My development blogging review 2014

Dear all,

I publish my fourth annual personal development blogging review (the ones from 2011, 2012 & 2013 are still available) at the end of my first full year as Senior Lecturer in Communication for Development at Malmö University-and to start with a pre- rather than a review: You can still apply to our 2-year part-time blended learning MA until 15 January 2015!

Aidnography as a small, permanent writing retreat

Amidst traveling to and on three different continents with our Glocal Classroom, laying the foundations for exciting collaborations with UNICEF's C4D teams, new research, new courses and continuing engaging with a fantastic group of colleagues and students, my blog has become something of a small permanent writing retreat for me; in an environment that is often influenced by Swedish Higher Education rules and regulations, formalities of research applications and requirements from the academic publication process the blog continues to be a space for shorter, less formalized and less structured writing that-judging by some of the core metrics-engages with a growing global audience.

As in previous years my posts cover an eclectic mix of topics and communication about development as well as aid work as a professional industry may emerge as two core themes.
Over the course of the year my 28 link reviews have reflected the shift-I am more intrigued by digital (communication) culture and less by traditional ethnography (even if the the blog's title originally referred to Gould's understanding of an ethnography of aid).

As in previous years, I want to highlight a few core areas and themes that have occupied my thinking in 2014, from questions around re- and de-politicizing the data-driven development discourse to broader issues of Northern development cooperation, struggles of organizational and individual learning (especially when 'celebrities' are involved...) and new and growing popular representations of development.

Can the digital, technological & datafied humanitarian and development revolution/'revolution' become political?

Morten Jerven's The problem with the data revolution in four Venn diagrams and Claire Melamed's response to his recent post continue to add to an important debate about the bureaucratic nature of how key development players engage with the 'data revolution'. I am not sure whether the development community will be able to find a third way between repeating 'Western' mistakes when it comes to privacy, data ownership and the surveillance state and turning the 'digital revolution' into the next tyranny.
Uma Kothari wrote more than 10 years ago about the emerging 'tyranny of participation' (here is a neat summary of the book) and her points seem very much applicable to the debate around digital development:

Participatory development can for this reason encourage:
1) Reassertion of control and power by dominant stakeholders
2) The reification of social norms and fake consensus building
3) Purification of knowledge and space
4) Emphasis on performance with limited possibilities of subversion
The debates on how new technologies and more data will challenge power and empower citizens will continue in the future and will only be intensified when humanitarian technology enters the picture with ethical questions around UAVs, 3D printing or mapping.

The 'silent', less visible decline of development cooperation (?)

Canada's crackdown on its development civil society and the political shifts in Scandinavia are probably two issues that I found under-discussed in the digital development sphere. They are indications that traditional development cooperation is changing-and not necessarily for the better. Development communication and education always take place 'at home' as well and industry- (read: corporation-) friendly development policy shifts the focus from looking at inequality, injustice, the military- and development-industrial complex and other unsustainable approaches to focus on growth and spreading unhealthy consumerism.

A long way for (organizational) learning

Save The Children's Award for Tony Blair
, a certain Bob Geldof
engaging constructively with his critics ('It’s a pop song, it’s not a doctoral thesis. [Critics] can f*** off.') or Nick Kristof lending his brand to a converted volutourism activist (
'It’s too easy to take a shot at the do-gooder who is just starting out')-we have seen quite a few recurring issues that have been discussed in great detail, including the superb news that Invisible Children will close shop in 2015! No matter how much philanthrocapitalist management language they use to sell this as success, it will secure their place in the hall of shame of development projects gone bad and hopefully a warning for the generation DIY aid...but the difficulties in being transparent about challenges, mistakes or problems are often associated with large NGOs that struggle in a competitive market for fundraising, corporate managerial demands and being located as non-governmental organizations in the (civil) society. ProPublica did an excellent job in reporting on the American Red Cross' post-Sandy challenges that reveal the challenges of many big players. These challenges are also debated in-country as a recent discussion from Cambodia shows ('If we INGOs are not thinking about our role in the future, we are not helping Cambodia').

More and new popular representations of development & journalism

One of my ongoing research projects continues to take a look at aid worker biographies, fictional and non-fictional representations of development and the growing genre of aid work(er) satire and parodies. I added more book reviews to the blog and hopefully next year I will be able to synthesize some of my reflections into a proper article.

Even if development engages a relatively small community, I found this year offered a particularly good coverage by a variety of media, from Al-Jazeera to the Guardian or the Global Post and even Buzzfeed that ended a kerfuffle with the WHO peacefully. And then there is Medium as go-to resource for good stuff on digital developments in society-in short, a diverse range of individuals and organizations cover 'development' outside the mainstream-and the encounter between the WHO and Buzzfeed shows that communications staff need to prepare for these digital changes as a topic like 'Ebola' becomes news and is no longer reported by/through traditional journalists-probably a topic worth another article...


I think 2015 calls for a return of Stuff Expat Aidworkers Like!

But more seriously, there will be quite a few high-profiled global development events/conferences and hopefully there will be time for more research on how global development policy-making interacts with digital and social media!

And I am also sure that there will be plenty of surprises-which will keep blogging exciting and I look forward to those unplanned events that trigger a response!

In the meantime I am wishing you happy holidays-and I would like to thank all of you for your virtual engagement, critical comments and for reading and sharing posts which is always appreciated and in an academic world of long, usually critical feedback loops, a great way to motivate me to get behind the desk continue my humble tales from the world of digital communication for, about and in development!



Aidnography's 2014 posts (in reverse chronological order)

Chasing Chaos: My decade in and out of humanitarian aid (book review)

Learning organization #fail: Save The Children’s PR to defend Blair is almost worse than award itself

Why Save The Children’s Global Legacy Award to Tony Blair matters for C4D

Celebrities – the trolls of (virtual) global development?

The future of expats in a globalized development industry-Reflections on the Devex Career Forum

Are 80 million potential voluntourists, slacktivists & DIY humanitarians the future of charity?
Should the voices of senior consultants feature more prominently in public debates on international development?

Celebrity development bullshit bingo-Victoria Beckham UNAIDS Goodwill Ambassador appointment speech edition

Is paying 7,500 pounds for an ebook the future of Open Access?

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

There always needs to be a product: 'Self-reflection', volunteering & the emerging development entertainment industrial complex

Letters Left Unsent (book review)

It’s about the thesis-PhD and PWFP (People With Formal Power)

I’m getting tired of ‘corporatization’ claims regarding the development industry

Former German minister for development becomes arms lobbyist-why it matters for #globaldev

Are we doomed to repeat every North-South development mistake globally like #SWEDOW?

The Secret World of Oil (book review)

Shame (book review & discussion with author Jillian Reilly)

Burkas, ballots & the unbearable lightness of democratic rituals

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

Performing Peace-building: Conferences, Rituals and the Role of Ethnographic Research

ICT4D after Snowden

Nick Kristof, professors with smart minds and lots of impact are already active outside the policy bubble!


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