Links & Contents I Liked 103

Dear all,

I totally forgot to celebrate blog post #250 last week! But in fact my book review of Chouliaraki's 'Ironic Spectator' marked yet another blogging anniversary this year. Yeah!

This week's review breaks a little bit with the conventions to keep things interesting...there are fewer links this week, but I included a 'special section' and a longer comment on the 'Biopolitics of academic publishing' at the end.

But before that, some new items on development & anthropology, featuring a new critical documentary on the WWF, hypocritical awareness and investments, a great discussion on 'Does aid work?', insights from the social entrepreneurial gift economy & design for development.


Updated on aidnography

In June 2011 I wrote on The WWF and the industry-What role for environmental organisations in the age of multinationals and biofuels?

The German documentary and research project that I mentioned in my post are now available in English:
The Silence of the Pandas - What the WWF Isn’t Saying (2011)

The WWF is the largest environmental protection organisation in the world. Trust in its green projects is almost limitless. Founded in 1961, it is the most influential lobby group for the environment in the world, thanks largely to its excellent contacts in both the political and industrial spheres. Behind the organisation’s eco-façade, documentary maker Wilfried Huismann uncovered explosive stories from all around the world.
Awareness raising for development: nonsequitur of the day

And finally, "raising awareness" is actually already on the development #bannedlist so just stop it. If you want to sell or market your product or idea that is fine, but would you ever say that Coca-Cola are sensitizing people or raising awareness about their great taste? Exactly. What you are talking about is advertising or marketing. And to go out on a bit of a limb - isn't it possible that the very language of "sensitization" and "awareness raising" actually helps to reinforce the unhelpful narrative of expert foreigners with all the answers showing up to tell the ignorant locals what is what - and thereby contributing to the general lack of attention paid to the opinions of the poor? Wooooah, I might have betrayed a bit of exposure to SOASian critical theory there. But language matters.
Roving Bandit on why he is not a big fan of the 'awareness raising' in development discourses.

What is the point of the development sector? Unmediated support is the future

The point of my speech, an idea that is still ‘work in progress’, was to argue that the development sector, the aid industry, has developed into such a separate sector, sometimes claiming to be a profession and a discipline, that now bears little resemblance with other sectors and professions from where it should (or at least did) draw its legitimacy. As a consequence, international development policies are not designed and implemented by, say, education, public health or energy experts, as would be expected in developed and developing countries alike, but by a motley crew of individuals who have little more than the study and knowledge of ‘the aid industry’ to claim as their expertise.
I say this knowing that it is a bit of a generalisation but I still feel that many of the most prolific ‘development experts’ would not be trusted with policy in their own countries but are still free to logframe the lives of millions around the world.
Enrique Mendizabal contributes a provocative post to the debate about 'the future of development'. I am somewhat disagreeing with the statement that 'many of the most prolific "development experts" would not be trusted with policy in their own countries'. Many of the huge consultancy firms that implement projects on behalf of donors are often the same firms who are involved in consulting for the same governments 'at home'. I am not saying that this is a good thing, but there is a group of 'experts' who also has an impact on health or education systems 'at home'.

Fail Fest DC 2013: Cathartic and Comedic

TechChange went all out with a sing-along-song on how there are no shortcut keys in online learning (watch the video) and Anahi Ayala Iacucci made the key point that sometimes we have to give the finger to our coworkers and funders to keep projects focused. But the subtle star of the night was Wade Channell’s satire of Paternalist Anonymous, which ended with this great Contractor Prayer:
“Grant me serenity to accept things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the COR who knows the difference.”
As much as I like the idea of admitting failure and respect Wayan Vota's work in this area, I am a bit sceptical about the 'eventification' of failure (for lack of a better word). Maybe we need an 'accountability fest' in the future with real consequences?

The Gates Foundation's Hypocritical Investments

With an endowment larger than all but four of the world's largest hedge funds, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is easily one of the most powerful charities in the world. According to its website, the organization "works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives." So how do the investments of the foundation's $36 billion investing arm, the Gates Foundation Trust, match up to its mission?
I think this goes beyond simply bashing the Gates Foundation (Trust). It shows how the charity industry is embedded in a straightforward capitalist logic and how difficult it is in the current economic system to maximize profits and do good at the same time when the most profitable companies have the worst 'development' impact...

Is Aid a Waste of Money?

It seems oddly ironic the extent to which the value of foreign aid is contemplated relative to other public spending. The politics of stereotypes and dogma seem to get in the way of common sense. For example, there doesn't seem to be any mainstream political parties in OECD countries wondering about whether the military works.
Bias works in so many ways.A single failure in aid becomes overly representative in the minds of most. If we are to accept the notion that not everything the military does is value for money, we need to accept that not all aid initiatives will achieve objectives.
The aid community appears to be learning from failure more effectively than other sectors of government spending.

Owen Barder
Thanks Doug. I agree with this. When I went from working on public spending in the UK Treasury to DFID (by way of No.10) I was pleasantly surprised to find the commitment to evaluation in DFID which I had not encountered in domestic spending programmes. I learned today that there is now a JPAL for doing rigorous impact evaluations in North America - another example of how domestic policy making can learn from advances made in development. But we still have a long way to go.
As interesting as the original blog post on smallpox eradication and aid money is, I found the debate in the comment section even more interesting. You can waste millions of Euros on some misguided helicopter, transport aircraft or drone project for the military, but if a motorbike goes missing in an aid project, it's all about how taxpayer's money gets wasted in a developing country...

Design Thinking is Making Headway in International Development

Second, and even more important for development, the human-centered elements of design provide a critical counterbalance to the donor-driven incentives that often result in terrible development practice. The development sector faces countless systemic challenges resulting from the fact that funding comes from one place, while services or products go someplace else. This necessarily draws a strong accountability line away from those who are meant to benefit from the work. Design methods provide mechanisms for keeping our analytical focus on end-users, for operationalizing the empathy that we already feel, and for communicating the findings in a compelling (but still nuanced) way to donors or other outsiders.
Dave Algoso on design thinking and development. Resonates well with the 'Ethnography Matters' post a bit further down.

Media’s Arab Spring Turns to Winter

Let me tell you how I think it will go from here. The row-back has begun in earnest; in Egypt, Jordan, Bahrain, Iraq, Lebanon, and elsewhere. Free speech – always a lonely and sickly child in the Arab world – is already back in intensive care throughout the region.
Street protests will gradually die out in most of the capitals that have seen upheavals over the past three years.
Dissenters will continue to be arrested and given harsh sentences. The compliant will be rewarded.
Sustained government propaganda will convince any waverers that political stability and economic prosperity are far more important than personal freedoms, rule of law, universal human rights, and democratic values.
Despite the wishful thinking of the crowds, the final chapter of the Arab Spring is being written: it is about over.
Next year's annual report by Freedom House will reflect the regression in media liberties and freedom of expression across the region, as emboldened Arab leaders try to restore the old order.
An interesting account about the aftermath/future of the 'facebook' revolution. Do old elites, media and political discourses have more stamina to survive or will there be just slower, but profound, social change?

A Structure for Innovation and Learning in the Gift Economy: ELL Part 2
These various elements were the ensemble components which comprised the ELL and supported its functioning. All of the parties involved donated their time and services to the program, enabling the program to operate with no cash budget and no formalized organizational identity. In spite of all the ways such an all-volunteer/all-gift program could come undone, the ELL has achieved two successful iterations and is organizing a third cohort for fall 2013. As well three replications of the program are being planned in various parts of the US for 2014.
My friend Felix Bivens on Emerging Leader Labs, the gift economy and how think out of the box to make a social enterprise happen!

Ethnography Beyond Text and Print: How the digital can transform ethnographic expressions

Unlike its analog counterpart, digital archives allow ethnographers and users to continually engage with field objects rendering the notion of archive unstable. The meaning of field documents including field notes, recordings, transcripts, photos, can continue to morph and form new relationships with other objects in a digital environment as new content and metadata is added to the collection. This dynamicism stands in contrast with conventional collections — in analog form such as a book or a journal article in print — that are fixed and museumized. The reanimation of field objects can prevent the rarification of culture, a risk that we take while creating any ethnographic representations
Wendy Hsu's long essay deserves your full ethnographic attention. Really interesting link to the 'Living Archives' project here at Malmö University that some of my colleagues are involved in


Nobel winner declares boycott of top science journals

Schekman criticises Nature, Cell and Science for artificially restricting the number of papers they accept, a policy he says stokes demand "like fashion designers who create limited-edition handbags." He also attacks a widespread metric called an "impact factor", used by many top-tier journals in their marketing.
A journal's impact factor is a measure of how often its papers are cited, and is used as a proxy for quality. But Schekman said it was "toxic influence" on science that "introduced a distortion". He writes: "A paper can become highly cited because it is good science - or because it is eye-catching, provocative, or wrong."
Peter Higgs: I wouldn't be productive enough for today's academic system
Higgs said he became "an embarrassment to the department when they did research assessment exercises". A message would go around the department saying: "Please give a list of your recent publications." Higgs said: "I would send back a statement: 'None.' "
By the time he retired in 1996, he was uncomfortable with the new academic culture. "After I retired it was quite a long time before I went back to my department. I thought I was well out of it. It wasn't my way of doing things any more. Today I wouldn't get an academic job. It's as simple as that. I don't think I would be regarded as productive enough."
Elsevier is taking down papers from
I was going to comment on Elsevier’s exceedingly short-sighted and mean-spirited manoeuvre, but happily the Twittersphere is on it already. Here are a few thoughts:
David Winter wrote: Added value! Subs fees pay for lawyers to stop you sharing your work with colleagues…
Rich FitzJohn speculated: I wonder what their long game is here; petty harassment like that makes me way less inclined to publish in an Elsevier journal.
To which Rafael Maia responded: so silly…is it really worth it? its like they are proudly embracing being the dicks of academic publishing
The Academic Publishing Discussion is Getting Circular and I’m Getting Bored
Until disciplines, or at the very least particular institutions that are seen as academic leaders, start to recognize alternative journals or means of publication as legitimate outputs that will facilitate a path to tenure and promotion, we will be having the same conversations about academic publishing.
Dimitris Dalakoglou: Universities in a state of exception
This translation of academic social science research in the language of immediate reciprocity and maximization of profit implies that most social scientists will have to self-discipline and exclude various areas of study if they want to survive. So in fact it undermines academic freedom.
However, a lot of academics have neglected the signs of neoliberal governance within our own universities. They hoped that this form of capitalism as crisis will not touch them harshly, because they are a “middle class”, because they live in Europe, because their title is “Dr” and “Professor” or because they work in a “good” university or in a “good” department or they are “REF ready” and because this tiny bit out of 20 or so years of research life seems to fit within this new definition of extra-academic impact. After all, some others just thought that they could mind “their own business”, while someone else (experts, politicians, the authorities, UCU executives, university councils, managers, senators and so on) would deal with these issues. Or even worse, some scholars perhaps are convinced that we will manage to negotiate our collective future with agents of a system that will start eliminating universities and disciplines one after the other as soon as we do not manifest our utility to them.
I want to take the opportunity of all these interesting posts and commentary for a joint, longer reflection.

The biopolitics of publishing
By demanding publications and establishing a discourse around measuring their ‘impact’ many higher education systems in many disciplines have created some kind of Foucauldian power/knowledge/biopolitics complex that Dimitris Dalakoglou is hinting at in a more general way. At the end of the day, the growing amount of hours researching, writing, editing, reviewing, resubmitting and reformatting text for publications as well as writing, blogging and talking about its downsides (e.g. the discussions in the Chronicle of Higher Education Edward Carr is referring to) is very often time spent indoors, behind a desk and with very little collegial interaction, or interaction that evolves around the ‘product’ of the text. For many researchers and academics this means less time spend in classrooms, or ‘outside’ as activist, citizen etc. Put bluntly, the managerial discourse around publications has gained a tight grip on academics and together with other managerial discourses (teaching evaluations and standard tests, internal meetings,…) has curtailed the time they can spend as ‘public academics’. One of the findings of my research on German peacebuilding and peace researchdiscourses was that a fundamental shift had taken place for the peace movements days of the 1970sand 80s to today’s ‘professionalised’ engagement with the topic: From protest marches to engagement/meetings/teach-ins with ‘ordinary citizens’, politicians, church leaders etc. many ‘outdoor’ activities had transformed into ‘indoor’ activities-training workshops, discussing papers or ‘strategic’ board meetings. Therefore, the discussion goes beyond open access, impact factors or tenure committee reviews-how can academics reclaim some of their ‘street creds’?

Who actually needs and reads all this research?

As I wrote before (Are journals hindering creative academic writing & engagement with research?), academics often tend to overestimate the impact of their publications-especially of those highly specific journal articles. It looks much nicer if your article was downloaded 500 instead of 67 times because it is open access, but the rest is often speculation. I am still a bit amazed how some students struggle with online journal databases and now with ebook databases as well. They have access to the material, but finding it, making sense of it and using it for their own papers and writing is sometimes difficult. So where is this vast online audience that is keen to read your article? This is certainly not meant as an argument against open access, but we should keep readers in mind-and, more importantly, changing reading, perception and attention habits if academic writing should remain an intellectual guide in an ocean of non-information.

Change requires top-down leadership

Randy Schekman's decision not to publish in certain well-known science journals anymore sends out an important sign-and academia needs more of them from research leaders of their field, senior administrators and other high-profiled representatives. In the current political and financial climate in many OECD countries this will be difficult. There will always be enough academics who comply with the system and not enough pressure from those who opt out. But I am slightly optimistic. There are many interesting developments happening in anthropology at the moment for example, from excellent blogs, like the aforementioned Ethnography Matters, to popular open access journals and various debates about professional identity (e.g. on Savage Minds) that could challenge some of the discourses. IDS’ appointment of its first femaleanthropologist as new director will be interesting to watch in the development anthropology community.

This was definitely a longer comment than I anticipated in the beginning, but as the weekly link review is also a bit of a testing ground for my own digital engagement practice sometimes the routines change a little bit…


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