Links & Contents I Liked 66

Hello all,

First a rather technical announcement: Since I have received a few messages regarding subscription options I have updated the forms for email subscription and RSS - so you will hopefully never miss a post again ;)!

Now back to the contents! This week's list has a bit of a 'critical journalism' topic, ranging from critique of The Observer's portrait of Kony 2012's Jason Russell to (more) critique of Nick Kristof's reporting and new research on Mother Teresa that casts her legacy in a more complex light. An American war resisters story is well worth the read, followed by a 'link I disliked': The story of Ernst & Young's corporate volunteering program is an interesting example of elite language and corporate discourses creeping into their 'corporate responsibility' approach. 'Reaching those beyond big data' is my Women's Day recommendation as
it combines ethnography, critical research on and around big (digital) data & engaging with + empowering women on the margins of society. Finally, two great posts on the value of 'student evaluations' in academia and how alternative metrics can enhance your reputation even further...


New on aidnography
Is silence still golden? The curious case of Jim Kim's World Bank leadership
Have you heard from the World Bank recently? Or, more precisely, have you read much about the Bank recently? I haven’t.
Given the amount of debate during the nomination process, Kim’s first months in office have really turned out well for the Bank – from an organizational communications standpoint.
Any question about the legitimacy of the nomination process, accountability of the Bank or other criticisms all but died down when the Korean-American medical doctor/anthropologist took over the leadership of the Bank in July 2012.
So what can ‘we’ (development researchers, political scientists, blogger) learn from this ‘golden silence’ that has since engulfed the Bank and took it out of the critical headlines?


Taxation and foreign investment: Some counterintuitive evidence from Chile
The conclusion is not, of course, that higher taxes attract foreign investors. It is, though, that the serious and economically sophisticated international investor looks at a host of factors, including the availability of raw materials, the quality of the labour force, the institutional and legal context, and the investment climate as whole, of which taxation is only a part, and clearly not a deciding one
Despite years of repeating the mantra, companies do not just focus on taxation when deciding about investments. If they are interested in the product and can still make a good profit after tax they are likely to still invest!

The Guardian’s thoughtless interview with Kony2012 creator Jason Russell

All very luvvy. Seduced by Southern California, by new media, by Americans who “care”, Cadwalladr gloriously misses the point.
There is nothing heroic about running a cushy, big-spending non-profit that works hand-in-glove with the CIA and the US military. Russell’s central proposition — parroted by Cadwalladr — that he has succeeded in making Joseph Kony famous, is completely absurd. The man has been the ICC’s most-wanted since 2005, and was globally notorious many years before that. As usual, there’s no mention of the fact that the US, alone among Western nations, still won’t ratify the Rome statute — why would that be relevant?
Critics of Kony2012 are caricatured and dismissed. Vicious online bullies of the well-intentioned chap who tried to organize America’s teenagers to take part in the world’s biggest manhunt. Cadwalladr hasn’t done a whole lot of thinking about Kony2012 and race, and she is clearly absolutely ignorant about Uganda.
I know that The Observer is not the Guardian, but the interview really made me wonder how seriously these publications development issues really take. I don't mind a 'pop culturalized' portrait of the Kony 2012 affair per se, but the editors and journalists from the Observer apparently don't talk to the development colleagues 'next door'?! At least to get a tokenistic critical quote from them?! So is 'development' just confined to a Gates-supported filter bubble on the Guardian's website?!

Mother Teresa: anything but a saint...

Mother Teresa was generous with her prayers but rather miserly with her foundation's millions when it came to humanity's suffering. During numerous floods in India or following the explosion of a pesticide plant in Bhopal, she offered numerous prayers and medallions of the Virgin Mary but no direct or monetary aid. On the other hand, she had no qualms about accepting the Legion of Honour and a grant from the Duvalier dictatorship in Haiti. Millions of dollars were transferred to the MCO's various bank accounts, but most of the accounts were kept secret, Larivée says. “Given the parsimonious management of Mother Theresa's works, one may ask where the millions of dollars for the poorest of the poor have gone?”
Despite Mother Teresa's dubious way of caring for the sick by glorifying their suffering instead of relieving it, Serge Larivée and his colleagues point out the positive effect of the Mother Teresa myth: “If the extraordinary image of Mother Teresa conveyed in the collective imagination has encouraged humanitarian initiatives that are genuinely engaged with those crushed by poverty, we can only rejoice. It is likely that she has inspired many humanitarian workers whose actions have truly relieved the suffering of the destitute and addressed the causes of poverty and isolation without being extolled by the media. Nevertheless, the media coverage of Mother Theresa could have been a little more rigorous.”
Interesting summary of a study from the University of Montreal (and I openly admit that this is the first time I have heard of a 'Deparment of psychoeducation'...); it's probably not just Mother Teresa and her work, but much of the pre-Internet age is to some extent hidden from view and shaped by powerful mainstream media and institutions (BBC & catholic church) rather than a critical blogger who wrote from the heart of Calcutta...

Op-Ed: Nicholas Kristof and the Politics of Writing About Women’s Oppression in Darker Nations

Kristof never really explores in depth in his book, documentary, or his columns about how his position as an American, white, male journalist or how his power and privilege as a New York Times columnist allow him to trespass other cultures and become an observer to human tragedies. How does he get to interview a young girl from Somaliland about genital cutting?
Prior to their arrival on the scene of emancipation, it seems there were no other social movements in Africa and Asia. Half The Sky is a brilliantly constructed heroic narrative of American saviors, who in one stroke, manage to erase over 200 years of efforts by South Asians and Africans to resist the brutality of European colonialism and their struggles for women’s upliftment, human rights of Dalits, anti-corruption movements, and the like.
Sunil Bhatia (a man at an American higher education institution) makes some excellent points about some of the shortcomings of Nick Kristof's work...maybe 'the Internet' is not simply changing the power of mainstream media and discourses and today's Mother Teresa may team up social media-savvy charities to spread her work?!

Making a game of Nick Kristof’s Half the Sky movement

In a conversation via email, Moore said that they game was detached from reality because it forces the player into binary decisions.
“You’re given these binary options that, in real life, wouldn’t really be binary. Admittedly this format would be impossible to actually use as a tool of empowerment, but the damage could have been lessened if the options were neither binary nor market-based,” she explained.
Other questions were raised by individuals who would not speak on the record. These people questioned the efficacy of the money spent on the project. It applies a multi-platform version of storytelling called transmedia storytelling. Half the Sky takes the next step into Transmedia Activism by engaging its viewers to become activists in women’s empowerment.
The $15 million budget represents what appears to be the largest amount spent on a such a campaign.
There were also questions about the portrayal of the characters in the game. Radhika with her larger head and oversize anime-style eyes is seen as a caricature, a ‘Disneyification” of women and girls that contributes to, rather than argues against, objectification. Some even felt them borderline racist. Moore raised questions about the production of the game citing it as an industry with few women and even fewer opportunities for them.
Tom Murphy does an excellent job in reviewing the pros and cons of the gamification of Half the Sky and broader issues of the 'movement' started by Nick Kristof and his writings.

Foreign Funding of NGOs

For several thinktanks, it is often hard to figure out something as basic as the nature of the legal entity through which they conduct their activities. Are they societies, associations or trusts? More pertinently, why is the Government not pushing for a stricter transparency regime? A major stumbling block may be the fact that these thinktanks are set up under state laws and it is difficult for the Central Government to coordinate a nationwide transparency regime. However, given that most are beneficiaries of income tax exemptions, it may be possible for the Centre to use the Income Tax Act to demand comprehensive disclosures. Since they enjoy tax benefits, they might also qualify as ‘public authorities’ under the Right To Information Act, 2005.
Another reason that disclosure of funding is important is to inform the analysis of people who usually see NGOs as selfless entities dedicated to nothing but a higher cause. While this may be true of some NGOs, many leaders of these set-ups have personal stakes in ensuring certain outcomes. After all, future donor grants often depend on sustaining one’s influence in the policy space. Many of the institutions described in this article have been regular recipients of funds from the same sources year after year.
Interesting piece on the emerging Indian Think Tank and NGO sector-as new donors arise, some rather traditional questions around transparency and accountability are also emerging in the 'BRIC' context.

A war resister speaks from the heart

Instead of returning to Fort Hood Texas after my two-week leave, I left for Canada thinking it would be better than risking my life again or killing for unjust reasons. The Canadian people were very kind and I fell in love and had a beautiful child with a Canadian citizen. I had a job and then after living free with a clearer conscience for three years, I received a letter of deportation from the Conservative government under Prime Minister Stephen Harper when my son was only months old.
First person stories like this one by Rodney Watson are always an important reminder that the dynamics of resisting war have to be fought by every single soldier who goes 'AWOL' and who struggles to rebuild a life.

Fostering Adaptability and Change Through ICV

As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, resilient dynamism—a flexible and energetic approach to solving problems everywhere—is an increasingly valuable quality for people and organizations. ICV programs can help to encourage adaptability in the people who volunteer and the companies they work for, and at the same time help emerging economies develop new approaches to growth.
Quite frankly, this is not really a 'link I like'...I'm sure think that Ernst & Young really has the greater good in mind with its corporate responsibility approaches; but the depoliticized, managerial language, at some points close to an artistic arrangement of fancy buzzwords, hides the 'heart and soul' of these initiatives really well...this short article comes off as super-elitists and straight out of a boardroom presentation at Ernst & Young and based on an understanding of volunteering as a continuation and perpetuation of their day-to-day business practices...I would really advise the people and organizations involved to communicate differently...

Tipsheets and tutorials

The CAR conference offers something for everyone, from beginners to those on the cutting edge of digital reporting. We'll offer everything from the basics on using spreadsheets, databases and online mapping to data science and the latest technological advances. You'll come away with, story ideas, plenty inspiration and tools to help you overcome typical data hurdles. Learn from the best in the business in panel discussions and during hands-on training sessions. Bypass the budget issues in your newsroom by taking classes in free software. Get a look at what the biggest names in data-driven reporting are using to make a major impact online.
The tipsheets from the recent Computer Assisted Reporting (CAR) conference look also very useful for development communication in its broadest sense!

Obama picks Gina McCarthy to lead EPA

She's a pragmatist with an anthropology degree.
McCarthy majored in social anthropology at the University of Massachusetts-Boston in 1976, a decision that wouldn't seem to put her on track to become EPA administrator 37 years later. But she also got a joint master's degree from Tufts University in environmental health engineering and planning and policy, and those who know her say her natural pragmatism makes her well-suited to lead the EPA.
On a side-note: Just because 'anthropology' pops up somewhere in your CV that doesn't 'make' you anything necessarily...

Reaching Those Beyond Big Data

In spending more time with them and testing concepts and language, often in Mad Libs style, we figured out what would register: passports. Most trafficked persons had had their passports confiscated, as a means of control. Here was something they wanted back, more than “getting out of trafficking”.
As humans, we are biased toward looking for information in places where information is quick to find and easy to work with––these days, that largely means digital and online. Or we tend to get information from familiar sources and people. But, I’d ask us to consider who we miss in the process.
Many of us are working hard to build a more open, connected, and efficient world, but I hope we don’t lose sight of those like Fatou who will never be captured in our datasets.
Ethnography, critical research on and around digital data & engaging + empowering vulnerable women - this is clearly my International Women's Day recommendation from my favorite anthropology blog!

The Unnecessary Agony of Student Evaluations

I liked European attitudes toward student evaluations. But I wouldn’t want to live with them. They were dismayingly unhelpful. Still, students are not customers, and professors are not service providers. American universities use the myth of consumer power to sell themselves. Few professors are fired because of student evaluations—except those who are most vulnerable, that is, adjuncts at the very lowest rungs of the academic industry.
But all of us internalize the responses we get; we’re told to be tough inside when they are negative. We somehow believe them, as if they are truths objectively obtained. Students once ourselves, we hunger for grades and approval. Regardless of how many times our colleagues tell us not to worry over the bad evaluations, and not to let the good ones go to our heads, we are still very much students inside, seeking grades.
Good post about the thin line between useful student feedback and the neoliberal construction of 'customers' and 'service providers' in academia.

A Measure of ‘Readability’

Tim anticipates that this new kind of readability metric will also help him when it comes to the “business-side” of science writing.

“Granting agencies need to know, ‘if we’ve funded you in the past, did you publish anything? And, if you published something, did anyone read it?’ That’s a new facet of the whole grant application process: to include some evidence that people are reading your work. That’s why is potentially very, very useful to build confidence in yourself, in your team, and in your potential granters.”
As newly tenured faculty member, Tim adds, “that, for me, is the next chapter.”
The new blog does an excellent job so far to highlight some of the new tools and approaches of reputation building and 'impact' that alternative sites like theirs can help when you need to prove your impact in academic settings.


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