Links & Contents I Liked 131

Hi all,

It's the busy marking season, plus I pulled many muscles from eyeball-rolling and hand-wringing over Ebola-Christmas-Song-gate, but finally there is a new, substantial link-review for our enjoyment ;)!

In tech/development/comms news we look at dumping smartphones in Liberia, contraband-smuggling in Colombia, depoliticised state capacity building, a new blog with critical 'white saviour' reflections, the power of Infographics, Buzzfeed vs. WHO tweet-off, Ebola & C4D and a ritualized UN data report summary. Digital lives features a great long-read on Anonymous's nerd activism. Academia & anthropology approaches important questions such as: Why is research hidden behind paywalls? Why is anthropology faculty mostly white? Why should you live tweet from academic conferences and why should you do a PhD?


New from aidnography
Celebrities – the trolls of (virtual) global development?

But then I heard a distant knock on the my development blogging door and as an inner voice urged me to keep that door shut. I opened it nonetheless and let them in: The celebrity development trolls who usually operate on a strange reverse-hibernating system and wake up as important festivities in the Northern part of the planet are quickly approaching, e.g. Thanksgiving, Christmas or Hanukkah,…
Old* from aidnography
Nepal, orphanages and XL-voluntourism: Conor Grennan's 'Little Princes' and the complexities of development (October 2011) 

Is Coca-Cola a social enterprise now? Why ‘development’ needs to be more critical with global corporations (November 2012)

100 weekly link reviews later: Why I still like curating #globaldev content (November 2013)
*After more than 300 posts and 3 years of blogging I decided to feature selected, interesting older posts that I wrote approximately 1, 2 or 3 years ago-partly to remind myself of 'good old days', partly to see which issues are still discussed and partly because new readers and students have joined and can find easier access to my blog archive.

Development news

Dumping Smartphones on West Africa is a Bad Idea
(this story no longer seems to be available online)

One of the big problems in Liberia is not “people don’t have access to smartphones.” People do. Health workers, teachers, that type of person can get access to a phone that is pretty OK. They may not have data – because the networks are thin. But the problem is not lack of devices.
There is a big problem with lack of information – and lack of data – but you don’t get that by dropping More Devices on an already broken system – you get data, and information, by working with what people are already doing, and making it better.
'Tis the season where people get ready to give generously...for example Amazon phones to Liberia. But as a person who is involved in the project engages in the debate, the discussion becomes more interesting and nuanced:
I’m one of the guys behind the Ebola Care project.
This project has been tested extensively in Liberia with organisations on the ground. The results have been really great and useful to those organisations. The request to scale it to more phones can from aid organizations fighting Ebola in Liberia.
Due to the scale of the requirement we reached out to potential donors, and Amazon kindly agreed to donate phones.
The Emerging Power of Giving in Africa
Strategic support mechanisms, thought leaders, and innovative best practices are key to creating and sustaining a giving culture across the continent. Already, a new generation of leaders and support institutions are emerging to advocate for increased individual and corporate giving and responsibility in response to the development challenges still confronting Africa.
David Barnard on encouraging trends in African philanthropy-as always, it remains to be seen how much they replicate previous/Western models and how transformative the really are as capitalism is also changing in many African countries...

Cucuta: Colombia's Contraband City

However, attempts to take down the contraband mafias are already running into the same wall as the fight against drug trafficking -- while the profits are there, then it does not matter how many arrests they make, or how many networks they dismantle, the trade continues.
"You capture some, and others are still there, and so it goes on," said Lt Coronel Carrero.
This article is the first in a four-part series looking at the contraband trade in Colombia. Read part two, on how contraband politics took over northeast Colombia; part three, which looks at how police confront the smugglers' so-called "caravans of death," and part four, which traces how contraband became Colombian organized crime's tool of choice for laundering money.
My friend James Bargent has a great four-part series on contraband smuggling in Colombia on Insight Crime right now!

Doing Development Differently: Report Back from Two Mind-Blowing Days at Harvard

Namely, what are the politics of all this? For all its talk of understanding context, politics etc, the overall discussion felt extremely technocratic. Understanding politics appears to be mainly of instrumental value in that it helps you implement a reform programme more effectively, but there was little discussion on who decides the content of the programme. So are we talking about tweaks or transformation? Is everything win-win, or are there sometimes conflicts because someone loses out? Does it matter whether we apply these approaches in an autocracy or a democracy? Apparently not. A few times I raised the issue of power and social justice, and how it distorts relationships and policy choices, but should be at the centre of what we do, but this was largely shrugged off – I’m starting to realize how gender advisers must feel.
Duncan Green on recurring and remaining questions around 'Building State Capacity'.

Casting off the White Savior Complex

I entered Peru with arrogant attitudes about what I could bring to the table as an outsider without any special skill set. Over several months, I learned that Peruvians are some of the hardest working people I know. I realized that I will never understand the intricacies of a country and a culture as well as someone who grew up there. I learned how hard it is for NGOs in developing countries to do good work when they remain subject to the whims of donor politics. I learned that I can’t save anyone, but that I can humble myself, listen, roll up my sleeves, and get to work alongside these leaders. In other words, I learned to cast off the white savior complex I didn’t even know I was wearing.
Stephanie Buck's new blogging project is definitely a great space to explore, share and think and I look forward to reading regular updates!

World Health Organization includes BuzzFeed on internal blacklist e-mail: ‘BuzzFeed is banned’

On Tuesday, BuzzFeed reporter Tasneem Nashrulla sent an e-mail to WHO communications officer Laura Bellinger. She wanted to know why the news outlet hadn’t been added to WHO’s Ebola situation e-mail distribution list as requested.
It seems that the issue between Buzzfeed and WHO has been resolved by now, but it is nonetheless an interesting case study on changing news media (Buzzfeed is more than just listicles), organizational cultures (Buzzfeed's vs. WHO's communication speeds) and the fact that 'Ebola' is as much part of the news cycle as celebrity gossip or a swimming baby otter-and may be discussed accordingly without moral judgement or intellectual superiority...great case study for the classroom!

DFID, Social Media and Infographics

I asked the team if social media had helped improve relationships with other organisations. They said that they regularly receive or send direct messages to other organisations to share and promote information and that this had undoubtedly improved relationships. I don’t know why I’d never thought about this more deeply before. To me, as an individual, social media and particularly Twitter has been an invaluable tool for networking and this is equally or maybe even more important for global organisations who share similar goals or values. It’s hard to put a value on this but I hope senior managers appreciate how immensely important this kind of networking is in a digital age.
David Girling on the value of communicating through/with infographics in the British aid context.

Ebola and the Role of C4D

Finally, I would like to add a third reason why C4D is not easily “mainstreamed” in major institutions. C4D is a “rebel” discipline, one that it does not fit very well in rigid structures and predetermined timelines. C4D practitioners are, for the most part, highly committed individuals who like to practice what they preach. Hence, if people participation is at the core of C4D, the rules and structures guiding development processes are often challenged and by-passed.
Nevertheless, while results in C4D (that is change in social norms, attitudes and behaviours) take time and are not always easily quantifiable, there is enough evidence to show that they lead to sustainable results.
It is quite ironic to see how, despite all the evidence demonstrating the value and key role of C4D, such an area of expertise is taken seriously mostly when there is a major emergency.
Paolo Mefalopulos outlines some key C4D challenges that probably many of us who work in the field have come across on a regular basis...

Hot off the (digital) press

Data Revolution Report

The IEAG report makes specific recommendations on how to address these challenges, calling for a UN-led effort to mobilise the data revolution for sustainable development
I have not had time to digest the report properly, but the summary follows established UN policy rituals and uses well-known phrases and discourses from the development dictionary which doesn't make me very excited to explore it in detail...

Our digital lives

The Truth About Anonymous’s Activism

Despite its anointing by Coleman, Anonymous is not a vanguard; it’s the relic of an already twice-failed dream. Anonymous is the latest and most dysfunctional marriage between a particular strain of countercultural utopianism and the boundless faith in technology that first appeared in the 1960s. Fred Turner, in From Counterculture to Cyberculture, traces the evolution of what he calls the New Communalism into contemporary techno-optimism. In the 1960s, the New Communalists became convinced that traditional political action wasn’t working. They attempted to create utopian communes removed from society in order to practice the “politics of consciousness.” The commune movement collapsed, but by the 1980s some of its most prominent adherents had seized on the burgeoning Internet.
When Coleman steps away from the screen and narrates her own increasing entanglement with Anonymous, the story takes on a refreshing humanity. We see an intelligent and compassionate researcher struggling to reconcile her many roles. A visit to CSIS, the Canadian CIA, turns into a nerve-racking tightrope walk as Coleman balances her desire not to inadvertently snitch on Anonymous with her curiosity about its sworn enemies in state intelligence. By the end, this small personal drama seems a thousand times more meaningful than the tiresome blow-by-blows of Anonymous’s digital skirmishes.
Adrian Chen reviews Gabriella Coleman'snew book on 'Anonymous' in this excellent long-read on digital activism and culture.

Wearables and how we measure ourselves through social media | Jill Walker Rettberg | TEDxBergen

Jill researches the ways in which people tell stories online, looking at blogging, games and participatory media. She gives her talk about how we see and shape ourselves through technology by using selfies, blogs and wearable devices.
Jill is a Professor of Digital Culture, and she researches ways in which people tell stories online, looking at electronic literature, blogging, games and participatory media. She was born in Australia, but has lived in Norway since the age of 8. She is an avid blogger, and started her research blog in October 2000.
I'm not the biggest promoter of TED(x) talks, but my colleague Jill Rettberg's talk provides a great overview over digital culture, live and measurements.

How Big Data sucked the soul out of Democratic politics

The application to politics is obvious. Leaping off a bunch of data-supported techniques that surely work well in isolation, the party hacks have made politics — as well as the party and its candidates — deeply irritating.
Furthermore, the ideological mindset of Big Data as applied to politics seems frankly undemocratic. Voters are seen as little more than subjects for scientific experimentation, with our data puppet-masters seeking the correct mix of nudges, focus-grouped slogans, and micro-targeted pitches to get voters to do what they want.
The issues are a bit more complex than Ryan Cooper's op-ed suggests, but he has a point that Obama's 2008 campaign success seems so much more natural than today's datavised approaches to create the 'right' voters and analyse them merely to death...

Academia & Anthropology

Why Isn't Academic Research Free to Everyone?

Copyright, on the other hand, is a time-limited monopoly on the right to sell the result of intellectual labor. Because academics do not need to sell their work, they also don't need the economic protections of copyright. Publishers do (if they sell work) but academics don't.
What academics want is reputational protection. They want to be cited. Open licensing provides a way in which academics can let others use their work more liberally than if it were covered totally by copyright but always with the demand for attribution, which fuels their systems of prestige, hiring, etc.
If you work in academia these debates are not new, but the article provides a good introduction and overview over publishing issues and dilemmas in our times.

Why Technology Belongs in a Classroom

Banning technology from a classroom might help me maintain higher levels of focus in the moment, but it’s not helping me learn how to be focused in an always on world. If anything, it’s pretending that world doesn’t exist. If we’re going to prepare young people to be productive members of society while in college, I don’t think we should block the environment of the real world from their education.
Today’s educators need to understand where technology enhances classroom experiences and where it hinders it, so we can build programs that support both. More importantly, educators need to accept that sometimes technology doesn’t enhance or detract – it is just present as part of a new normal that we need to adjust to.
David Kelly makes an important point about technology in the classroom. I'm certainly biased because I often teach in practically empty classrooms with broadcasting equipment and a few students with laptops who chat with online peers-so technology is always on my mind and mostly works with/for me...

Why do we need to have so many meetings?

In business, however, meetings have become something resembling the mythological hydra. As senior team members vie for visibility to preserve their place within the organization, this creates circular discussions where decisions are delayed and time is wasted as people take the floor to posture. A multi-headed beast emerges where each head has its own objectives and goals, and is resistant to consolidating resources or information because it detracts from any singular individual’s position. Meetings don’t move us forward; they lack closure.
Some anthropological, yet unsurprising, insights into the rituals around 'meetings'.

Anthropology: It’s still white public space–An interview with Karen Brodkin (Part I)

The short answer is that anthropology is still white public space, especially in the consistently different ways that white and racialized minority anthropologists see race and racism in anthropology departments and universities. This is my reading of results of the 2013 online survey of the AAA membership
Anthropology departments collectively enact mainstream forms of race avoidance by not seeing racism, and by refusing to acknowledge that race matters in its practices. White anthropologists think their departments and universities are serious and effective in racial diversity efforts; that grievance procedures work; that their departments and schools took advantage of diversity incentives for minority students and that the overall racial climate is good.
Karen Brodkin shares some findings from a AAA survey on race and other attributes that impact anthropology's diversity.

Let’s have a discussion about live-tweeting academic conferences

At the end of the day, there are three major points I want to make. 1) Live-tweeting conferences is awesome. For yourself, it can be used as a notebook or broadcast mechanism (think science communication). For researchers not able to make it to the conference, it lets them enjoy it vicariously from afar. For non-academics, it provides great insight into the world of research. This is something I’m sure we all want as the ‘open movement’, or whatever, gains momentum. 2) When it comes to potentially contentious issues like this, where the debate is clearly polarised, we should opt for the route that advocates guidance, and respect for our colleagues. Not recklessness and disregard. There is much power in open engagement, as opposed to trying to impose a top-down approach based on an individual ideology. It’s easy to forget this when using social media.
Jon Tennant has started an interesting debate-and I'm glad that he is calling for common sense and more (not less) openness when tweeting about academic conferences. The fact that many large conferences do not even offer Internet access in smaller panel rooms is ridiculous and adds to my decision to attend as few mega-conferences as possible...

PhD Reality Check

For those considering entering a doctoral program or those currently in one
Logan Cochrane shares some very clear, hands-on insights into key issues around having a successful PhD experience which adds nicely to my classic post Should I consider a PhD in International Development Studies?


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