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Hello all,

This week's review features a 'political economy of flawed policy-making' section including insights from agricultural protection, Canadian development research, climate change knowledge, 'Northern chauvinism' at global conferences and reflections on 'principled activism' in Sudan.
Insights from WhyDev's Peer Coaching pilot project and an interview with a pioneer of distance education also found their way into the review - and there's more to discover!


New on aidnography
Reflexive engagements: the international development blogging evolution and its challenges
We are very happy that a long-promised journal article on development blogging is finally published in Development in Practice!
The article is based primarily on interviews with prominent development bloggers, my professional experience as development blogger and our joint intellectual capabilities.

New Working Paper: Why Do Members of Congress Support Agricultural Protection?

Why does Congress support agricultural protection? Because many members have electoral incentives to — and because many of those who do not still have other personal or strategic interests at stake.
Although many people often assume that support for agriculture is driven by the agricultural lobby, we find that reality is a bit more subtle. Indeed, not only do we find that support for agriculture is largely driven by the electoral incentives of legislators, we also find that any mono-causal explanation for what drives support for agricultural protection would be mistaken.
Interesting new paper by Marc Bellemare and colleagues. Basically, all this talk about 'evidence-based' policy-making is ignoring the messy, but not unsurprising realities of how policy-makers actually decide on policies-especially if the negative effects may happen far away...

New IDRC Appointments: DFAIT Takeover?

Second, none of the new appointees or the reappointed Hon. Monte Solberg, possess anything remotely approaching an advanced background in research, let alone in development research (though Houlden does hold a position at the University of Alberta as Director of their China Institute based on his long experience working on China while in the foreign service). This is not to say that they are not eminent people qualified in their respective areas of expertise, but as the majority of a board to guide a crown corporation with the mandate of funding innovative research for international development? It is a stretch to suggest that these appointees are the best suited in Canada to be making decisions on funding development research.
Another example from North America on how development research is influenced more by politics rather than by 'best practice' or critical scientific/academic input. Again, this is not surprising in the current development policy climate in Canada, but worth pointing out, as Liam Swiss regularly does.

Exposing the political journey of climate change evidence from Exeter to Africa

It was a fascinating process, not just because of the mystery of the sophisticated computer programmes through which vast data sets gradually became simple pictures of the future world, but also because of the way that understandings and meanings became attached to these pictures.
Undoubtedly what went missing along the journey were the uncertainties, assumptions, and methodological choices that were such a big part of the initial modelling endeavour. By the time it came to promoting technologies designed to help farmers adapt to the growing threat of water shortage, for example, the overwhelming outputs of the Exeter’s weather forecast factory had been reduced a single supposed truth, that ‘climate change will lead to increased drought’.
Of course there is a political motivation captured within this end product, but there is also a politics of knowledge that transcends the whole chain through which it is produced.
Great reflections from a doctoral researcher on how science, politics and discourses of framing ideas interact in climate change research and the the politics of advising vulnerable parts of the developing world.

Moving on from 'Northern chauvinism'? Traditional aid donors and rising powers

(Eyben's) key finding is that emotionally-charged identities matter in international discussions on aid, affecting how participants see themselves and how they are seen by others.
'Identity is fundamental to the notion of South–South Cooperation with its roots in the Third World and the Non-Aligned Movement from the Cold War,' she states. 'In contrast, traditional donors do not always recognise that they may be reaffirming their old imperialist identity when they block Southern-led initiatives.'
Eyben highlights the failed 2012 attempt by Northern states to limit the mandate of UNCTAD, a UN organisation that has traditionally been seen to represent a Southern voice. She suggests that such behaviour – what I think we can call ‘Northern chauvinism’ – is not only damaging to present North-South relations, but arcs back in the memories of some participants to a period of international relations in which vast populations were deemed flatly unworthy of participation in decisions.
That international discussions are imbued with historically-formed identities and perceptions is not a new concept in the academic study of international relations. However, there has been remarkably little discussion of it in the context of aid and development.
Another interesting piece on global politics, cultural and historical attitudes and how they have an impact on contemporary global norm- and decision-making.

Alex de Waal: the Rebirth of a Principled Activist?

The way I see de Waal presenting histories/events and his own engagement, in particular, make them more than just narratives. It is true that de Waal had tried to lead bright and principled initiatives seven-eight years ago as he said, and these principled efforts are still needed today because of the depth to which Sudan’s crises have reached. But I cannot easily accept the way in which connections are made in the two articles between de Waal’s principled positions of the past (seven-eight year) and of the now. My concern here is not to question the physical whereabouts of de Waal since he became “uncomfortable” with the activist identity. His roles in political negotiations on Sudan’s peacemaking processes are known. My question here is how will be possible to understand (and other “principled” Sudanese activists and victims of atrocities say “forgive”) the role de Waal’s played since he left “activism” in a series of political/“peacemaking” processes which have only deepened Sudan’s ongoing dilemmas, and to accept him now as an advocate for “principled” issues, including his ‘”personal commitment to working in solidarity with suffering and oppressed people.” Between the two narratives is there any self-critique?
Monim El Jak shares some very interesting reflections on the role and 'discourse' of Alex De Waal's well-known involvement in Sudan.

What came first? The Internet or the social change?

But is this authentic? Should the peace movement be tweeted? Should it be re-tweeted? Can peace start as a Facebook status and go viral? Can peace be achieved the same way social change has thru the use of new media and digital technologies?
Of course social change takes time and without it peace can never come. It is impossible to deliberately bring people together who have different interpretations of their common past, groups with different experiences and instead of coercing one group to accept the narrative or interpretation of the other, trying to find ways to create new relationships and develop understandings of the interdependence that shapes them and the future they may share.
For peace to stick it has to come from within a society after there has been an awakening. Peace is the internal “dynamic understanding that conflict can move in destructive or constructive directions, but proposes an effort to maximize the achievement of constructive, mutually beneficial processes and outcomes.”
Monica Curca reminds us of a few known-knowns when it comes to peacebuilding and social change that all too often and all too easily seem to be forgotten once another 'revolution' breaks out and the global media society is looking for easy answers and expertise...

What does that make us?

Yes, I know. “Poverty porn” is controversial. It’s repulsive to be compared to someone who would violate beneficiaries for money. But if we are presenting a story of what we do, of how others benefit, or of who those others are, that does not convey reality—even failure to convey reality by omission—then we are essentially presenting an untruth. We are presenting an illusion. We are presenting an illusion that others prefer to the difficult, complex reality of what becomes of what we do; an illusion that that others pay to get more of. And, if knowing all of this we continue to market that same illusion, rather than committing to the difficult, complicated, sometimes downright unpleasant truth, precisely because people will pay for it…
What does that make us?
As both international development and pornography have entered the social, cultural and economic mainstream in ways that were unthinkable say 20 or so years ago, J. is reflecting once again on some of the broader dynamics of the aid industry.

The Peer Coaching Pilot Project has finished

When asked what the ONE significant thing they got out of the peer coaching sessions, respondents indicated a range of benefits from validation, reflexive practice and clarification to having a ‘new colleague’, expectation management and feeling less stressed and isolated.
WhyDev's interesting project's pilot phase has ended and they are sharing some preliminary findings before getting ready for a new round later this year.

An interview with Michael G Moore

I managed to get Professor Michael G Moore (formerly of Madison-Wisconsin and Penn State Universities) to sit down and have a chat with me about his life in distance education, the history of the subject and his own experiences as a learner. In first met Michael at a conference in Ankara, Turkey in 1998, and our paths have crossed many times since. He is well known as one of the pioneers of distance education, one of the original team of academic consultants working with the British government to establish the Open University in the 1960s, and latterly, as the long serving founding editor of the American Journal of Distance Education.
As I have been moving into distance education myself, this is a really interesting introduction to learn more about the history of the field.

The Culture of Plagiarized Dissertations in Romania: A Call for Inquiry in the Humanities—and Beyond?

I’d like to think I have made some changes. One of the results of this experience in my own teaching was (to put it generally) my redoubling of efforts to be attentively involved in the development, the process, of students’ work, rather than simply accepting finished products. Another was to allow and foster experimentation, and even failure, at least at a first try, rather than insisting on polished perfection. Those two principles (and I much prefer them to the routine use of plagiarism-checking databases, although those have their uses) are in general much more easily brought to bear on doctoral work, where slow development and trial and error is much more frequent and routine than is usually possible in undergraduate work. Possibly for that reason, I am quite sure that I have never seen plagiarism in doctoral work I have supervised, as opposed to the numbers of times I have seen it in undergraduate work. Partly, of course, the latter numbers are simply because of my role in holding hearings for an entire College. I would expect, however, that this ratio is fairly common.
Andrea Galloway shares some reflections on plagiarism and the PhD process. The broader question about different 'cultures of intellectual integrity' deserves more attention.

Falling short: seven writers reflect on failure

No, this is the paradox for me: in failure alone is there any possibility of success. I don't think I'm alone in this – nor do I think it's an attitude that only prevails among people whose work is obviously "creative". On the contrary, it often occurs to me that since what successes I do manage are both experienced and felt entirely in solitude, there must be many others who are the same as me: people for whom life is a process to be experienced, not an object to be coveted. There may be, as Bob Dylan says, no success like failure, but far from failure being no success at all, in its very visceral intensity, it is perhaps the only success there is.
Writing and failure go hand in hand-not only in academic writing...


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