Links & Contents I Liked 114

Dear all,

The link review is back!

A trip to South Africa, quick reflections on Afghanistan's elections (see posts below) and some work in Sweden later, the link review is back-a bit more comprehensive as some good material kept piling up since the last one in March! So more to discover for your critical reading enjoyment!
Some of my highlights include: A longer ICT4D section, literary reflections on the new/old Baghdad, great open access anthropological reading & insights into the 'long, lonely job of Homo Academicus'.


New on aidnography
Post-conference reflections on 'Transforming education through technological innovation'

Burkas, ballots & the unbearable lightness of democratic rituals

Pornography, Pleasure, Gender and Sex Education in Bangladesh

Drawing on research undertaken over several months in the backstreets of Dhaka, this publication sheds new light on the city’s changing economic and sexual landscape. Migration and the rapid mobility of a labour force of men and women who earn low wages have taken place alongside a burgeoning sex industry and influx of pornography which men particularly are taking advantage of.
This study reveals how local ideas of sex and sexuality are gradually being transformed; how emerging urban spaces in the city are serving as alternative sites of communication, knowledge and information on sex; and how men’s sexual expectations and realities are shaped by larger social, political and economic structures.
Great new publication from IDS on the 'glocalization' of sex.

Chasing Misery (a book review)

Chasing Misery is not a book to read if you need a happy ending where all the grateful beneficiaries bow slightly and say ‘thank you’ before returning home, content with their bag of CSB and bottle of vegetable oil. Chasing Misery summarily dispatches the myth that aid is some romantic, soft-focus international adventure. It’s not the end-all-be-all, of course, but then it’s obvious that it’s not intended to be. Chasing Misery is an invaluable early addition to the much too small, but thankfully growing, body of writing and perspective out there by actual aid workers.
J.'s review of an interesting new book arrived a few days ago in my mailbox and begs to be reviewed...

What’s the future role and structure of aid and aid donors? Some options

The underlying dilemma was, I think, how to respond to a world where the big challenges are less and less about shipping cash from ‘North’ to ‘South’, whether because the distinction is no longer useful (rise of the middle income countries, ever-more variable geometry of international alliances and partnerships), or because the issue is a global collective action problem (climate change, arms trade), or because money (or lack of it) is not the main problem/solution (fragile states).
File under: Muddling Through (Charles Lindblom).

What are the limits of transparency and technology? From three gurus of the openness movement (Eigen, Rajani, McGee)

Ideas that hold the most promise can also be the most deceptive; for their power and allure can mask the inconvenient hard thinking that come in the way of a good story. The use of technology in development, and in particular its potential to close the gap between citizen voice and state responsiveness, is one such idea.
There is not enough evidence yet that transparency does have a positive impact on poor people’s lives, because of the non-linear relationships between transparency and accountability, and between accountability and better lives. The causal chains are long and complex, and include a lot of false starts and dead ends.
Three interesting perspective on 'openness' and 'accountability' in one blog post-if that's not worth a read...

Overcoming the fears of transparency

When millions of lives and billions of dollars are at stake, it makes sense to want to carefully control communications, limiting the message to a top-down approach. But I think that careful control has limited the benefits and value that come from transparency. Responsible image management and full transparency are not incompatible; it’s not a stark choice between control and chaos. The Fund can reclaim its position as a leader in aid transparency while also playing by the new rules, and winning, in global communications.
A very balanced and practical critical comment by Robert Bourgoing on communication, transparency and the Global Fund.

Baghdad, Utopia

Writing from exile, Baghdad appears to me like an oceanic island. It enters my life forcefully through images, stories, music, and the physical presence of those people who bear its marks. As I grew up, Baghdad was in the kitchen, in huge jars filled with baharat or spices, lemons that look like nuts, saboon raggi (“watermelon soap”, though it’s made of olive oil) and old maqqamat (mournful songs) in between the Carpenters and Beatles. Today Baghdad is more cerebral and sober, arriving through the screen, in the news channels running in the back as we eat, through old and recent images, cynical jokes on WhatsApp groups and email lists, and the myriad of books and newspapers constantly arriving in our living room. It’s only when visitors are around that I am conscious of the city’s looming presence in my life.
Mend Mariwany's essay is a great read between book review essay, autobiographical reflections and diaspora living experiences.

Unlocking the transformative potential of storytelling

The people I worked with in Bosnia and Herzegovina did this by undertaking a power analysis of their stories, and using the results to choose themes for collective narratives on the future of democracy in their country. I worked with the group to use digital video and digital editing to generate these stories. The participants made short films together (...), which aimed to prompt dialogue and debate around democracy in a context where both are often absent. They used the confidence and insight they gained from their own stories as the basis for telling a shared narrative targeted at those in positions of power in local authorities.
Joanna Wheeler on linking storytelling methodologies to power analysis and development processes.

Inquiry versus Insult (redux)

This post was originally published on 3/18/2013. Yet, as I write, I am currently participating in the Two Dollar Challenge with my students. And, even though this is my eighth year of joining them (fully) in this experiential learning exercise, I can still say that I am still in a place of unease.
I 'met' Shawn Humphrey through his reflections on the Two Dollar challenge. As much as I can still recommend his original post I really find the postscript interesting: As with many ideas, projects etc. in development we are often not following a script-like development towards a positive 'resolution'. Questions around poverty/empowerment/disempowerment are seldomly 'resolved' and disappear-they stay with 'us' and re-appear, sometimes in cycles and circles, sometimes with an interruption, but they don't go away just because you engaged with a project for a year or two...

An inconvenient truth?

A fulfilled future for ICT4D (of which m4d is an increasingly dominant part) is not the one I see playing out today. It’s future is not in the hands of western corporates or international NGOs meeting in high-profile gatherings, and it’s not in our education establishments who keep busy training computer scientists and business graduates in the West to fix the problems of ‘others’. The whole development agenda is shifting, and my prediction for the future sees a major disconnect between what ‘we’ think needs to be done, and what those closest to the problems think needs to be done
It seems rather obvious to put a local technology entrepreneur on a bus and have him chat to a rural farmer, but imagine what might be possible if this approach became the “new ICT4D”, not that the entrepreneur or the farmer would see it as that, or ‘development’ at all. You can see more of the fascinating TV series which linked local technologists to local problems on the TVE website. There’s a lot that’s right with this approach, particularly if you consider what would usually happen (hint: it involves planes).
This is so worth re-posting! kiwanja on the 'future' of M4D and ICT4D and the reality that is as much present in 2014 than it was in 2012...

How Indonesians Are Using ICT and Social Media for Disaster Management

In addition, social media helped enhance people’s solidaritiy, awakening empathy to help each other. A face book user said, “Social media helps communication process in managing the disasters, particularly person-to-person interaction which is then going to the broader audiences. This can encourage more people to have empathy and help the victims.”
However, this kind initiative mostly comes from grassroots community activity. There was lack of formal organization in managing disaster communications using social media. But the good news is that people organized themselves based on trust, with less government intervention through social media.
Interesting reflections on the local and global interactions of social media during natural disasters in Indonesia.

The Failure Fetish in Silicon Valley

Given the gentle funeral that awaits many start-up deaths, the postmortem trend can also be seen as a psychological prophylactic, a clever way to shrink the stigma around failure and ensure that entrepreneurs keep gambling on crazy ideas, despite the likelihood that they’ll lose. It’s also a hopeful reminder that what starts as failure can morph into success. After all, Steve Jobs ran NeXT before he built Apple into a colossus, and Twitter was spun out of a DOA podcasting start-up called Odeo. If they kept going, the pep talk goes, so should you.
“You don’t want to fetishize failure,” he says. “You don’t want to be afraid of it, but you don’t want to glory in it either.”
A short and interesting post on failure and Silicon Valley-maybe there is a lesson for the current hype around development fail fairs etc. Is the narrative really changing or has failure 'just' become a natural element of project work and do we need to 'celebrate' it to normalize it? I don't have the answers, but it's an interesting discussion...

Beyond Surveillance Fridges and Socialized Power Drills: Social Media and the Financialization of Everyday Life

Financialization works much like social mediatization: both identify the ways that foreign logics (financial or mediated) find their way into once-private and domestic spheres. Classic examples of financialization include online banking at home, stock investing as a hobby, and other forms of money management which were once “work” but are now billed as necessary and mature forms of personal responsibility and risk management for the middle classes.
We need the cautionary tales of the dystopias we’re building and the utopian visions of data power to the people, but more, we need to know if our gateway drugs of social financialization really are harmless hits and performance enhancements, or whether they will lead inevitably to refrigerator madness. One thing we suspect is true: we can’t “Just Say No.”
Adam Fish and how the 'Internet of Things' comes with a 'Financialization of Things/Life'-great read!

The Politics of “Post-conflict”: On the Ground in South Asia

This Hot Spots series explores the implications of “post-conflict” as an analytical and political category by situating recent South Asian experiences within broader anthropological debates over social, political, and economic transformation. As anthropologists, we go beyond the evaluative assessments of peace-building and human-rights reports to reveal the complexities of life and politics in the gray areas between war and peace. In so doing, these essays acknowledge the everyday effects of the post-conflict label beyond the technocratic mechanisms that seek to define it and declare resolution, yielding important insights for policymakers and development actors, as well as scholars from a range of policy-engaged disciplines.
Cultural Anthropology is now fully open access and you can enjoy great articles from Afghanistan, Kashmir, Nepal & Sri Lanka.

HAU: Classics of Ethnographic Theory Series

In this posthumous collection of essays by Valerio Valeri, edited by Rupert Stasch (in collaboration with Sean M. Dowdy and Giovanni da Col), HAU brings you a magisterial set of works by one of anthropology's greatest minds. Richly comparative, while showcasing some of Valeri's finest scholarship on the history and ethnography of Polynesia, this volume is a masterful exemplification of ethnographic theory.
HAU Journal is going from strength to strength and continues to publish great historical anthropological writing-open access, of course.

What’s on your anthropological blog roll?

Where do you turn if you want to get an anthropological take on current issues? Of course, you turn to this blog! But what other blogs should be on your anthropological blog roll? Here are some of my personal favorites...
Great resource on anthropological blogs and blogging from the Netherlands!

Richly social and intensely personal

One of the key points I made in my keynote was that the future of education will be both richly social and intensely personal. This might sound like a paradox, but essentially, with all the digital tools we now have at our disposal, we can connect like never before, and create our own powerful social networks. Simultaneously, we can manipulate the tools we have at our disposal to create our own individual learning pathways, select our own personal preferences, and devise our own collections of resources. What's more, we can do all this by using a small device that fits in the palm of our hands. In other words, the future of learning is going to be smart mobile.
Steve Wheeler, a learning technology--shall we say 'Evangelist'?--on the digital future of education and technology.

Bagging the PhD and then…?

In general, there needs to be an open discussion of “overproducing” PhDs that face a gloomy future in academia and often do not have increased chances for employment outside the academic system. In order to avoid the silent doctor that is part of a reserve army conducting large shares of teaching as Sara Eldén and Anna Johnsson discuss, we need departments and funding structures that support early-career scholars instead of creating a two class system of teaching staff with casual contracts and permanent faculty that focuses on research.
Different country (Sweden), similar problems (overproduction of PhDs) written from the perspective of media science graduates.

The Aspiration Industry

One could argue that the situation in India is nothing unique – there are new markets and hence people construct themselves to suit these opportunities, which would obviously include some casualties. The substantial sacrifices students make to gain access to honest employment must be applauded and perhaps not all of us, like Siddhartha Deb, have the inclination or luxury to ponder the inadequacy of our mirror image.
But I think it is fair to ask - what causes the gap between aspiration and achievement? And more importantly, at what cost are the chosen aspirations constructed?
Given this colonial method of evaluation is not going away in a hurry, what universities could do instead of offering compulsory practical courses is offer some lost time and freedom in the first year to flirt with different subjects, and guide experimentation with creative and technical pursuits.
Another example of how global discourse meet local realities-this time global education aspirations meet emerging Indian realities.

The Long, Lonely Job of Homo academicus

The first phase of the study found that respondents — all professors at Boise State — spend a large amount of time in meetings and 30 percent of their time doing administrative tasks unrelated to teaching and research. Faculty work well over a 40-hour work week, including putting in time off campus and during the weekends. And they spend a majority of time working alone
The ivory tower is a beacon — not a One World Trade Center, but an ancient reflection of a bygone era — a quasar. In today’s competitive higher-education environment, traditional universities and their faculty must necessarily do more and more, and show accomplishments by the numbers, whether it be the number of graduates, the number of peer-reviewed articles published or the grant dollars won. It is harder to count — and to account for — service and administrative duties. These are things we just do because of the institutional context of Homo academicus, and it’s hard to quantify the impact of these activities or the time spent, but they are exceedingly important for intellectual progress of the larger Homo clans. Granting agencies and academic journals would be hard pressed if there weren’t faculty willing to provide reviews for proposals and manuscripts. Not to mention, many community organizations on which faculty serve as board members, advisors, speakers, essentially volunteering their time, would suffer were it not for this service. This is why academic freedom in teaching, research, and service is so important going into the future for Homo academicus. The research on faculty workload will continue; we need to get a better idea of how faculty spend their time at work and what patterns of activity are associated with greater levels of satisfaction.
Interesting insights into the real lives and real workload at Boise State University. Not surprising to me, but good to see data and details on these developments.


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