Links & Contents I Liked 102

Hello all,

This week's review has a first focus on peace-related issues from new open access publication to peace journalism and machine learning for conflict prevention; more news on radio and from South Sudan, Bangladesh & Australia; the second focus is on the digital with insights from Pakistan, Peter Buffett & the paranoia of social media celebrity.
Anthropologists observing policy, NGOs and themselves offer various insights into the world of conference and meeting rooms; finally, a great list of social media & education research papers and the question what kind of knowledge & pedagogy MOOCs distribute across the globe.


New on aidnography
The Ironic Spectator (book review)

Lilie Chouliaraki’s book The Ironic Spectator-Solidarity in the age of post-humanitarianism is a very good resource that combines academic rigor, critical thinking and engaged scholarship into a go-to publication for contemporary thinking on media, performance, (celebrity) culture and global development symbolism in the digital age.
Even if the book can be a bit ‘heavy’ on the academic side at times it achieves one important goal really well: To analyze the rituals and performance of celebrity humanitarianism and public engagement with/in them without becoming simply dismissive, arrogant or cynical.

Pax In Nuce is a new online magazine for those interested in peace and conflict studies and related disciplines. It is aimed at practitioners, academics and anyone with an interest in peace and conflict. We want your help by submitting your articles (1,200 words max) and pictures (
We welcome new material – especially material that challenges the conventional wisdom and says something new. Punchy and provocative pieces very welcome. The single most important ethos behind Pax In Nuce is accessibility: material should be free to access and written in an accessible manner.
In particular, we would encourage those who have published articles in peer reviewed journals to consider writing a 1,200 word max precis of their article. Most academic articles hide behind pay walls erected by commercial publishers. This means that our research is often inaccessible to those who do not have access to a university library. The current system represents the privatisation of knowledge and we want Pax In Nuce to be part of a number of initiatives aimed at sharing knowledge rather than keeping it for the select few.
Roger MacGinty and Oliver Richmond just launched a new space to make peace-related research more accessible-the shortness of the blogosphere meets the rigour of academic publications-sounds like a perfect plan ;)!

Can Machines Learn to Predict a Violent Conflict?

Yet one of the main operational challenges to early warning is clear: how to aggregate incoming information and data to derive actionable intelligence on an emerging situation. Often (but not always), incoming data is highly qualitative, which can place strains on the limited capacity of international organizations (IOs) and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). In addition, quantitative data is often not collected in a way that can easily be fed into a larger system. Organizations can find it too resource-intensive to clean, process, and analyze the data, thus limiting the type and volume of data being looked at.
One way to overcome these resource constraints is to create tools that can automate the processing and analysis of quantitative data. Machine learning and data science seems a natural fit to improve this process.
Interesting first insights into a 'big data for peace' project.

Why Mexican drug cartels are mastering social media

Jian speaks to Antoine Nouvet, a researcher with the SecDev Foundation in Ottawa, about how drug cartels are employing social media in familiar, if disquieting, ways -- but also explains some of their more nefarious online activity.
The researcher explains that cartels are using platforms like Facebook fan pages and videos of charitable work to improve their image. But their digital initiatives don't stop there. Cartels may also be using a process called "reverse hacking" to silence their critics.
CBC radio program and the complexities of Mexican drug cartel's digital activities.

In defense of peace journalism: Choosing not to start a riot

columnist Alex Kane says it is nonsense “that journalists and editors and commentators occupy some sort of moral high-ground on which they make great, profound decisions on how they can make the world or the country a better place.” This statement presumes that peace journalists openly advocate for peace, which they do not. Peace journalism, instead, seeks to give peacemakers a proportionate voice and to closely scrutinize claims made by those who advocate violence. (Balance and accountability, in the terms of traditional journalism). If both peaceful and violent alternatives are presented to society, and society chooses war, so be it.
Steven Youngblood engages with Northern Irish critics of the concept and practice of 'peace journalism'. I agree mostly with Steven that journalist often tend to give more space to the 'exciting' aspects of conflict rather than the more 'mundane' acts of (local) peacebuilding. I guess we need a Buzzfeed on the '37 sexy ways of how local build peace' ;)?!

Five disaster myths

Every time disasters strike, myths abound. Here are five of the most common, according to the World Health Organization and British Red Cross
Year in Review
This year, we worked with more than 430 radio partners in 38 African countries to increase food security and economic prosperity for tens of millions of farmers. Together, we served farmers by giving them access to practical, relevant and timely information, and by engaging them in a conversation to better understand and meet their needs.
Farmradio highlights their work from the past 12 months; great insights into the power of radio and the digital age!

A new DCA complaint mechanism in Jonglei goes on the air

We are in Bor, the state capital of Jonglei, one of the 10 states of South Sudan, marred by flooding and insecurity due to communal fighting, cattle rustling and tribal clashes. That is not why we are here today though. Ruth Kessio and Richard Rotich from Human Development Council and John Wani from Church & Development are being interviewed about a new accountability initiative. The person welcoming the listeners and introducing the panel is Peter Okello, a young, enthusiastic journalist from “Jonglei Public Radio”, a new radio station in South Sudan, established to improve the level of information and public debate in Jonglei.
An interesting insight into Danish Church Aid's work in South Sudan at the interface of accountability, radio and journalism.

The Economist and Lancet Views on Bangladesh: What’s Missing?

So while there remain many poor Bangladeshis, the country is fast approaching the World Bank lower middle income threshold, and it is less of a paradox when one associates the rate – and not level - of poverty reduction with the rate of improvement of social outcomes. Looking forward there is no room for hubris for Bangladeshi policymakers as the challenges of maintaining, and ideally accelerating, these socio-economic gains are not straightforward. But if history is any guide then it is likely that the country will continue to pursue its mix of orthodox macro and unorthodox micro policies and come up with ways to overcome its odds, make the most of its current demographic dividend, diversify its economy, further reduce poverty and strengthen social outcomes.
This is an interesting post that summarizes some key current developments in Bangladesh well. I'm just not entirely convinced that 'orthodox macro policies' and 'demographic dividends' are always the foundation for sustainable poverty reduction...

5 key takeaways from the ACFID Development Futures Conference

If ‘development’ does indeed have a future, as Enrique Mendizabal of On Think Tanks questioned, I actually think it’s likely to look much more like the health system innovations that have emerged in places such as Bangladesh and Nepal. As ODIs research on Nepal has shown, a cross-sectoral combination of strong government commitment, increased remittances and deployment of digital tools to improve data collection, service delivery and political accountability has reduced maternal mortality by 47 percent between 1996 and 2006. A remarkable outcome, and one which might just hint at what the ‘secret sauce’ of 21st century development practice might be made of.
One thing is clear: NGOs need to critically and urgently rethink their roles within the public and development space. It’s game over. NGOs are no longer intermediaries between the public and development.
Those tempting listicles everywhere ;)! But Brenda Rigby's insights from Australia provide good food for thought.

3G in Pakistan: A social – not economic – revolution?

For countries like Pakistan that seek to anticipate the impact of mobile internet, the implications of these findings are for trends in information consumption rather than content production. And the impact of information consumption – especially entertainment media – is more likely to be social than economic. Mobile internet use in Pakistan, if it follows the patterns of use in other countries, is likely to be dominated by entertainment—downloading and streaming music and videos. The majority of online entertainment content is global and largely western, reflecting the values of different countries and societies. What will it mean for relations between Pakistan’s growing youth demographic hungry for online content and state gatekeepers fearful of the erosion of deeply held social values?
Emrys Schoemaker on the social impact of mobile Internet in Pakistan-and how the economic (and development?) benefits may be overstated.

Philanthropy and the Social Economy: Blueprint 2014

The Foundation Center and the European Foundation Centre are pleased to again partner with Lucy to offer the Blueprint as a GrantCraft guide. The Blueprint provides an overview of the current landscape, points to major trends, and directs your attention to horizons where you can expect some important breakthroughs in the coming year.
I just had a quick look at the report and it promises to be a very interesting read!

Peter Buffett: Big Philanthropy and Philanthro-Feudalism

This week, Peter Buffett, son of billionaire investor Warren on the conflict between capitalism and humanism. Says Buffett: "You can't have both."
Peter Buffett argues that philanthropy needs to do a better job of listening. He says that the structure of philanthropy is such that nothing seems to get better, but rather locks existing problems into place.
'You can't have both'-yet large parts of the aid industry keep trying to promise us 'win-wins' everywhere...

Social media is making us anxious and paranoid—so why can’t we stop using it?

Social media has a dual nature whereby information is both consumed and produced, which creates a symmetrical model of surveillance in which watchers expect, and desire, to be watched themselves. The presence of the networked audience not only enables connection, it encourages performances of intimacy and conflict to elicit reactions from others. Social media creates a context in which people are constantly monitoring themselves against the expectations of others—a context that can provoke anxiety and paranoia.
An essay from a new book on digital culture and Silicon Valley celebrity. As always, the question for me is: (How) does this apply to development?


FIELDNOTES: NGO Strategies, Press Releases and Coalition Building at the UN

Slowly the discussion started to die down, and the only thing remaining was the finalising of the press release to be distributed in the hours to come. Throughout this meeting, primarily occurring in audible voices and also heated exchanges, treaty body members had been seated in tables neighbouring the NGO delegation on all sides. Neither the NGO members nor the delegate members made any attempts at direct communication across the tables; perhaps they did not even recognise each other – after all, during the proceedings NGO representatives are systematically seated at the back while treaty bodies are seated at the front. For treaty body members this fact was almost certain: given the incredible intensity of faces they encountered during the fully-packed session weeks it would become borderline impossible to expect them to recognise the ever-changing faces around them that they, at best, had exposure for a few hours.
Every aspect of the lunch session indicated that the ceremony was over, that it was closed. Exchanges, presentations, interventions, petitions and communications had been made, and now it was no longer acute to attempt improving the world. It was time for lunch, coffee, and pleasant social interactions.
Interesting insights into the rituals of NGO coalitions and UN conferences.

Be wary of policy-makers bearing evidence

This approach would push academics such as myself into more engagement with the public, more open access publishing and providing more research publications that are useful in making policy and which are available and comprehensive to the public at large. This approach needs academics to do more to inform public discussion of policy.
There are examples in practice. We have recently seen push back on some of welfare policies thanks to informed critics providing quick and useful data-driven analysis of social security policy. We need such bodies to challenge social policy, organisations that are as independent and intellectually robust as, for example, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has become with respect to economic policy.
Fundamentally, we need to recognise that the choice of evidence used in policy-making is likely to be a reflection of who has the power to make the decisions. If power is not democratised or equally distributed then we should not expect the use of evidence to be even-handed. The wise person should be wary of policy-makers bearing evidence.
Alex Stevens shares great ethnographic reflections from his research on UK policy-making. Not surprisingly, 'evidence' is always as robust as those in power want it to be...

‘European Savages’ at the AAA 2013

It is not easy to end my reflections of the AAA 2013 on a positive note in the face of such dark undercurrents, but laughter being the best medicine and the most creative way of resistance I shall try nevertheless. So in sum, what did I learn? That the AAA is an impressive ‘talk machine’ – a fast train that keeps on going to its final destinations whether you’re aboard or not – and it is much better be aboard (= prepare well for your 20 minute slot cause that’s all you’re gonna get!)! And further, that to qualify as a proper American anthropologist, you have to A) move around REALLY fast, talk REALLY loud and laugh EVEN LOUDER; B) know how to introduce yourself (aka full name, institutional affiliation AND the content of your ‘backpack’) in 15 seconds or under; C) be hyper-excited about everything, even when you haven’t the slightest idea of what the other person is talking about.
My friend Julie Billaud and her colleague Miia Halme-Tuomisaari reflect on the rituals of global anthropological conferences by ritually writing a long self-reflective blog piece ;). But it's quite an adventure doing fieldwork in a North American mega-hotel non-space...


Published Social Media Research in Education

Published research on social media is important for more than academic purposes, such as my lit review. It is crucial in any field of study and industry, so decisions are made based upon proven research and assessed effective practices. By using research to guide social media strategy it will strengthen the managers of platforms, as well as response by their online community.
Below you will find a list of research I have thus far cited in my literature review, as well as other related social media works. There are many more published works out there, but they may not have been a quality I wanted to include or relevant to my study.
Excellent collection! Thanks, Josie Ahlquist!

MOOCs as Neocolonialism: Who Controls Knowledge?

The millions of students choosing to participate in MOOCs from all over the world do not seem to be concerned about the nature of the knowledge or the philosophy of pedagogy that they are studying. Universities in the middle-income and developing world do not seem concerned about the origins or orientations of the knowledge provided by the MOOCs or the educational philosophies behind MOOC pedagogy.
I don’t mean to imply any untoward motives by the makers of MOOCs. I’m not arguing that the content or methodologies of most current MOOCs are wrong because they are based on the dominant Western academic approaches. But I do believe it is important to point out that a powerful emerging educational movement strengthens the currently dominant academic culture, perhaps making it more difficult for alternative voices to be heard.
Philip Altbach points out some powerful aspects of the expanding MOOC discourse; but seriously, you did not really believe that MOOCs would 'transform' education and learning if they are led by global academic brands and emerging corporate players?!


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