Links & Contents I Liked 67

Hello all!

Welcome to another great weekly link review! The 'development' section features some interesting material including whether the mistreatment of children in conflict zones is a perverse form of acceptable child abuse, how advocacy campaigns can have an impact and the role of IR scholars and scholarship and the war in Iraq. There are two excellent pieces on the impact of voluntourism on children in Ghana and the rituals of UN policy summits (this time it's the Commission on the Status of Women). There's also a special
'not-really-development-related-but-still-interesting-section' this week to change things a little bit...the pieces on how to critically engage with 'research', how to deal with advice and how to work in the post-employment economy are all worthwhile reads. Finally, in 'Academia' an anthropology adjunct talks about his professional dead-ends and why getting a tenured job feels like becoming a Broadway dancer!

Just a final gentle reminder that I updated the forms for email subscription and RSS - so you will hopefully never miss a post again ;)!


New on aidnography
4 reasons why MOOCs should be discussed in international development
As MOOCs are gaining more and more momentum, I am more concerned what the rise and the growing interest in/from developing countries may mean for local higher education institutions that are already often underfunded and are struggling to meet the demands for adequate education in the 21st century. On local partnerships, mistaken teaching for 'academia', digital brain gain & why investigating in higher education is still a development issue!

New Routes - peacebuilding in small spaces

The opening article reflects on the relations between governments and civil society, especially in peacbuilding. In another article, Roger W. Foster and Jayne S. Docherty, Eastern Mennonite University, point to situations when ‘smallness’ in itself is an advantage. James A. Paul, Global Policy Forum, and Henning Melber, Dag Hammarskj√∂ld Foundation, in their respective articles, picture the UN’s and governments’ attitude towards civil society. Pauliina Parhiala, ACT Alliance, takes up a human rights perspective in her discussion on the challenges of civil society. A number of examples of peacebuilding activities in small spaces are given from former Yugoslavia, Burma/Myanmar and Israel/Palestine.
Life & Peace Institute's latest publication.

Acceptable Child Abuse? 
For some reason this targeting of children is not designated as child abuse. Yes, it is not sexual in nature and I assume is not done for personal sexual gratification, but it seems odd that we compartmentalise one set of harms to children and see it as entirely separate from another set of harms. This strikes me as illogical, but very convenient for a lot of military and political leaders. If these people were treated as child abusers then they would be taboo. They would be persona non grata. Think of the photos of world leaders gathered at UN or G20 summits – there would be quite a few gaps if the child abusers were removed. But, for some reason, many people find the killing and maiming of children acceptable but sexual abuse unacceptable. This seems to be like the most appalling double standard. Both are wrong and we should call the targeting of children what is really is: child abuse.
Roger Mac Ginty presents a short and very provocative argument: What if political and military leaders were labelled as 'child abusers' if their actions contribute to the suffering of children?

Advocacy in Conflict: Do public advocacy campaigns make an impact?

Brauman believes focused advocacy that addresses a specific issue tends to be more effective, and their impacts can be more closely measured. Taub noted the value of targeted international attention to protect at-risk human rights defenders. She also encouraged US advocates to focus greater attention on their own government’s human rights abuses and lamented the divide between foreign and domestic human rights activists. Seay, who teaches a course on advocacy, emphasized that the key is a realization that advocacy is not about the activists – it’s about people actually in conflict-affected communities. Seay said, “I don’t like the phrase ‘voice for the voiceless.’ It’s condescending and implies that people who don’t have big platforms don’t have opinions.” Finally, de Waal discussed his work in the anti-landmine campaign. The creation of an international treaty and the award of the Nobel Peace Prize – considered major successes by most – resulted in his view, in the premature demobilization of the movement because the victories implied that the movement had already reached all its objectives.

Great summary of a discussion on public advocacy and conflict featuring well-known bloggers (among many other great things...) Laura Seay and Amanda Taub.

Iraq 10 Years Later (1): How Culpable is Academic International Relations?

The second question then, assuming you think the war was a an error – and I bet many of us think it was a downright catastrophe – is how culpable IR is. Last year, I argued: “To our credit, just about everyone in IR was uncomfortable with the Iraq War before it started. (Remember that ad in the NYT against the war?) It’s true we didn’t oppose it that much, but at least we didn’t become the cheerleaders for it as happened at the big op-ed pages and DC think-tanks. The national security state clampdown at home makes us fairly uncomfortable (especially as academics strongly committed to free speech), as does the inevitable nativism and militarism stirred up by a decade-plus of war. The US public’s indifference to the huge numbers of brown Muslims we have killed in the last decade is horrifying (‘we don’t do body-counts’), a point Vikash has made again and again. US basing is way beyond any reasonable threat assessment to the US homeland. My guess is that most of us not only empirically think retrenchment is coming, but also desperately want it too. We may have shared the neocon intoxication with US power for a few years after 9/11, but my sense is that IR now is really, really nervous about what the GWoT is doing to America.

An interesting and well-presented analysis on IR scholar and scholarship in connection with the war in Iraq. As much as I agree with the analysis and sometimes difficult moral choices and standpoints in issues of war, conflict and democracy/'democracy' I also think that Robert Kelly simply overestimates the influence of (liberal) IR scholarship on actual policy-making and the multi-billion military-industrial complex.

Where are the children? Orphanage voluntourism in Ghana

Volunteer tourism might create opportunities for temporary social interaction, but it does not broaden the social networks of the children or make information more accessible for them. Further, it does not appear to create sustainable bridges between the two communities. And finally, it does not provide the children with the emotional care and support they need in order to develop into healthy individuals with a bright future. As a result of the usage of their orphanage as a volunteer tourism site, the children I spoke with are spoiled but poor. Is this the best outcome for the children and is it the best way to use the energy, motivation and good intentions of volunteers?
Fascinating summary of an MA research project on the impact of voluntourism in Ghana!

57th Commission on the Status of Women – should we care? 

From an advocacy perspective these meetings are a dud. The ‘Agreed Conclusions‘ document that is adopted at the end of the two week meetings have no teeth, no accountability mechanisms and rarely (if ever) get translated into government level policies. In fact  the few General Assembly discussions i have had the misfortune to attend were dull affairs where countries of the world, in alphabetical order, regaled a dozing audience with stories of what they do to help/protect/promote/mention women. At certain points this becomes an almost comic affair as countries who are well known for their complete disregard to women’s rights and countries that have been chosen multiple times as ‘the worst place to be a woman’ or some such, stand up and give a 10 minute brief on their dedication to the issue.
During the two week meeting the big INGO’s get together with the UN agencies who bring an OECD mission along so they can all hug each other on a panel discussion. So the well known allies of women’s groups get together and celebrate themselves, while certain governments work in advance to create a blocking vote that derails any attempt at passing more action oriented conclusions.
seriously though, wouldn’t it be great if women’s organizations got together (what a pipe dream huh?) and boycotted the whole thing? or held an alternative CSW, like the World Social Forum, but for women and girls? then we would spend two weeks naming and shaming governments, creating real alliances based on a feminist political consciousness that didn’t shy away from challenging the old power bases and spoke about girls rights in terms other than ‘what a great investment’ (read – more consumers for our free market systems).

Keshet Bachan is not impressed with the rituals of UN meetings and global, non-binding, feel-good policy-making.

GET TO KNOW :: Marianne Elliott {Zen Peacekeeper}

At the heart of every useful thing I’ve ever done was a story. And these days that’s what captures my imagination most of all. How to gather, craft, tell, spread and amplify stories that help us all see ourselves, each other and the future in a new and beautiful light.
Whether I’m writing a report on violence again women in Afghanistan, raising funds for a great cause, helping a client share their good work with the world or writing my memoir – my craft, my medium and my passion is story.

To end the 'development' section on a more positive note, I can recommend the interview with Marianne Elliott on the power of wonder, storytelling and creating your development-wellbeing enterprise. 

The not-really-development-related-but-still-interesting-section for this week
Sifting Through the “Research”

But this is just one of many research sins committed by those eager to hype their findings. In my latest column in the Chronicle of Philanthropy, I suggest five simple questions readers should ask when reading research about the nonprofit sector: What was the methodology used? Is the conclusion warranted? Is this really research at all? Has other relevant research been done on this topic? Who paid for it?
While I focus in the Chronicle on the nonprofit sector, I’d argue these questions are just as important when reading Harvard Business Review as Stanford Social Innovation Review.
But I am amazed by how much in the business and social sector press is put out that purports to be research but simply isn’t—where there is little or no actual data collection or rigorous analysis. Too often, consulting firms, in particular, dress up their anecdotal experiences with clients as “research” when it is nothing of the kind. And too often, it’s difficult for the reader to even find out that what is being touted authoritatively is based on just a few consulting engagements.
Not everything that says 'research' really qualifies for it and the broader claims that often go along with it; in fast moving sectors like digital media, technology and innovation it is tempting to create generalized findings from very little 'data'. Real research takes time, is sometimes boring and oftentimes doesn't have spectacular findings...

David Farland’s Kick in the Pants—Mining for Good Advice

Sometimes even stellar authors give bad advice. On Friday I noticed a link to a column from one of my favorite authors—a bestseller, an award-winner. I linked to it, hoping for a gem of wisdom. His eight pieces of advice could be summed up in a few words: “Don’t ask me, just get off your butt and write.”
To me, the author seemed rather contemptuous of struggling authors. This person knows a great deal about writing, and revealed none of it. If you followed his advice, you would at least get something written, but it would be no better than if you had never listened to a word that he said.
Hemingway was much the same. He gave notoriously bad advice. When one would-be author asked what kind of chair he preferred for writing, it was obviously a dumb question, so Hemingway said, “I don’t sit when I write, I stand.” So writers began standing at their desks. Hemingway lied, (Note pictures of Hemingway’s writer chair here, and a picture of him writing at his desk in Africa here.) He sat, people. It’s conducive to meditation.
Although this is a piece on writers and how to deal with advice when writing fiction I found it quite relevant to the context of development and academia as a lot of the work deals with advisory roles of different kinds and the good and bad memories that come with giving and receiving advice...

98% Can't Identify With The Newspaper

And this is despite that newspapers in Norway have a much better connection with their readers than most newspapers in other countries. The Norwegian newspaper market is a lot stronger than in the rest of Europe and the US.
So if 98% of your potential customers can't identify with your product, and if 94% don't think it's even relevant, the chances of you being able turn them into subscribers are... zero.
This follows several other studies, like a study from October 2012 that found:
  • 80% think journalists are too focused on sensational stories.
  • 70% think journalists are focusing too much on the negatives.
  • 86% think journalists are misleading them.
The problem here is the editorial focus. The newspapers are simply not making the right kind of news. And as Amedia wrote, "How long are they going stick around if we do not create the content they need?"
I found this research on the Norwegian newspaper market quite fascinating for two reasons: First, what does that say with 'our' aim to publish in mainstream newspapers? Second, how do we make sure that 'youth' stays positively engaged with development issues when newspapers are quickly using their young customers? I think this story is indirectly linked to the whole Kony 2012 business and how young people spread a development idea outside the established news media and channels.

A Day in the Life of a Digital Editor, 2013

But here's the weird thing: While the top six or seven viral hits might make up 15-20 percent of a given month's traffic, the falloff after that is steep. And once you're out of the top 20 or 30 stories, a really, really successful story is only driving 0.5 percent or less of a place like The Atlantic's monthly traffic. But that's the best-case scenario. In most cases, even great reported stories will fizzle, not spark. They will bring in 1,000 or 3,000 or 5,000 or 10,000 visitors. You'd need thousands of these to make a big site go. 
But the fact is, a lot of people *do* get stuff out of it. They're changing careers into journalism, say. Or they're a scholar who wants to reach a broader audience. Or they've got a book coming out. Or they're a kid who begs you (begs you!) to take a flier on them, and you have to spend way too much time with her, but it's worth it because you believe she's talented, even if you know the story isn't going to garner a big audience.
All this to say: As a rule of thumb, it sucks to take free work from people who are freelancing for a living. Agreed. But this is not a law of the universe and I would hate to see this imposed on me by anybody out of an obligation to a theoretical journalism where this hurts everybody. Can't we take it case by case? 
Interesting comment from The Atlantic on site traffic and the challenging environment around poorly or unpaid freelance articles. Probably rings a bell with the development blogging community...

Managed expectations in the post-employment economy

The economic crisis is a crisis of managed expectations. Americans are being conditioned to accept their own exploitation as normal. Ridden with debt from the minute they graduate college, they compete for the privilege of working without pay. They no longer earn money - they earn the prospect of making money. They are paid in "connections" and "exposure". But they should insist on more.
I understand why they do not. When the Atlantic story broke, many journalists were tempted to write about their own mistreatment. Some did, but others held back. They did not want to seem angry or ungrateful. They did not want to risk losing what little they had. They were told to pay their dues, and now they are paying for it with their dignity.
In the post-employment economy, is self-respect something we can afford? Or is it another devalued commodity we are expected to give away?
Sarah Kendzior is an anthropologist who ads an interesting perspective on the debate around The Atlantic freelance payment issues and broader issues for the 'post-employment economy' which may even ring more bells for academics and development colleagues...

Adjunct Voices: Matt Thompson [video]
If completing a PhD is like running a marathon, getting a tenured job is like winning the lottery
Becoming a college professor at the tenure-track level is something like moving to New York City and trying to become a dancer on Broadway.
Matt Thompson hit a nerve given the amount of 'likes', comments and shares that he received on the Chronicle of Higher Education website. But I also found the comparison with the Broadway dancer a bit to simplified: Matt knows that teaching is only a small part of your application for a tenure-track job and that a lot depends on your research profile. So wouldn't you focus on your research then? It sounds a bit as if a Broadway director would say 'Sorry, we don't have a job for you-but maybe you can work as a Yoga instructor in the meantime to hone your dancing skills?'. Would you follow this piece of advice or would you dance and train more to be a better candidate for the next rehearsal?! It's complicated...


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