MATC is responding to employer need, offering training in an employable skill and thereby supporting the local economy. Now the Steelworkers’ union is petitioning MATC to refrain from what it considers pre-emptive strikebusting.
It’s an ugly, sticky issue.
It reminded me of a discussion I had on my own campus recently. It’s hardly news that Massachusetts is planning to legalize casinos, and that it’s soliciting proposals from various developers for locations. Community colleges in relevant areas are preparing programs to train workers in the various skills for which casinos hire. In conversation last week, a respected professor suggested to me that the college should take a moral position that casinos are bad for communities and simply refuse to participate.
For that matter, I think there’s a serious argument to be made that graduate programs in many humanities and social science disciplines should either shrink or be shut down. The employment prospects for their graduates at this point are so poor that the idea of spending taxpayer money to send the next wave of recruits into the wall doesn’t make sense. But there, too, the people being asked to take a moral stand are the people whose livelihoods would be affected if they did.
Is it immoral to train non-unionized welders or future casino staff? But the bigger question: Is it immoral to train, say, development workers or anthropologists who may not find suitable jobs? Interesting questions particularly for the aforementioned 'tenured radicals'...


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