Links & Contents I Liked 101

Dear all,

Apologies for the slight delay of this week's link review which coincided with U.S. Thanksgiving and a lot of work in Sweden. e.g. my lecture on organizational ethnography in development contexts entitled Organizational, institutional, systemic – anthropology & ‘doing ethnography’ on ‘making development’ (it is an unedited broadcast and my lecture starts around the 5:00 mark). I also answered a reader query (see below).

So without further delays, let's get to the link review! After some reading recommendations there are interesting articles from Kenya and Colombia as well as a longer section on the future of NGOs, the 'lost soul' of charities and how to do meaningful work amongst those shift, disruptures and challenges. 'Development' issues in Philadelphia and encounters in expat life round off the first section.

In Academia we look beyond academic careers, the dominant MOOCs discourse and virtual teaching from your office!


New on aidnography
Reader question 02: Mindful aidwork & acid tests for participatory development
Technology for Peacebuilding

The empowerment of people to participate in localized conflict management efforts is one of the most significant innovations and opportunities created by new technologies. Technology can contribute to peacebuilding processes by offering tools that foster collaboration, transform attitudes, and give a stronger voice to communities. This article aims to give practitioners two related frameworks to understand how new technologies can enhance peacebuilding. The first section looks at the functions that technology can have in a peacebuilding program as a tool for data processing, communication, engagement, and gaming. We then examine the program areas that new technologies can best contribute to, covering early warning/early response systems, programs that allow citizens to voice their opinions and experiences, collaboration efforts, and programs aimed at transforming attitudes.
Great new open access article!

Following the commitment: development NGOs and gender mainstreaming – the case of Oxfam GB

The thesis is concerned with relationships between different conceptualizations and understandings of gender mainstreaming in Oxfam GB during 2001-2006 and focuses on two sites of policy and practice: Oxfam House and an Oxfam project in Cambodia. Drawing on anthropology of development literature, I observe that while the mainstreaming strategy was becoming further embedded in the organisation, it also evolved differently in each research site. Gender policy and practice were not necessarily linked, and policy did not drive practice; different drivers were at play.
It's sometimes a bit awkward to suggest reading a PhD thesis to a non-academic audience, but Franz' research comes as a highly recommended case study of development anthropology! He also published a shorter piece in Gender & Development last year.

Exodus: Immigration and Multiculturalism in the 21st Century by Paul Collier – review

Collier's logic can lead him down strange paths. Previously, he has praised military coups to remove unpleasant regimes. Now he wants to reduce the rights of migrants to bring in close relatives. He also focuses on cultural differences but ignores class, so essential to understanding the success and failures of immigration to Britain. Yet for all these flaws, Exodus is a valuable addition to the swelling library of books on this subject, written for a wide audience and containing some fascinating data.
A new book for the Christmas wish list...

Colombia's Gender Problem

For the country’s development narrative to be complete, gender inequities and stereotypes need to be visibly challenged in the public debate. Gender inequities can begin to be addressed by ensuring the existing legal protections for victims of gender violence are properly applied, more women are appointed to political leadership positions, and women’s needs are a government priority reflected in the budget. But to make real inroads on these monumental issues, social attitudes need to be brought to the 21st century. Colombia’s influential public figures, especially its men, must serve as examples for gender justice: by refraining from participating in and by denouncing disparaging discourse that reinforce antiquated social attitudes about the rightful roles of men and women in society. Furthermore, policies should aim at actively communicating and engaging with citizens to educate them about the social construction of gender roles that are keeping the country back.
An excellent post and reminder that positive 'development' narratives that are emerging from the BRICS and countries like Colombia that are also changing quickly need to be scrutinised like every other narrative when it comes to power, patriarchy, gender and/or class.

Media and protest in Kenya: re-writing the script

We looked closely at the coverage of the Occupy Parliament protests and of the Unga Revolution demonstrations (back in 2011), and then we invited journalists and activists to sit down together to discuss how these events were reflected in the media. Many fascinating discoveries emerged from this process, but the most important lesson learned is this: that the relationship between journalists and protesters is in flux.
Both sides continue to do things more or less same way that they have for years, following a script that was written in the days of the pro-democracy movement, but they are also beginning to re-write that script – on both sides.
Interesting insights into the changes and stabilities of media-politics-citizen engagement in Kenya. Which reminds me that I need to share some information about a great new research project on Kenya in which will play a small part as well!

John Hilary: UK charities have lost their radical soul

"I think this is a particularly British problem," says Hilary, sitting in the basement of the refurbished London warehouse that serves as War on Want's head office. UK NGOs have become very strong and very powerful, but the sector, he says, is today overly professionalised and too focused on technical, incremental change. It has "lost its political analysis, its transformative ambition, and any radical soul", Hilary adds. Instead of challenging the UK government, which Hilary characterises as increasingly regressive and reductive in its approach to global development, charities are giving it "such an easy ride" and appear to have been "seduced by power".
Hopefully I will get a chance to review the book on aidnography. As academia and large parts of 'civil society' are under pressure in the UK I can understand his frustration about the almost complete absence of an alternative vision. But the bigger and more complex question for me is whether a small, radical charity sector on the margin would really be so much better than a bigger, professionalised sector in which motivated women and men have careers and receive salaries...hopefully, the book will provide more food for thought.

The end of the Golden Age of NGOs? Part 2

Our thoughts are predicated on the assumption that if INGOs wish to remain strategically relevant, the status quo is not an option. We should stress that we advance these proposals knowing that many are not new ideas. Nor do we claim that we have the answers: we offer them in a spirit of debate, discovery and discussion for INGO activists and supporters interested in transformational development to consider.
Chris Roche and Andrew Hewitt raise many important points and it's difficult to disagree with them. BUT, the biggest question I had after reading their list is how you would actually find funding for some of these changes? Unless you follow a radical critique along the lines of 'get rid of NGOs', how would you be able to maintain an organization when funds for domestic development education are disappearing everywhere, high-profile fundraising is often necessary and you are competing with charities at home, new organizations and local civil society? Very challenging and fundamental questions...

Why is ‘Evidence Based Policy making’ criticised by Policy Scholars?

In this context, a simple appeal for the government to do something with ‘the evidence’ may seem na├»ve. Such an appeal to the evidence-base relating to a particular policy problem is incomplete without a prior appeal to the evidence-base on the policy process. Instead of bemoaning the lack of EBPM, we need a better understanding of bounded-EBPM to inform the way we conceptualize the relationship between information and policy. This is just as important to the scientist seeking to influence policymaking as it is to the scientist of policymaking. The former should identify how the policy process works and seek to influence it on that basis – not according to how we would like it to be.
In his short and poignant post Paul Cairney points out essential challenges of 'evidence-based policy making' that ring very true for development as well. EBPM keeps researchers busy, but is not challenging policy-makers as long as they define what 'evidence' looks like and still have the capacity to do nothing with the evidence if it doesn't fit.

Self-criticism will not change the world

The list of humanitarian workers’ blogs that deprecate the state of aid work, criticise NGOs, and call for a radical change in the system is numerous. I have often enjoyed reading their analysis, and chatting with them in the field. Not any more. I’m pretty tired of yet another self-aware white guy who lets us know how terrible humanitarian organisations are, while probably doing nothing to change the very organisation he runs. Long gone are the times when few dared to criticise aid, now it’s all too easy to say that the ‘aid system’ is bust. And while it’s still a well-kept secret from the average citizen who contributes to a good cause, from within it seems quite trendy to be aware of the failures of the charity business. But awareness alone will not heal a burnt-out industry, where snark and cynicism have become a substantial part of a toxic way of working, which damages both aid workers and ‘beneficiaries’
Alessandra Pigni's post fits very well into this week's 'theme' on how individual behaviour, organisational change, political stagnation and evidence of failure can actually lead to better lives and work.

“Create” nothing: A new social good mantra

Yes, yes, aid workers have been trained to talk about how much context matters, but why then are our approaches, programs, procedures, practices, meetings, and the words and tone we use still not centered on tapping existing capacity and local resources?
Much of it may come from donor-centric ways of thinking. We’re all the center of our own worlds. But if we’re not careful, there is a self-importance that can come with power and the isolation of capital cities. Just because you don’t know about the full contingent of players in a country or a locality, doesn’t mean that nothing is happening there. Just because it’s the first time you’ve heard of something, does not make it “new.” Some would unreluctantly call this arrogance a neo-colonial mindset.
And finally Jennifer Lentfer to round off this part of the review. This is closely related to the challenges for NGOs that was pointed out before: Can you maintain a healthy, stable, professional organization in development if you don't 'sell' stuff and 'build' something new, better & bigger?!

Dispatch From Philadelphia: The Brutal End of Public Education

Philadelphia is deep into worst-case scenario territory, but it’s not alone. In cities like Cleveland, Detroit, Washington, D.C., and Chicago—all of them with sizable black populations and long histories of entrenched poverty—lawmakers have responded to budget crises with cuts to public education and market-driven education reform agendas. In a city like Philadelphia, which has the worst poverty rate of the ten largest U.S. cities, in which 39 percent of the city’s children live in poverty and in which blacks and Latinos are twice as likely as whites to be poor, robust public schools are even more vital. The consequences of the collapse of the city’s public school system is falling squarely on the backs of Stanback and her classmates.
It's Thanksgiving weekend-and a good reminder about the 'development' challenges that America is increasingly facing 'at home'.

10 Things About Living Abroad: No Turning Back

A wise man told me that the reason we move to new countries is because we are either running from or running to something. I laughed and thought he was crazy. I just wanted a change; there was no rationale to my choice. The more I thought about it, the more I realized he was right. I wasn’t just running from something, I was sprinting as far as I could. What I didn’t realize was that this choice has now started the foundation of my future. Just like a tattoo, that first little taste and you want more and more. No turning back.
I guess 1-2 people in the aid industry may find this applicable to their lifeworlds as well-just to end on a lighter note.


Preparing for life after the PhD: re-train your brain

So don’t sleepwalk down the academic job route just because you’re still in delayed gratification mode, or because you’re afraid of upsetting your supervisors. Once you’re awarded your PhD you’re not a student any more – you are your own person who has to make their way in a very challenging world. Yes it can feel like ‘selling out’ or ‘giving up everything’ to go for a job outside of academia. Yes it can sound crass and materialistic to even talk in terms of a desire to own property or assure yourself a decent retirement income. But if higher education can’t offer you a means to support yourself and your family now and in the future, that is a structural problem that isn’t going to be fixed in the near future. Be bold and take matters into your own hands. Make a start today and consider your options for a career outside of academia, even if that plan is only your Plan B. There’s a very good chance it’ll become your Plan A before too long.
Chris Humphrey on the difficult road of delaying gratification for a precarious career in academia.

What Alt-Ac Can Do, and What It Can’t

But let’s talk about what a job like mine is and what it isn’t. It is fulfilling work — challenging, consuming, and rewarding. But it is also flexible, in the neoliberal sense. I could be let go. Alt-ac’s like me generally don’t have a voice in faculty governance. (Sometimes they do, but usually not.) My job is relatively cheap. I’m fairly compensated for my work, but my position represents a relatively short-term commitment for the university, not the indefinite investment of a tenure line. My position is a 12-month (as opposed to nine-month) job, with an allotment of vacation time and sick leave, meaning I fill out time sheets and ask permission to do things like go to conferences. I have a boss. I don’t own my work in the way that faculty members do. When a faculty member writes a book, it’s hers. Her name is on it, she owns it. I do work that I love but that I will likely not take with me when I leave.
Miriam Posner on her 'alternative academic' career; an interesting position between tenured security and 'why I had to walk out of academia because of unstable conditions'.

MOOCs Move Beyond the Perfect Media Narrative

But on college campuses these days, the expectation is to find solutions that achieve success on the first try, even though we’re trying to change an educational model rooted in the Industrial Age. This lofty goal of only adopting ideas that are fully baked flies in the face of the basic tenets of academic research: experimentation, debate, and peer review.
Jeff Selingo on the complexities of education systems, Udacity's business model and why we should resist the temptation of a a 'MOOC fast food' solution.

Phoning It In: 5 Early Lessons From My Skype Classroom

The subject matter of your class needs to stay in the foreground, and students who are nervous about watching you on a screen need a chance to forget about it. But play with the camera if you need to get their attention. Seek out possibilities that would not be available in the traditional classroom. Take a virtual field trip to a museum; invite an expert guest speaker from where you live to join the class. If students are dozing, gradually slide off your chair or shake the camera and throw your body from side to side to simulate a Klingon attack
Nathan Faries describes some of the experience that our ComDev program is engaging with on an everyday basis as well. We just use slightly more advanced technology and have a few more years of experience behind us ;)...


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