Links & Contents I Liked 70

Hello all,

The post-holiday week link review features some unspectacular, but very readable development related policy-issues from inequality to the conflict in the Central African Republic, new donors' between 'useful idiots' and development norm changers, microfinance, arms trade, why oil revenues are unlikely to be on Nepal's agenda any time soon and some academic reflections on participatory photo interviews in evaluations.
'Ethnomining' is probably my word of the week as Ethnography Matters starts a month of great posts on ethnography, big data and positivist challenges. Over in Academia, a publisher is learning about the Streisand-effect and there's also an interesting post on how and why Gender Studies are still confronted with 'dangerous laughter'.

A quick note on a new category on the blog, Student advice, which is featuring some older, but still relevant, content around doing a PhD, entering 'the field' of development as a student or recent graduate as well as some additional musings on (development-related) academic issues.


New on Aidnography
Resiliency, Risk, and a Good Compass: Are Joi Ito’s ‘Tools for the Coming Chaos’ relevant for development?
Joi Ito concluded his Wired interview with his ‘9 or so’ principles to ‘survive in this chaotic, unpredictable system where planning is almost impossible’ (which sounds a lot like some of the current day complex or ‘wicked’ development scenarios that are discussed).
I looked at these principles (the emphasis is mine) for quite a while with a growing sense of bewilderment: Why does the organizational, discursive, programmatic, practical landscape of international development almost look like the exact opposite of his principles in 2013 and has so for many years, potentially even decades? And what does that say about the future of development?

Keeping an eye on the have-mores
Second, concentration of income is important because it is closely associated with elite-capture, a distortion of the political process and regulatory weakness. This is one of the core arguments of J. Stiglitz’s new book The Price of Inequality where he shows that the uber-rich have used their power to influence the political debate and macroeconomic policy (tax cuts and monetary policy, mostly) in their favour.
Oxfam's Ricardo Fuentes-Nieva on why a focus on reducing absolute poverty is not enough for a comprehensive post-2015 debate.

Development goals? What development goals? Blank faces in El Salvador

She described how rural communities in eastern El Salvador expressed frustration and anger when she explained what the MDGs are, that they expire in 2015, and that the UN is now looking at what should come next. "Why are you coming to tell us this now?" they responded. "This is not a consultation, this is just information … Why didn't the government tell us? Why didn't it come through the media?"
Benavides says the process has gone too fast and reached too few. She argues that, while international professionals may have flown between meetings and high-level events, most people know nothing of the post-2015 development conversation. "It isn't happening, this bringing in the excluded," says Benavides.
So the post-MDG 'global debate' is engaging mostly the usual suspects and ignoring people on the periphery. Do not file under 'breaking news'...

Getting into the Weeds of the Central African Republic’s Troubles

Our resident regional expert Carol Gallo takes us deep inside the troubles afflicting politics in the Central African Republic. Wonky political analysis to follow!
Mark Goldberg @ UN Dispatch is absolutely right that Carol Gallo really manages to put the current crisis in the CAR into a broader political perspective.

Making History: How the Arms Trade Treaty Was Won

Ultimately, like most international agreements, the ATT will only be as strong as the states that back it. And it is worth underlining that major players such as China and Russia abstained in the final vote, suggesting that agreement is not as universal as presumed. And notwithstanding increased efforts of the Obama administration to advance arms control at home, there are real concerns that the Senate may not gather the two thirds majority required to approve the ATT. That said, once the treaty comes into effect (90 days after it is ratified by the 50th signatory) it gives added impetus to entities such as the Security Council, the European Union, and the International Criminal Court to punish violators, including arms dealers. And this, surely, is cause for celebration.
Robert Muggah reflects on the long and winding road that led to the first Arms Trade Treaty.

Will BRICS change the course of history?

The article makes the reader wonder whether the West has succeeded in transforming today's emerging powers into 'useful idiots', who are so proud that they are part of the G20 that they no longer defend developing countries' interests. Seen from this perspective, the rise of the BRICS may have been a positive development for the West, now that the poor have lost powerful defendants in Brasília and Delhi, who are increasingly defending big-power interests. At the same time, emerging powers should not complain: It is natural that the West will do everything do hold on to its power – after all, even China is not fully committed towards permanently including Brazil and India in the UN Security Council.
Great commentary by Oliver Stuenkel on how BRICS may have already been co-opted by Western values, attitudes and norms rather than emerging as global game changers - let alone advocates for developing countries or 'poor people'.

The Brave New World of Uncertain Aid

Developing countries are entering an ‘age of choice’ says a new paper authored by Greenhill and ODI. That choice means that competition is increasing between donors and giving an increasing amount of control to countries over their development paths.
The paper goes on to argue, “These new forms of financial assistance will have a game-changing effect on aid.”
These new donors are finding ways to work closely with governments to meet their development goals. Cambodia, for example, was able to partner with China to build provincial roads when it was unable to pass the strict economic rate of return threshold set by donors like the World Bank. Though it does raise questions about the accumulation of debt and the prioritization of less important projects, says the report pointing to the example of three stadiums being built in Zambia by Chinese companies.
Tom Murphy summarizes a recent ODI paper and adds some additional nuances to the debate around the emergence of new donors, e.g. from BRICS countries.

Research in Microfinance – A Practitioner’s Perspective – Talk at CERMi, Brussels and a Rejoinder by Prof Shamika Ravi of the ISB, Hyderabad

This takes me to the gorilla in the room. The double bottom line of microfinance. It has been shown in various ways, that there are serious trade-offs between the two objectives: commercial bottom line and social bottom line (Morduch and Armendariz, 2005). If microfinance practitioners accept this simple fact of life, everything would begin to look much better. When growth becomes the over-riding objective of a social enterprise, social objectives are compromised. We have seen this repeatedly in data from different countries. We call this phenomenon mission drift.
This is real gem of a blog post which summarizes very succinctly many of the key debates around microfinance (in India).

Cairn may give up on Nepal

“Despite having established a big plan and presented our credentials, it’s been impossible to move forward,” Thomson said, “the reason we were there in Nepal in the first place still remains. Whether we will be able to make progress is a different matter.”
The comments reflect frustration among insiders at Cairn about the obstacles the company has faced in a country where it had high hopes of making a big oil and gas find. Nepal contains the kind of under-explored territory on which Cairn believes it has an edge over giants like Shell.
Maybe this is a particularly twisted example of applying the 'weapons of the weak' to frustrate an international oil company through what may seem like bureaucratic ineptitude. But quite frankly, I can only agree with commentator 'Jang' that oil revenues are most likely a resource that the Nepali state would have difficulties to deal with:
Good news. A country that can't even harness renewable clean and cheap Hydro energy has no business drilling around for fossil fuels that will make its corrupt rulers even more corrupt and make a warm climate even warmer. The Nepali people and the world will never benefit from oil and gas in the Terai.
One of us daughters and sons
The Gurkha’s Daughter is a collection of short stories that depicts the life of average Nepalis and those of Nepali-origin spread from Kathmandu to Kalimpong and Gangtok to New York. Summaries of the stories may not compel you to buy the book—a young cleft-lipped housemaid considering running away in her quest for the Bollywood dream, the daughter of a wealthy family stealing, a disintegrating father-daughter relationship - which all, in some form or another, address common topics of caste, culture, identity, and our society. So what then makes Parajuly standout? The most obvious: he is talented and uses novel modes of presentation. He doesn’t waste time inking the beauties of the Himalayan landscape, but rather focuses on the characters, the true heroes of his stories.
In more positive news from Nepal, there's another fiction book on the market that hopefully gains some global momentum!

Tips for International Job-Hunters

This is a guest post by Melissa Mullan. Melissa has been reading, giggling at and and crying over CVs across Africa and beyond for the past several years.
Recently I was digging through a pile of nearly 300 applications trying to hire five people. Some of them were funny, but many were downright depressing to read. Writing a good application can be difficult, especially in the context of international organisations, as someone from a very different culture than yours who has a different idea of how a CV should look might read your CV. Writing a good CV is something that you learn, so as a public service to anyone trying to get a job (and to myself so I do not have to read anymore bad applications) here are some tips to make your CV more professional for international readers.
There really were a few cringe-worthy 'people are still doing this?!' moments when I went through the list...

Participatory Photo Interviews in Evaluation Practice: Possibilities and Limitations of Working with Elaborate Qualitative Methods Using the Example of a Project Evaluation in the Field of Disability

In non-university evaluation research, the use of elaborate qualitative methods often proves difficult, as both content-related and structural resources are usually limited. Furthermore, this research context, as a rule, brings with it difficulties in the realization of a flexible and experimental research approach, even if the object of the evaluation would suggest such a method. This article aims at presenting the research strategy and methodology of an evaluation study which examined an offer of assistance based on self-determination for people with mental disabilities and strived for participatory involvement of those concerned. For this purpose, an extended form of the photo-interview method was used, supplemented by participant observation and semi-structured interviews with actors in the relevant social context. In order to enable the comprehensive analysis of the substantial data gained while taking the existing limitations of the evaluation context into account, a specific method of analyzing the photo album created during the photo interview was developed. This method of analysis strives to achieve a balance between an extensive interpretation of the data and a timesaving, results-oriented procedure. The practiced methodological approach has enabled diverse and expressive insights into the field of study, yet the method still remains relatively complex and time-consuming for order-financed evaluation research.
Although this is an academic article (from the great open-access journal Forum Qualitative Research), I think/hope that it's actually quite relevant for participatory development practice.


April 2013: Ethnomining and the combination of qualitative & quantitative data

That being said, the mixed-method approach, whether involving large data sets or not, is not so straight-forward. There are potential problems worth exploring. The most important issues lies in the fact that qualitative and quantitative methods do not necessarily mix easily at the epistemological level: how do positivist assumptions embedded in quant research mix with more interpretive standpoints? Another problem also consists in the triangulation process between data: should they only be to the service of one another? Or is it possible to collect and analyze both types of data in a more integrative way? Then what does all this mean in a practical sense? Finally, as discussed by danah boyd and Kate Crawford, the large data sets we can use have their own challenges around what is considered to be “truth.” They point out that ”what is quantified does not necessarily have a closer claim on objective truth“.
Building on these discussion, this month’s “Combining qualitative and quantitative data” theme will give an overview of current opportunities and issues. The post series will not focus only on ethnomining, but it will show various case studies and perspectives on the implications of mixed-methods approaches. Here are some posts that we have coming up in this edition:
So looking forward to these posts...what can I say: Ethnography Matters is the best ethnographic blog I know!


SSP Board Decides to Reinstate Removed Posts

Yesterday, the Board of Directors of the Society for Scholarly Publishing (SSP) unanimously decided to restore the posts by Scholarly Kitchen chef Rick Anderson that had been removed after the Kitchen and SSP received correspondence from a publisher that didn’t like the content.
The posts (“When Sellers and Buyers Disagree” and “One Down, One to Go: Edwin Mellen Press Blinks One Eye“) have been restored without the comment quoted in the letter.
Can you hear that noise in the background? That's probably Barbra Streisand calling, wondering why the publisher stole her effect! I admit freely that I wasn't aware of the initial posts, but thanks to the ensuing debate I have learned about a publisher I will unlikely engage with as academic.

Dangerous laughter: the mocking of Gender Studies in academia

Through ethnographic observation of academic work and interaction in Portugal and the UK, and interviews with 35 scholars working within and outside WGS, I found that claims that WGS is not proper knowledge are frequently made informally and in humorous tone, creating what one of my interviewees called a ‘culture of teasing’ around WGS. A senior WGS scholar explained to me that ‘colleagues will sometimes make teasing remarks and laugh at me and my colleagues. Feminism is seen as something which is ridiculous, something that is laughable, that does not have academic quality.’ Scholars in other institutions reported very similar experiences. One junior scholar in another institution told me: ‘My colleagues make jokes about our Gender Studies degree all the time. Whenever I invite a Gender Studies scholar to speak at a seminar, one of them says “there comes another one of your feminist friends. I wonder if she shaved?”. He’ll describe this as just a joke, nothing to take seriously, just innocent teasing, but this shows that they attribute less importance and value to Gender Studies than to other fields, which are never the butt of these kinds of jokes.’
Maria do Mar Pereira on why Women's and Gender Studies are still subject to 'innocent teasing' when it comes to their academic legitimacy.

Q&A with Arun Agrawal, Editor of World Development Part I

Probably the right metric for assessing quality control is our rejection rate rather than the number of articles we publish. If we received 300 manuscripts and published 75 of them (roughly what might go into 6 to 8 issues), that may not be a great indictor of quality (other things being equal). But we accept only about 11 percent of the submitted manuscripts, and that proportion might well go down this year. The advice of members of our editorial team and the editorial board are two means to ensure quality. But the biggest quality control mechanism – perhaps one on which all journals rely despite imperfections – is the advice of reviewers. If there is an increase in negative assessment of papers we send out for review, I will not hesitate to publish less.
This is probably only of interest for academic wonks ;)...but nonetheless a good insight into some of the editorial dynamics at one of the leadeing Development Studies academic journals.


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