Links & Contents I Liked 112

Hello all,

A packed weekly review with a special 'Development +' section that focuses on tech & digital issues...but let's start with a great photo essay on Western people doing mundane things followed by a new study on how Africa tweets, Nepal's slow and difficult transformation to improve women's lives, a great essay on labour-centred development as empowerment, new research that revisits large dams, a new book that challenges 'Protest Inc'; tech talent in Kenya, big data & resilience, new tools vs. old mindsets and essays on 'mindful' consumerism and 'digital Turks' round off the Development part. Two posts on 'digital pedagogy' in the Academia section and your bookmarks for weekend reading is complete!



Unprecedented images of Western people looking just like you and me

We have all wondered how Western people look like in everyday situations, behind the veil of exoticism that surrounds their mysterious culture. Photographer Adam Vaijan has spent years documenting everyday life in the West and the results are a startling mix of the magical and the ordinary. His beautiful shots allow us to see beyond the wall of myth that surrounds Western people and their culture, revealing scenes that are touching in their normality and reminding us that they are just like us.
Definitely my link of the week! Probably the best tongue-in-cheek answer when your social networks are filling up with photos from 'exotic places' and even more importantly, the attempts to capture the 'normality' of said exotic places...

How Africa tweets: New study reveals continent's leading tweeting cities
The study looks at which cities are the most active, what languages are being used the most and what subjects are driving the conversation online.
I'm always a bit hesitant when a PR firm conducts a study that is then taken up by news media, but this looks like an interesting starting point for further discussions around Twitter use in major African cities.

Welcome to Pathways Learning Platform
This learning platform is unique in its delivery and approach and will reinvigorate your teaching of gender studies, inequality, women's empowerment, politics, women in work, workers rights, equality, justice, women's representation and sexuality, culture, racial identity and development.
IDS launched a new learning platform for International Women's Day.

Not just half the sky
Nepal’s underdevelopment is a direct result of culturally-sanctioned gender discrimination. Superimposing district-wise data for female literacy over the figures for extreme poverty, malnutrition, child marriage, maternal and infant mortality gives us an almost perfect match. Nepal’s poorest districts (east-central Tarai, mid-western mountains) are also where female literacy is lowest, where the caste system is most entrenched, and where other forms of inequality and discrimination thrive. Nepal’s dramatic progress in reducing maternal mortality in the past 15 years is the result of the doubling of the national female literacy rate in that period.
It is ironical that for a country with such progressive legislation on gay, lesbian, and transgender rights, we seem to be regressing in women’s issues. Out of 21 ministers sworn in last week in the new coalition cabinet headed by Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, only two are women and there isn’t a single Dalit.
The working class does the job
Labour-centred development regards the increase in workers’ free time and their ability to democratically control the production and distribution of wealth, rather than the endless drive to accumulate capital, as the real basis of human development. That vision conceives of the working classes of the developing world as architects of their own development.
Mainstream discourse discounts ways in which working classes can be agents of their own development, and thinks of them as dependent upon the elites for their salvation. It is time to think about how the majority can pursue development for themselves.
In a world filled with rants, snark and yet another celebrity adding her/his two cents to 'end poverty', this Le Monde Diplomatique essay is quite refreshing: Imagine a world where those who work hard are enabled to be in the driver's seat of development beyond increased income, better products and services.

Do massive dams ever make sense?
But Bent Flyvbjerg, principal investigator for the Oxford University dam study, says dams "are not carbon neutral, and they're not greenhouse neutral". The vast quantities of concrete required to construct leave an enormous carbon footprint, he says.
Furthermore flooded vegetation under the reservoirs produces methane, a greenhouse gas roughly 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, he says.
His argument is not with all dams though, but with megadams.
"We don't accept that it's a discussion of hydropower from large dams versus fossil fuels. We would like the discussion to be about hydropower from large dams versus hydropower from smaller hydropower projects," he says.
Dams, development and da World Bank have been discussed ever since I started to study development some &€ years ago. In some ways, large dams have been the last (?)/latest generation of white elephant infrastructure projects and this latest research confirms what critics have always been saying: Small is beautiful and decentralized structures probably make more sense...

Where are the radicals?
Many groups, including Greenpeace, continue to condemn corporate misconduct. Most now, however, are speaking in business- and market-friendly language. They are calling for ethical consumption, eco-labels, and voluntary corporate codes of conduct; and they are choosing to co-brand consumer products to raise money for campaigns. Many NGOs are still calling for an end to the most egregious abuses—such as ‘modern slavery’—yet far fewer are working toward broad reforms to the world economy, such as establishing fair wages and safe workplaces.
The time, energy, and resources that activist groups are devoting to partnerships and multistakeholder coalitions reflects a growing belief in—or at least a begrudging acceptance of—voluntary corporate governance and business responsibility, as well as global capitalism more broadly. Protest Inc. investigates the consequences of these trends for the power and influence of activism and big business. We ask, how are corporate funding and values changing NGOs? How are strengthening ties between corporations and NGOs interfacing with grassroots movements? And what are the consequences of corporatization for the potential of activism to spark change within world politics?
Definitely a new book for my reading list!!

A Week in Review: March 10 Edition
Tom Murphy one of the founding people of 'development blogging' offers a new, lighter, not-so-development-focused week in review. Nice!

Development + (Tech, ICT, digital life)

Facebook's massive Darfur campaign largely ineffective
"The study is an important counter-balance to unbridled enthusiasm for the powers of social media," said UC San Diego's Lewis. "There's no inherent magic. Social media can activate interpersonal ties but won't necessarily turn ordinary citizens into hyper-activists."
The study also discovered that those who had joined the cause on Facebook independently were more likely to recruit and to donate than those who were recruited. Those who contributed more financially were also found to contribute more socially -- financial contributors were twice as likely to recruit than non-contributors.
The team stressed that it could not estimate "the personal significance of [the joining] gesture to participants or the symbolic impact of the movement to onlookers".
"It is possible," the team adds, "that the individuals in our data set contributed to Save Darfur in other meaningful but unobserved ways." Additionally, the data didn't reveal any of the demographic information of the cause's members, which may have also influenced the willingness to contribute.
Lew concludes the study saying that the cause on Facebook appeared to be "more marketing than mobilisation". The commitment to the Facebook cause for the majority of the members, says Lewis, "might have been only as deep as a click."
New research confirms what other digital researchers, including yours truly, have been saying for a while now: Digital development initiatives are unlikely to solve real problems over a sustained period of time.

Tech Talent and Expat Bubbles – Kenya Edition
On the other side of the fence are the international expats who enter into Kenya. They are often well-meaning folks with a desire to build a company, or be part of a company in this vibrant country brimming with opportunity. This should be encouraged.
What I’ve observed over the years however, is something that shouldn’t be encouraged. These immigrants who come into Kenya tend to hang out with each other. This isn’t strange at all, Kenyans tend to do the same when they’re in the US. What’s not healthy is when you spend most of the time around people who look and sound like you, then when you want something from the rest of the greater community, act like it’s not there because it’s not directly in front of you.
There are some amazing programmers in Kenya, some ridiculously good web designers, some top-notch entrepreneurs. You will not find them by throwing a dart in a room and hoping to hit one.
Great post on the opportunities and challenges of expat-driven tech-development in Nairobi/Kenya!

Bigger, better data and resilience: what’s the link?
We are increasingly seeing situations where a decision is made at the top by people who know how to crunch data yet have no way of really understanding the meaning of the data in the local context. In these cases, the impact of data on resilience will be low, because resilience can only truly be created and supported at the local level. Instead of large organizations thinking about how they can use data from afar to ‘rescue’ or ‘help’ the poor, organizations should be working together with communities in crisis (or supporting local or nationally based intermediaries to facilitate this process) so that communities can discuss and pull meaning from the data, contextualize it and use it to help themselves. They can also be more informed what data exist about them and more aware of how these data might be used.
As always, Linda Raftree shares some very interesting reflections. I found it interesting, but also a bit scary that some areas of the (big) data debate sound very, very familiar to many other development approaches when it comes to power relations, ownership and involvement of 'beneficiaries'...just because it's digital doesn't mean good ol' development theory and debates no longer apply...

New tools won’t help, if you need to change your nonprofit’s culture
While it is encouraging to see that the THW is starting to consider social media as a resource, this approach is putting the cart before the horse. Rather than developing a new tool, I recommended changing the policy that says you can only use “official data” – that would also be much cheaper. What information is useful and what isn’t should be up to the incident commander or someone in his staff to decide who have local, contextual knowledge.
Timo Luege and the challenges that large, often bureaucratic organizations face after one of their staff members attended a social media workshop and wants to change communication (that's my biased interpretation, not Timo's!).

The Mindfulness Racket
Note that it’s the act of disconnection—the unplugging—that becomes the target of criticism, as if there are no good reasons to be suspicious of the always-on mode championed by Silicon Valley, what is called “real-time.” Madrigal, for example, draws an intriguing parallel between our attitudes to processed foods (once celebrated for their contribution to social mobility but now widely condemned, at least by the upper classes) and processed communications (by which, he means all digital interactions). Like processed foods, social media and text messages are increasingly perceived as inferior, giving rise to an odd form of technophobic—but extremely artisanal—living. As Madrigal sardonically observes, “[T]he solution is to make local friends, hang out organically, and only communicate through means your Grandma would recognize. It’s so conservative it’s radical!”
Evgeny Morozov great essay on digital lifestyles, consumerist choices and the movement towards an elite, 'organic' movement for interaction.

Amazon Turk and Inevitable Capitalism
Secondly, it centralizes the power and the appearance of power, reducing the scope for alternative systems to develop by increasing dependency on the central system as the provider of work (in this case quite specifically the dependency of the rest of the world on the US). Thirdly, it moves the Amazon Corporation from the secondary (selling goods) to the tertiary (selling services) sector, potentially meaning that all people in the wage market (not just the buying/selling goods industry of Amazon proper) no longer have to see or speak to each other. This feeds back into the first point; if no one has to see the people involved the system appears not run by people; people are only used by a system which proceeds in its own direction.
Some critical thoughts on Amazon's latest endeavor. Will we be seeing a future in the aid industry where large organizations will be searching for 'Development Turks', outsourcing tasks, saving on consultancy rates and exploiting the increasing group of well-educated people interested to work 'in development'?

What Is Digital Pedagogy?
What about when we teach online? Where are our walls and chairs and podium in digital space? For some, the coded boundaries of the LMS replace the solid borders of the classroom, and discussion fora become the arrangement of chairs. Video lectures have been used to replicate an instructor’s presence on the screen, and quizzes with algorithmically automated teacherly responses offer feedback in lieu of written notes and gold stars. But it’s important to think bigger about where the walls are, where our teaching territory lies.
And here’s why: because when we teach digitally—whether online, or in hybrid environments (and all learning today is necessarily hybrid)—walls become arbitrary. All walls. And all seats and all podiums and all chalkboards, too.
As much as enjoy Sean Morris' essay and agree with many of his points on 'digital pedagogy' I also look at my own day-to-day experience with digital pedagogy and have a feeling that Sean's vision is difficult, and more importantly, expensive to implement if done right. I should probably write a separate post on this topic, but at the moment my reality suggests that it is difficult to fulfill this vision in an academic environment that still relies to a large extent on traditional classroom teaching and at the same time many students actually demanding the more traditional classroom experience in hybrid or blended learning environments.

What is the Future of Educational Technology?
What are the most important trends and issues facing ICT4Edu today?
Please click here and give us your thoughts and ideas on where we are all headed and who is leading us there. To give you some points to ponder, here are questions we’re wondering:
Now that the One Laptop Per Child program is fading, is the 1:1 movement in decline?
With a mobile phone in every educator hand, do schools even need to purchase hardware?
Where is the digital education revolution promised by MOOCs?
Why can’t we change pedagogy as fast as we change technology?
What about focusing on supportive technologies, instead of instructional tech?
Who are the emergent leaders that are pioneering answers to these questions?
Wayan Vota and Shabnam started a great debate and the comments are well worth reading the post!


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