Links & Contents I Liked 120

Hello all,

After a final week of work to wrap of the semester, you are probably not entirely surprised that the weekly link review arrives with a bit of a delay...however, I did the compiling, reading and editing work so you can enjoy some good, critical reads this Sunday or early on in the week.
Development News feature pieces on new militarized NGOs, more evidence on how biofuels fuel malnutrition, how the American Red Cross dodges transparency requests as well as news from Nepal, Tunisia & Equatorial-Guinea. Development as career has more advice for aspiring humanitarians, challenging times for expats in Asia and questions on how the data revolution can challenge organizational routines. Our Digital Lives on a Facebook experiment with questionable ethics and reflections on 'big data' and historical anthropological data collection.

Finally, more Anthropology questioning the 'monster myth' of sexual violence and a round-up of the recent BBC ethnography award.


Development News
The Rise of Militarized NGOs

The reality is that these groups, “movements,” and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are appendices of their governments and draw their “activists” from the armed forces, security services, and government militias. They carry out their repressive deeds disguised as “civil society,” in an attempt to mask the behavior of governments that want to avoid being recognized by the international community for what they really are: autocracies that violate global norms, trample human rights, and brutalize their critics. They have even earned their own acronym—GONGOs—for “Government-Organized Non-Governmental Organizations.” Their rise is forcing us to rethink our benign definitions of NGOs and civil society to accommodate armed groups of civilians and even, most provocatively, terrorists.
Moses Naim on how 'the state' nowadays highjacks 'civil society' in protests, social uprisings or revolutions. Not surprisingly, it means even more complexity and cautionary questioning for journalists or researchers.

Land taken over by foreign investors could feed 550m people, study finds

(The research team) found that, even accounting for the crops diverted to biofuels, the grabbed land could support 300m-550m people if yields were raised to the levels of industrialised western farming. Even without those yield increases, the land could support 190m-370m people, the researchers calculated.
“Policymakers need to be aware that if this food were used to feed the local populations it would be sufficient to abate malnourishment in each of these countries, even without investments aiming [increase] yields,” said Rulli.
More evidence dispelling the biofuel 'win-win' myth...

Red Cross: How We Spent Sandy Money Is a ‘Trade Secret’

The documents include "internal and proprietary methodology and procedures for fundraising, confidential information about its internal operations, and confidential financial information," wrote Gabrielle Levin of Gibson Dunn in a letter to the attorney general's office.
If those details were disclosed, "the American Red Cross would suffer competitive harm because its competitors would be able to mimic the American Red Cross's business model for an increased competitive advantage," Levin wrote.
This story reads as if the American Red Cross is begging to become a case study for Naomi Klein's notion of 'disaster capitalism'...using the same legal arguments like fracking fluid manufactures and similar corporate entities that usually have something to hide from the public really sounds like a bad strategy for a leading charity...

Documentary questions the very motives for Westerners ‘helping’ Africa

The point of the film is not to criticize people. Herrman admits that she was a volunteer in Kenya and lived there for two years during her twenties. Her hope is that the film will challenge people to step back and check their assumptions. Then ask how these assumptions are fueling certain actions. At one point in the film’s trailer, Mwangi challenges an audience of American college students to consider the way that people in the US are marginalized.
“It’s an interesting thing to look at why it is comfortable to help an Africa, versus the complexities of addressing racial injustices experienced by African-Americans in this country,” reflected Herrman on the idea.
Interesting new documentary project and Kickstarter campaign about Western motives for 'saving' Africa. Question is: Is the critical analysis of Western involvement in Africa actually becoming a small 'industry' itself or really challenging motives and perceptions prior to ill-guided voluntourism efforts?

How a Local Newspaper in India Is Empowering Rural Women to Write About Their Communities

Every year, international broadcaster Deutsche Welle holds a competition for the the best blogs produced over the past 12 months – this year, Khabar Laharia won the Global Media Forum Award. Jury member and blogger Rohini Lakshane called the paper “a shining example that a functioning democracy is dependent on access to information for all people.”
Very interesting example of the nexus between (women's) empowerment and local journalism from rural India!

Program Advisory for Social Cohesion

In the pursuit of a post-revolutionary society, the application of ICTs continues to hold great promise for creating opportunities that can similarly unite and engage disparate swaths of Tunisian society. But in the year following the revolution, how exactly to do so remained an open question. Seeking to inform the engagement of international donors in post-revolution Tunisia, infoDev asked Reboot to explore how various social, civic, and governmental institutions were using technology and, based on these institutional capacities, propose how they could deploy technology in the future to improve service delivery and social accountability.
Interesting insight into ReBoot's work and fascinating questions that they are going to analyze in their work.

Security provision in rapidly urbanising contexts: evidence from Nepal

On the one hand, higher rates of violent crime are generally seen in the larger urban centres, even though not all urban centres experience similar degrees of violence. At the same time however, the security and insecurity outcomes in a city are also the result of a complex range of socioeconomic, political and demographic factors, which can vary temporally, spatially, as well as be significantly different for different individuals or groups. Importantly, rapid urbanisation also brings with it a unique set of challenges, which has the potential to overwhelm key government services, including policing and security provision.
Jaideep Gupte and Subindra Bogati discuss how post-conflict Nepal is faced with new and different security challenges partly thanks to liberal peacebuilding and the spread of neoliberal ideas around urbanisation.

Dispatches: Summit Host's Misguided Spending

The attendees at the AU Summit should think about the poor of Equatorial Guinea as they discuss the theme of "food security" from the luxe facilities where they gather. If they have time, perhaps they can arrange to visit an even more extensive, and expensive, endeavor: the new city being built in a remote rainforest.
Human Rights Watch's Lisa Misol on how a development-related summit in Equatorial-Guinea invokes a tad bit of criticism around hypocrisy...EQ is also featured in 'The Secret World of Oil' which I reviewed a few weeks ago.

Development as career
52 pieces of advice for aspiring humanitarian workers

If the founder of an NGO says something like, “I was sitting at the market when a local boy, who couldn’t have been older than 8 came up to me…” followed by “…I was shocked and realised I had to do something about it,” get skeptical.
Love basically all 52 pieces of advice!

At leading development groups, uncertain times for staff

During one of the plenary sessions, recruiters from top organizations like RTI International, Engility or UNICEF made it quite clear that international staff is going to have a much harder time finding jobs in countries like Indonesia or the Philippines, where local capacity has been built and expats are just not as necessary as they used to be. That’s the downside, for some, of going local.
So the headline should probably read 'uncertain times for expat staff'...however, I have been hearing these claims for a while now and it would be interesting to get some empirical material: Are leading aid organizations reducing the number of expat (and non-local) staff-and at what speed/level?

Want a development data revolution? How about giving staff more autonomy?

So far the heated debate on the “data revolution” and the post2015 agenda has focused, for obvious reasons, on issues such as data quality, new targets and indicators, better feedback loops, open and big data, new approaches to monitoring and evaluation, etc. If we want more development sector “datavores”, should equal emphasis be put on data availability at key decision-making points (ie. close to the action) and staff autonomy to act on insights from those data?
Giulio Quagiotto asks an important question: Can (large) organization continue with their working styles as more data and new questions demand different approaches by data-minded staff?

Our Digital Lives
Everything We Know About Facebook's Secret Mood Manipulation Experiment

The experiment is almost certainly legal. In the company’s current terms of service, Facebook users relinquish the their data “data analysis, testing, [and] research.” Is it ethical, though? Since news of the study first emerged, I’ve seen and heard both privacy advocates and casual users express surprise at the audacity of the experiment.
Next time another round of 'tenured, lazy academics researching in their ivory towers' is shared in your networks remember that this can happen when corporations are in charge of their data. Imagine a college would run secret psychological experiments with students and would refer to small print in their admission policy where they 'consented' to be part of such experiments. Ethics processes are often difficult and time-consuming, but like most aspects of academic live they are actually dome for a reason...

Poor Data, Rich Data, Big Data, Chief

Is it specious to compare huge datasets from Google with Rivers’s collected genealogies? Both proceed from the same assumptions about the whole. After all, anthropological research on small populations of people living in putative isolation on islands was premised on the assumption that one could collect and understand everything about a simple society. Big Data builds a similar edifice upon massive computing power and the integration of networks. For Google, flu trends provides a window onto vectors of illness because it collects the whole of Google search data—an island, as it were, secured by a near-monopoly over Internet traffic. In addition, the problems of the genealogical methods are the problems of proxy data in general. Massive data can be collected, analyzed and correlated, but what do these data describe? When Rivers asks the Torres Strait islanders who their “proper” father is, how useful are those data? And if he’s managed to solicit genealogies out to five generations, what insights might he derive from these facts?
Samuel Gerald Collins compares the current 'big data' hype to the early anthropological comprehensive data collection efforts and asks for more and better contextualization.

‘Monster’ Myth Hides Complexity of Sexual Violence in Conflict, by Henri Myrttinen

Let us be clear, though, that understanding the dynamics does in no way mean condoning the deeds or lessening the perpetrators culpability. But labelling them simply as ‘deviant monsters’ is the easy way out, for it does not force us to look long and hard in the mirror as individuals and as societies and ask ourselves: what it is about our values and our actions and inactions that abets such crimes? All of these issues are on the table in London, and though the impact of a single conference should not be exaggerated, it is already a milestone that sexual violence is being debated at this level. However, no-one is served by an over-simplification of the issues. The issue is far too serious for that.
I included a link to a critical post on the London conference in last week's review, but it is worth to stress complexity, complexity & complexity time and again when it comes to issues that promise easy, moral responses.

Laurie Taylor on the endangered art of ethnography

It was on a winter’s evening during that very time when the celebrated feminist and sociologist of the family Mary McIntosh (who sadly died last year) found herself arriving just before midnight at Waterloo Station. On her way along the darkened platform, she passed what looked like a bundle of old clothes on a bench. As she came alongside the bundle, she heard a voice. “Goodnight, Mary,” it said. “Goodnight,” she said automatically. Only when she was out in the street did she realise that she had just wished goodnight to a former colleague, Pete Allen, who was – what else – hard at work on his ethnography of homeless men.
Laurie Taylor reflects on her engagement as chief judge for BBC's Thinking Allowed Ethnography award and the challenges that long-term ethnographic and qualitative research faces these days. 


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