Links & Contents I Liked 145

Hi all,

I am very glad that all of my friends, colleagues and acquaintances in Kathmandu and beyond are physically well after the earth quake. However, with one exceptional link, I will not share content about Nepal in this review; partly, because I have been overwhelmed in my news feeds and many good articles have been shared widely.
If you are a regular reader of this blog, you probably know your basic humanitarian disaster response 101.
So this week's review is pretty much a regular review, featuring Development news on how WHO and UN struggle with critique and organizational learning, some good readings on the 'data revolution' beyond numbers, framing local messages and critically engaging with 'digital humanitarians'; new readings on ICT4D, climate change and...(anti-)witches; Digital lives on engaging with books white people write & like; how men pretend to work 80-hour weeks & the age of mega-algorithms; and finally Academia on how an arms manufacturer took over a school in the UK; a thorough review of the academic precariat discussions &
an excellent, historically grounded critique of the critique of the 'factory model of education'.


New from aidnography
Of drones, encounters nothing short of life-changing & building a movement – how the BBC reports on ICT4D & technological solutionism

Catrin Nye’s reporting is a typical example of how uncritically even well-funded mainstream outlets like the BBC follow the technical solutionism narrative when it comes to humanitarian technology. No secondary sources seemed to be consulted for the report-no critical academic, activist or local voice were presented in the entire piece. Neither is there a single source from the humanitarian community who endorsed the project, let alone confirmed claims about a ‘movement’ in the making.

Last not least, in a week when US drones just killed two aid workers in Pakistan, it seems almost cynical that the man behind the project is a Air Force pilot and that there is not a single critical link between the American drone strikes and the humanitarian use of a similar technology.

All in all the article remains superficial and perpetuates many of the myths of how clever people in California will create a technology-driven ‘movement’ to solve humanitarian emergencies, or more precisely ‘to end starvation and medical deprivation as weapons of war’.
Development news
Open Letter to The Media, re: Nepal Earthquake

In approximately one year, the media is going too be all up in our grill.
Why? Because after a gazillion dollars in aid, Kathmandu will still not look like Singapore; some people will still be living in tents (as opposed to two-storey modular homes with Direct TV and WiFi); foreigners will have been seen going to meetings in white Land Cruisers; and, well, frankly no one was “accountable” or “transparent.” At least a few journalists will jump-start stagnating careers by writing books stridently critical of the aid industry (The Big Drone That Flew By, etc.) and at least two will claim to have been “the only foreign correspondent in Kathmandu at the time of the earthquake.” (They’ll refer to themselves as “earthquake survivors” in their bios and interviews.) At the one year anniversary, major networks will run specials on “where the money went” or “did aid really help Nepal?” Of course, a bunch of new INGOs (some started up by failed climbers) specifically focused on the earthquake will be interviewed and featured at length.
The one piece on media and the Nepal earth quake I want to share and you to read.

How WHO revised its self-criticism over Ebola handling

The World Health Organisation issued a fairly profound statement of the mistakes made in its own handling of the Ebola outbreak while pointing to the way forward this morning, which dropped into my email inbox at 09.21 UK time. Then just an hour later, it issued what it called a correction, but which was in fact a substantial revision of the document.
Probably the original statement had been sent prematurely, but correcting it - and toning it down - appears to have damaged some of the good feeling generated by the initial release.
I also gave the WHO some credits in my last link review for the initial statement as an important sign of organizational learning, but it seems that old bureaucratic habits die hard-and that the digital age offers new opportunities to document the 'life' of statements and how they arrive at a final, publishable stage-great stuff for organizational anthropologists!

UN aid worker suspended for leaking report on child abuse by French troops

Bea Edwards, of the Government Accountability Project, an international charity that supports whistleblowers, condemned the UN for its witch-hunt against a whistleblower who had acted to stop the abuse of children.
“We have represented many whistleblowers in the UN system over the years and in general the more serious the disclosure they make the more ferocious the retaliation,” said Edwards. “Despite the official rhetoric, there is very little commitment at the top of the organisation to protect whistleblowers and a strong tendency to politicise every issue no matter how urgent.”
Everybody likes to talk about 'transparency', 'accountability' and doing aid work for 'the next generation'-until it involves whistle blowing and allegedly violating 'protocol'...

Canadian Perspectives on International Development: Report of Results

Canadians want their government to take a leadership role in global poverty reduction, with 62% of Canadians agreeing that Canada should be one of the leading countries in providing international development.
The good Canadian people seem to be quite knowledgeable about development-luckily, the conservative governments doesn't have to listen when engaging in wars or supporting big energy industry-driven initiatives...

Exploring the role of research in the Data Revolution for development

The data revolution will continue irrespective of the political processes and other development processes we have. What the post 2015 discussion does is give us the vehicle to hook on to in terms of the importance of data so that we can promote the agenda of the importance of different types of data on the back of the post 2015 process. The reason it's important is that for the MDGs we had a set of global goals covering different aspects of poverty but for many of these goals we simply don't know whether each country has made progress.
The SDGs take that one massive leap further - they're broader, more complex, more numerous, they cover more topics, they're intended to be integrated and they're intended to be universal. So the data challenge has risen exponentially. We need to massively and significantly invest in different sorts of data to be able to track progress
Everybody wants to get aboard the 'data revolution' train...Between development policy discourses, real change and broad promises the 'data revolution' mirrors many aspects of previous discursive cycles in development...

A reading list for the data revolution

If you have sat through more than two conferences and workshops on the post-2015 development agenda or the Sustainable Development Goals (or tracked #SDGs or #data2015 on Twitter) you will be aware that there is a certain repetition of ideas. The same soundbites are recycled, and one report seemingly feeds of the other. I have compiled a list of books that may help you think outside the box if you are writing and thinking about the data revolution in development.
A lot of intellectual food for thought compiled by Morten Jerven.

How to reframe the #globaldev message: Local organizations telling their own story

Framing is strongly linked with (core) values. Your story. Your brand. Like Reinanke Haagsma of MDF Training and Consultancy pointed out in Vice Versa [Dutch]: “The Dutch debate of ‘reframing’ has moved in this direction, instead of remaining a discussion of a ‘fashion police’.” Rather than just focusing on the images that organizations use to portray their work, it is about thinking and working from your core values – and daring to stand for – in everything you do.
Judith Madigan shares some interesting insights into reframing the message of development and how it is more than 'better communication' and involves organizational values.

Book Review: Digital Humanitarians

I disagree with the strong link that Patrick makes between the activities of the digital volunteers and lives being saved. In my opinion this raises unrealistic expectations. In most cases digital humanitarians are involved in helping organisations improve situational awareness, and while this is an incredibly important and valuable task, most humanitarian organisations are not doing search and rescue, but are planning to respond to community needs. Better planning will save lives since resources can be allocated more efficiently, but it is incredibly rare that a social media update leads to the rescue of a specific person. Where it does happen, it is almost always due to the work of local disaster responders, rather than the support provided by international organizations. I understand that “Your works saves lives” is a better motivational tool than “Your work will be on a map or slide that someone might look at who coordinates people who save lives”. However, personally, I feel that toning down expectations would be more appropriate.
Timo Luege reviews Patrick Meier's book on Digital Humanitarians.

Hot off the digital press

The Impact of Research on Development Policy and Practice: This Much We Know

This chapter highlights the near absence of research into the nonacademic impact of ICT4D research within the ICT4D literature. It draws on studies in international development to review the literature on the impact of research on development policy and practice and reflects on the implications for ICT4D research. Noting the cultural and professional differences between researchers and practitioners as well as their differing perspectives of impact, it goes on to describe the dominant themes in the literature. ICT4D research is characterised as lacking in certain respects, which would tend to inhibit its capacity for policy impact, but having overcome these, further adjustments to research conduct and culture are implied for such impact to emerge. Consequential recommendations include revised incentive structures for academic institutions as well as closer engagement between researchers and practitioners.
It rarely happens that I link to a book from Springer, but this one is *open access* and looks interesting and relevant for the ICT4D research community!

Nexus for ICTs, Climate Change & Development (NICCD)

This page provides links to two online books which draw together all of the materials produced by the "Climate Change, Innovation and ICTs" project.
Themes and Strategic Actions Book
ICTs, Climate Change and Development: Themes and Strategic Actions - Analyses evidence and makes recommendations for policy and practice at the ICCD intersection including: scoping study, conceptual framework, analysis of eight ICCD thematic domains, policy guidance chapter, three strategy briefings, and outline of future research agenda

Case Evidence Book
ICTs, Climate Change and Development: Case Evidence - Presents twenty new case studies on ICTs, climate change and development in the topic areas of: disaster management, new routes to adaptation, agricultural adaptation, mitigation, monitoring and strategy
Interesting topic-lots of open access material.

The Anti-Witch by Jeanne Favret-Saada

Jeanne Favret-Saada is arguably one of France’s most brilliant anthropologists, and The Anti-Witch is nothing less than a masterpiece. A synthesis of ethnographic theory and psychoanalytic revelation, where the line between researcher and subject is blurred—if not erased—The Anti-Witch develops the contours of an anthropology of therapy, while deeply engaging with what it means to be caught in the logic of witchcraft. Through an intimate and provocative sharing of the ethnographic voice with Madame Flora, a “dewitcher,” Favret-Saada delivers a critical challenge to some of anthropology’s fundamental concepts.
I fully and openly admit that you need to be a bit of a connoisseur of classic anthropological writing to fully enjoy this book; it's complicated, stimulating and will leave you with more questions than answers-perfect to scar undergrad audiences and shock other students, colleagues and friends ;)!

Our digital lives

I read books by only minority authors for a year. It showed me just how white our reading world is.

Technology has opened up our literary options, giving readers access to more international books and more diverse authors than could be stuffed into any local bookstore. But if online retailers and the publishing industry continue to rely on old habits — seeking out the same kinds of books and promoting the same kinds of authors — readers will be denied the richly varied experiences that literature offers. Particularly in the era of globalization, when we must increasingly interact with and understand cultures other than our own, the status quo is simply unacceptable.
I realize now that in declaring I would spend a year reading books written by nonwhite authors, I became part of a movement calling for a pretty modest transformation: better representation of who we are in books that are published, reviewed and read. We no longer live in a time when marginalized people are voiceless. Instead, we have the opportunity to ensure that those voices are amplified. People of all cultures and backgrounds have valuable experiences and universal ideas to share, and we all stand to gain when those voices are heard.
Sunili Govinnage on how in a world of digital access to 'everything', certain platforms, algorithms and pre-digital regulations prevent us from enjoying the full spectrum of non-mainstream, culturally diverse reading experiences.

Why Some Men Pretend to Work 80-Hour Weeks

My research revealed that men were just as likely as women to have trouble with these “always on” expectations. However, men often coped with these demands in ways that differed strikingly. Women who had trouble with the work hours tended to simply to take formal accommodations, reducing their work hours, but also revealing their inability to be true ideal workers, and they were consequently marginalized within the firm. In contrast, many men found unobtrusive, under-the-radar ways to alter the structure of their work (such as cultivating mostly local clients, or building alliances with other colleagues), such that they could work predictable schedules in the 50 to 60 hour range. In doing so, they were able to work far less than those who fully devoted themselves to work, and had greater control over when and where those hours were worked, yet were able to “pass” as ideal workers, evading penalties for their noncompliance.
Erin Reid shares findings from her research on organizational work-live(?)-balances - definitely food for thought for the aid industry as well!

From Mega-Machines to Mega-Algorithms

This flexibility, this ability to reconfigure and appropriate additional parts of life extends the mega-algorithm’s power further than that of the mega-machine. The technologies of the mega-algorithm disguise human labor by hiding it in plain sight. Every action has the potential to be labor, if it can be processed in the right way. Even the sanctity of our home is not safe from intrusion.
In a Jacobin article about Coursera’s project, Geoff Shullenberger coined the term “voluntariat” to describe these volunteer laborers. “The voluntariat,” he writes, “performs skilled work that might still command a wage without compensation, allegedly for the sake of the public good, regardless of the fact that it also contributes directly and unambiguously to the profitability of a corporation.”
Jathan Sadowski reflects on our algorithmic existence and digital life-world. Great essay!


Europe’s biggest arms firm BAE takes on failing academy

The government has chosen an arms manufacturer as its preferred sponsor to turn around a failing academy in the north of England.
BAE Systems – Europe’s biggest arms company, turning over £15.4bn last year – is set to take over Furness Academy in Barrow, Cumbria, in September.
It has set up a trust to run the school under its submarine-building arm, which is based in the town.
Britain follows the well-established mantra that the 'private sector' can deliver public services better, more efficient etc. An arms manufacturer running a high school-what could possibly go wrong in such a scenario?!

The age of precarity and the new challenges to the academic profession

Neoliberalism has had destructive effects on the academic profession. While full-time academic employment has always been a privilege for a few, the academic precariat has risen as a reserve army of workers with ever shorter, lower paid, hyper-flexible contracts and ever more temporally fragmented and geographically displaced hyper-mobile lives. Under the pressure to ‘publish or perish’ a growing stratification between research and teaching has emerged. It has made academic work more susceptible to market pressures, and less – to public accountability. Focusing on a recent call for ‘casual researchers’ issued by Oxford University the paper indicates how the growing competition for scarcer resources has made academics finally aware of the inequalities engendered by neoliberal capitalism, but still incapable to mobilize.
Much has been written about neoliberalism and academia, but Mariya Ivancheva's article is a good, well-referenced summary and overview over many key debates.
The Invented History of 'The Factory Model of Education'

Arguments over what public education should look like and what purpose public education should serve – God, country, community, the economy, the self – are not new. These battles have persisted – frequently with handwringing about education’s ongoing failures – and as such, they have shaped and yes changed, what happens in schools.
Many education reformers today denounce the “factory model of education” with an appeal to new machinery and new practices that will supposedly modernize the system. That argument is now and has been for a century the rationale for education technology.
And so too we’ve invented a history of “the factory model of education” in order to justify an “upgrade” – to new software and hardware that will do much of the same thing schools have done for generations now, just (supposedly) more efficiently, with control moved out of the hands of labor (teachers) and into the hands of a new class of engineers, out of the realm of the government and into the realm of the market.
A great long-read by Audrey Watters concludes this week's review; she provides an excellent, historically grounded critique of the critique of the 'factory model of education' with implications for stagnation, change and the 'digital revolutions' of today.


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