Links & Contents I Liked 125

Hello all,

Between the beginning of a new semester that gained momentum a bit too quickly and our forthcoming Voice & Matter international Communication for Development conference, this week's link edition has more of a snack size-but that may actually be quite nice for some weekend reading suggestions.

Development news focuses on issues around 'non-governmental organizations'-from foreign influence in U.S. think tanks to the NGO-ization of resistance and simple tips for community engagement. Our digital lives features neat overviews over big data & development and a curated collection of key debates around 'Internet'. And Academia & Anthropology features alternative development studies readings, business ethnography insights and a thorough critique of voluntourism in the contemporary neoliberal context.


New from aidnography

The UN’s technocratic answer to the ‘data revolution’

In the end, the UN seems to have chosen a technocratic route-not entirely surprisingly, but hopefully not an indication that ‘data’ is on its way to become the next ‘box ticked’ next to ‘gender’ or ‘participation’…
Voice & Matter Festival 2014: Welcome to the cross-border C4D & ICT4D extravaganza!
Join me and the approximately 200 colleagues, students, friends, academics & practitioners that have already signed up for Voice & Matter - online or on site in the Danish-Swedish Öresund region!
Development news
Foreign Powers Buy Influence at Think Tanks

The money is increasingly transforming the once-staid think-tank world into a muscular arm of foreign governments’ lobbying in Washington. And it has set off troubling questions about intellectual freedom: Some scholars say they have been pressured to reach conclusions friendly to the government financing the research.
The article has been shared and discussed widely this week; first and foremost I think that the NYT overstates the influence of Think Tanks in general and development-related ones in particular. I also find the case of Norwegian influence on CGD not exactly shocking or alarming. And Think Tanks who cooperate with rich, autocratic regimes must know what they are getting themselves into. All in all, this story seems to be a bit blown out of proportions and seems to cast development and foreign policy think tanks in the same light as 'lobbyists' although their actual damage, especially from the military and resource industry complex is much, much bigger and much, much more detrimental.

Canada Largest Contributor To Deforestation Worldwide: Study

“There is no political will at federal or provincial levels for conserving primary forests,” Peter Lee of Forest Watch Canada told “Most logging done in Canada is still to this day done in virgin forests.”
As Canada is continuing to destroy the 'evil' think tank and development (research) lobby, its environmental record becomes worse in many fields.

The NGO-ization of resistance

Eventually–on a smaller scale, but more insidiously–the capital available to NGOs plays the same role in alternative politics as the speculative capital that flows in and out of the economies of poor countries. It begins to dictate the agenda. It turns confrontation into negotiation. It depoliticizes resistance. It interferes with local peoples’ movements that have traditionally been self-reliant. NGOs have funds that can employ local people who might otherwise be activists in resistance movements, but now can feel they are doing some immediate, creative good (and earning a living while they’re at it).
Real political resistance offers no such short cuts. The NGO-ization of politics threatens to turn resistance into a well-mannered, reasonable, salaried, 9-to-5 job. With a few perks thrown in. Real resistance has real consequences. And no salary.
Arundhati Roy certainly has a point about some of the detrimental effects of corporatization or professionalization of development work and some of the shifts of NGOs becoming apolitical employment vehicles. I realize that this is a short, slightly polemical piece, but I wonder whether global advocacy, humanitarian and development work or the alternative avenues that even salaried NGOs can offer to young people can be covered by 'NGO-ization'.

Children in Nepal orphanages 'at risk of abuse'

Private orphanages have mushroomed across Nepal in the absence of a state-run welfare system, their growth fuelled by corruption and the prospect of attracting donations from foreigners, activists say.
Agents recruit children from rural Nepal for a fee, promising their parents a good education in a private school in the city. Once in the shelter, the children are passed off as orphans in the hope of attracting donations for their care, mainly from well-meaning foreigners, according to activists.
Not exactly news for those who have been keeping an eye on developments in Nepal, but good to see that the topic reaches mainstream online outlets such as Yahoo via AFP news.

Six Key Findings on the Use of Theories of Change in International Development

The Theory of Change approach is becoming a pervasive part of development practice: as an artefact, as a management tool, and increasingly as a common discourse which implementers use to explain and explore their interventions. My new JSRP paper, ‘Theories of Change in international development: communication, learning or accountability?’ seeks to address a critical gap in understanding the actual effects of using a Theory of Change approach in international development work and considers how the approach may be better understood, if its aim is to improve development policy and practice.
Excellent overview/primer on the 'theories of change' buzzword in the context of development.

10 Lessons I have learned as a community development worker

Although I was born and raised in Uganda, it has not been my home for 25 years. this means that I don’t always understand the ways in which the country has changed/evolved and this has implications for the work that I do
Ida Horner shares some very basic tips on development work...I like them, because they actually apply to many areas of life and you can replace 'community development' with 'teaching' or 'research' or 'ethnography' and you would get similar results-the basics of reflective work are actually not rocket science...

Our digital lives

What Is Big Data?

“Big Data.” It seems like the phrase is everywhere. The term was added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2013, appeared in Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary by 2014, and Gartner’s just-released 2014 Hype Cycle shows “Big Data” passing the “Peak of Inflated Expectations” and on its way down into the “Trough of Disillusionment.” Big Data is all the rage. But what does it actually mean?
Interesting overview-although it looks as if just over 30 of the 42 respondents are men...

Cyber-Utopians versus Cyber-Skeptics

To kick off my new season I thought I would share some interesting videos I have found from key academics in the field of social media and the internet.
David Girling curated a great selection of talks that address crucial debates around 'the Internet'-highly recommended for teaching & students!

Big data and positive social change in the developing world: white paper (PDF)

This white paper was produced by a group of activists, researchers and data experts who met at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Centre to discuss the question of whether, and how, big data is becoming a resource for positive social change in low- and middle
-income countries (LMICs). Our working definition of big data includes, but is not limited to, sources such as social media, mobile phone use, digitally mediated transactions, the online news media, and administrative records. It can be categorised as data that is
provided explicitly (e.g. social media feedback); data that is observed (e.g. mobile phone call records); and data that is inferred and derived by algorithms (for example social network structure or inflation rates). We defined four main areas where big data has potential for those interested in promoting positive social change: advocating and facilitating; describing and predicting; facilitating information exchange and promoting accountability and transparency.
Excellent overview over data & development debates!

Academia & Anthropology
EPIC2014 New York Sept 7-10, 2014 Conference Proceedings (PDF)

The EPIC Conference promotes the use of ethnographic investigations and principles in the study of human behavior as they are applied in business settings.
By understanding people, what they do, how they do it and how these change over time, we can create better business strategies, processes and products, as well as enhance and simplify people’s lives.
Beyond this, the conference aspires to promote the integration of rigorous methods and theory from multiple disciplines into business practices; to advocate business decisions based upon sound research; to promote public recognition of practicing ethnography as a profession; and to support the continuing professionalization of the field.
A solid 305-page document with interesting papers in the context of anthropology, ethnography and business (intelligence).

Voluntourism as Neoliberal Humanitarianism

Overview: Tristan Biehn examines the new imperial ideologies present in narratives manufactured by the websites of youth-centred volunteer abroad organizations. These narratives serve to instil neoliberal, capitalist understandings of the issues of global inequality and poverty in prospective volunteers, resulting in the depoliticization and decontextualization of such issues. Biehn finds that ideas of “change” and “good” are ubiquitous and yet are left undefined, that claims of “helping” and “immersion” are questionable, and that the utility of international student volunteering lies not in the benevolent donation of unskilled western youth labour to underprivileged communities, but in the production of ideal neoliberal subjects. The nebulous concepts of help and change are commodified and made the responsibility of individuals—the prospective volunteers—who are inundated with the message that actions taken to end global inequality will also benefit them personally. As Biehn explains, such programs contribute to the neoliberal project of redirecting efforts from the pursuit of larger structural changes or solutions to these issues.
Interesting piece and food for debate in the debate around 'voluntourism'.

Which development studies books should students read?

In addition to the books you’ll find on most university reading lists, there are other titles waiting to be discovered. From your recommendations via Twitter, we’ve compiled a list of 10 books to read, many of which were released in the past year.
Definitely a refreshing extension of the usual development studies teaching reading list!


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