Links & Contents I Liked 106

Dear all,
As I am still working on a storified account of the Sida talk from earlier this week below is a slightly belated and shorter weekly link review-nonetheless, there is some great stuff, or, more precisely, some great people featured this week! Ian Thorpe features a nice group post by UNICEF colleagues on what 2014 might bring-and then there are celebrity efforts gone wrong (Elizabeth McGovern), Africa's first female coffee quality instructor, a radical artist's view on China's 'discovery' of Africa-and Norma who speaks out at a meeting and sums development challenges up better than any policy paper could ever do. A Balkan expert reflects on the political economy of urban change in Skopje, an ethnographer reflects on an EPIC conference, plus, a great piece of investigative journalism on Balkan academic corruption and degree mills.

A bit different, eclectic--but hopefully stimulating food for though!


Popular Representations of Development: Insights from Novels, Films, Television and Social Media

The issue of 'development' is normally one that is discussed by social scientists and policy makers, but development also has a wider 'popular' dimension: it can be understood through studying literature, films, television and other non-conventional forms of representation such as blogs and social media.
I know, I know...but Michael's development lecture is not just PR for the book, but also a really good introduction and overview over why 'popular representations' matter and how they should be part of development studies research and teaching.

The Rise and Fall of the Failed-State Paradigm
In trying to force change on recalcitrant governments and societies, moreover, outside interventions undermine internal motives for reform by transferring responsibility for a better future from local leaders to external actors. The outside power needs cooperation from its local clients more than they need its sponsorship. The result is a dependency paradox that impedes reform. As success stories from South Korea to Chile show, the path from state weakness to strength has to be traveled by the states themselves, gradually and fitfully, most often under the influence of strong, decisive leadership from visionary architects of governance.
This is an interesting - though focused on U.S. foreign policy alone - review of the 'failed state' other words, Michael J. Mazaar is basically confirming what the peace research community has been criticizing since ca. 1995/7. The discourse then moved to 'hybridity' so said researchers could still write proposals and access research funding, but in essence we knew it all along...

The World in 2014: selected predictions relevant for the well-being of children and UNICEF
Continuing the tradition from 2013 and 2012 - this guest post is a fabulous overview of 2014 forecasts and predictions from the world of development and aid from former colleagues in UNICEF, who have kindly agreed to allow me to share it with all of you.
To be honest, I like the idea of the post better than its contents. I think Ian does a great job in incorporating blogging and making his blog accessible for UNICEF reflections and it is great to see that colleagues get together and share their reflections in this format!

People in/and development
Downton Abbey goes to Africa
· Simons claims that “World Vision is the biggest charity you’ve never heard of”. So, by that logic, you’ve probably never heard of ANY charities.
· McGovern didn’t realise World Vision was a Christian organisation. According to Simons, “charity representatives failed to make their Christianity clear to her”. But, she chose not to pull out because “on balance, it is an organisation that does a lot of good for many people”. (And, paid her band £28,000. See above).
· McGovern is suitably impressed with Freetown. ‘”Their food must be so healthy,” says McGovern. “You don’t see all those crap chains and stuff. But I guess that will change as the country gets more modern. It’s like a holiday. I feel a bit guilty.”‘
I do not want to link to the original article and rather 'donate' any amount of modest clicks to WhyDev instead.
Do you remember the last time I waltzt onto the Downton Abbey set, high-fived Carson, asked Mrs. Pattmore for her signature Americano and told everybody how much I loved the show and should be a part of it?!...oh wait, such stupid, insensitive shenanigans never happened because I am actually not an actor, I know my boundaries and I should not be on the set in the first place...I mentioned this briefly in my presentation at Sida the other day: Celebrities and the development community need to work together, celebrities need to reach out, educate themselves and then they may contribute to the aid industry...but also shame on World Vision for not doing exactly that job and sending Elizabeth McGovern off without showing her at least one critical blog post on how celebrities should not get off a plane and start talking about their development is 2014, for crying out loud, the Internet exists!!

China Loves Africa: A Kenyan Artist Gets Political
In 2012, China’s trade volume with African countries ballooned to nearly $200 billion. Many African governments have applauded China’s investments in the continent’s infrastructure and industries. But many dissident voices, Soi included, believe China is on a mission to pillage and plunder Africa’s natural resources. The Nairobi-based artist has sold some of his most provocative pieces through Bonhams, the British auction house.
Interesting approach, although I see an underlying discourse about presumably Western art buyers, British auction houses and feeding different stereotypes emerging--but art is supposed to get us thinking and discussing-so mission accomplished?!

Norma the Magnificent
My thoughts raced as I scrambled to piece together a coherent answer. With each passing second, it became increasingly clear that any response I gave would only disappoint Norma further. I told Norma that the products we buy from artisans have to be of a certain quality otherwise they wont sell. Indeed, it meant her products did not sell and didn’t meet the standard. As I spoke I could see Norma’s demeanor change. The rage in her eyes and voice were replaced by melancholy and despair. Her arms weren’t crossed; instead they were drooped by her side. Her shoulders were slouched and her head was lowered. My words seemed to suck the life out of her. “I’m not sure what I am supposed to do Santiago.”
It was a debilitating moment. I was powerless. There was nothing I could do or say that could make Norma feel better. I had nothing to offer her
I recognize that my organization is imperfect and can be unfair for those we work with. If we are to address our imperfections, we must do so together. The process of fixing injustices, especially the ones we perpetrate, starts with honest communication. By listening to those who are directly affected by our actions, and working together to adjust our practices, we are sure to stay on the path of understanding. It can be messy and time consuming, inefficient and uncomfortable, but it’s non-negotiable and essential. It might not be the best business practice, but it’s the cost of doing business if we are to adhere to our convictions.
Santiago Sueiro shares a beautiful, poetic, sad, frank and realistic account of what can happen when you are listening to the 'stakeholders'...highly recommended read.

Meet Africa's first ever female Coffee Quality instructor - Mbula Musau
While studying accountancy, Mbula decided to get a 'side hustle' and that ended up creating her career. She started working at the Java Nairobi House in 1999 and has never looked back. She has gone up the ranks in coffee marketing up to when she became a quality consultant. Mbula is the first ever African Q Coffee instructor who has not only accomplished that but also been able to teach Coffee Quality internationally.
I love coffee and I love to share an interesting and inspiring story once in a while ;)!

Why Expats?
We have to separate the expat experience from the expat contribution. I loved my own experience of being an expat in this place called the field. It was fun and exotic. I was special. I got all sorts of formal and informal perks, just by virtue of being foreign. I had all the classic epiphanies, the moving conversations, the realizations. I felt close to the action. Felt like I was “actually doing it”, while all my colleagues in HQ just “supported” the real work that I was doing. There is no question that I benefited, at least professionally, from “The Field.”
And more than anything else, the tenor of reactions against “The Field” seemed to beat this same drum. People clearly enjoy being in the field, wherever that is. But that all as may be, it is simply far past time to have an open conversation about actual contribution. I realize this is difficult for expats. Our own relevance comes naturally to us. The field is good for us, but are we good for the field?
J. is another great development writer and, as always, shares some important reflections on 'the expat'.

Tomgram: Laura Gottesdiener, Visiting a Revolution That Won't Go Away
Still, there are many strategies to make dissent disappear, of which the least effective may be violence. The most ingenious is undoubtedly to make the rest of the world -- and even the dissenter herself -- dismissive of what’s being accomplished. Since curtailing its military offensive, the government has waged a propaganda war focused on convincing the rest of Mexico, the world, and even Zapatista communities themselves that the movement and its vision no longer exists.
But there are just as many strategies for keeping dissent and dissenters going. One way is certainly to invite thousands of outsiders to visit your communities and see firsthand that they are real, that in every way that matters they are thriving, and that they have something to teach the rest of us. As Diego’s father said in an uncharacteristic moment of boastfulness, “I think by now that the whole world has heard of our organization.”
Writing is another way to prevent an idea and a movement from disappearing, especially when one is hurtling down the highway in Texas headed back to New York City, already surrounded by a reality so different as to instantly make the Zapatistas hard to remember.
Laura Gottesdiener's report from inside the Mexican Zapatista movement is yet another example of writing about development-related issues and bringing the struggles, people and 'voices' and complexities closer to us.

Skopje 2014 in 2014: Mission accomplished?
A final feature that was striking during the discussions was the fear factor many noted. Besides a few protests that mobilized not many citizens and the installation of a golden toilet bowl as a protest monument in the early phases of Skopje 2014, there has been little open resistance to the project, despite its massive intrusion in the public space. Organizations critical of the project have been subject to low-level harassment by the government and its crack-down on independent media and aggressive constant campaigning have led to a serious deterioration of democracy. The center is monitored with cameras and many activists fear engaging in a public and visible critique of the project, i.e. through graffiti, such as in Bulgaria, or ‘guerrilla’ action to erect alternative monuments (with the exception of the appearance of a Tito statue, which was localized away from the official monuments and in front of a school named after Tito and home to several early commemorations of Tito). The project is thus representing coercive imposition of the government’s narrative of the past and on the urban landscape that because of its visibility requires a level of control that further undermines democracy.
Florian Bieber's reflections on and from the Macedonian capital are very interesting vis-a-vis the debates on how 'modern' cities 'develop' and how Western neoliberal design discourses are met in transitional spaces. Reflections on 'development' from a different perspective.


In Appalachia, Poverty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder

She says he can't get up and do anything on his own. Like lots of poor people, Slone has strung together her own safety net, with some help from the government, but also from charities, family and friends. She says at least life is better than it used to be.
"We're not starving," she says, laughing. "We're not starving to death."
Many people here say they're rich in things that aren't included in any official measure of poverty. Things like family and faith. So they're understandably a bit bitter about how they're often seen from the outside.
Owen Wright of the Christian Appalachian Project, one of the non-profits that helps Slone, says that outside perception can hurt the self-esteem of the people who live in Appalachia.
"We're probably one of the last few groups that it's still politically correct to make fun of," Wright says. "It's still OK to tell, you know, hillbilly, redneck jokes."
Great NPR feature on different perceptions of poverty and power(lessness). And, yes, on of the great studies that has influenced development thinking on power over the years and decades is based on John Gaventa's research in this area.

In the Name of Love

In ignoring most work and reclassifying the rest as love, DWYL may be the most elegant anti-worker ideology around. Why should workers assemble and assert their class interests if there’s no such thing as work?
“Do what you love” disguises the fact that being able to choose a career primarily for personal reward is a privilege, a sign of socioeconomic class. Even if a self-employed graphic designer had parents who could pay for art school and co-sign a lease for a slick Brooklyn apartment, she can bestow DWYL as career advice upon those covetous of her success.
Miya Tokumitsu's essay has been shared widely in my social networks this week...not surprisingly given the number of development workers on short-term contracts, PhD students, adjunct and temporary academic faculty and members of the 'creative class' in general. 'Loving' working with students, 'loving' to make a difference in development and the many aspects of DWYL should not be used as excuses for exploitation-love what you do-and still get a paid internship ;)!


The galactic polity in Southeast Asia

I have coined the label galactic polity to represent the design of traditional South-east Asian kingdoms, a design that coded in a composite way cosmological, topographical, and politico-economic features. The label itself is derived from the concept of mandala, which according to a common Indo-Tibetan tradition is composed of two elements—a core (manda) and a container or enclosing element (la). Mandala designs, both simple and complex of satellites arranged around a center, occur with such insistence at various levels of Hindu-Buddhist thought and practice that one is invited to probe their representational efficacy.
RIP Stanley Tambiah! And thanks HAU for the reprint of one of his seminal articles.

Why go to an ethnography conference?: Notes from the EPIC 2013 Conference

EPIC is a gathering where academic ethnographers and corporate ethnographers mingle as equals. In its sixth year, EPIC “promotes the use of ethnographic investigations and principles in the study of human behavior as they are applied in business settings.” EPIC started out with folks who were working at large tech companies such as IBM, Xerox Parc, Intel, and Microsoft, but it has now evolved into a conference that welcomes attendees working in boutique research firms, design studios, and consulting agencies.
There is no other conference in our field that is so interdisciplinary in attendance and ideas. I met attendees who deal with ethnography in every context, including marketing, strategy, design, research, and academia. Simply put, this is the conference to go to if you wish to learn how to make products, services, and organizations that truly serve people.
Trisha Wang delivers a special issue of Ethnography Matters featuring interviews and reflections around the Ethnographic Praxis in Industry (EPIC) conference. Grab a coffee before you click on the link...there's just so much interesting stuff to read!

Five myths about Moocs

The model has value for professional development, providing a forum for the dissemination, discussion and development of up-to-date ideas. It could even be used to help academics, teachers and policymakers make technology work in education, and develop effective ways of tackling that huge unmet demand for higher education. Only then would vice-chancellors’ excitement about the hundreds of thousands of students registered on their Moocs – dwarfing their campus cohorts – be justified.
But I have had many opportunities to observe that very intelligent people leave their brains behind when it comes to technology. The Mooc phenomenon is just further confirmation of that simple truth.
Diana Laurillard basically argues that successful education cannot delivered on the cheap, i.e. with insufficient teaching and staff resources. Should be a no-brainer, really...

Why a Balkan diploma-mill degree is more valuable than one from Oxford

Her former colleague, also speaking on condition of anonymity, says the fees collected by private institutions matter more than any knowledge they impart. “They need to pay wages and utility bills, and they need to turn a profit for their owners,” he tells BIRN.
Despite the many accusations against private universities in Bosnia and Serbia, it is unlikely that they alone are to blame for any overall decline in standards.
It is also clear that the system for monitoring universities across the sector is not functioning as it should.
BIRN contacted the education ministry in Republika Srpska about the cases reported in this story, but they declined to comment.
The headline is catchy-but also a bit misleading. The article primarily deals with the corrupt privatized higher education system in the Balkans. Still a very important issue! But there is an interesting link to the system that discourages qualified candidates to return to the Balkan, leading to further brain-drain and exodus of positive change agents.


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Dear white middle class British women: Please don't send used bras (or anything, really) to Africa