Links & Contents I Liked 160

Hi all,

Development news starts with a strange interview with UN’s USG for Humanitarian Affairs who is quite happy with the system and himself…; reflections from the WHS conference; global North dominates development research; transforming Ethiopia through self-help groups; South Africa and education ICT band-aids; new project on the interface between development research, education & practice.
Great new readings on social media and power in Haiyan recovery; special Cultural Anthropology issue on ‘Aftershocked’ Nepal; new guide to re-imagine activism.
Digital lives with more philanthrocapitalism; Twitter & abuse; and a HBR non-essay on ‘why organizations don’t learn’.
Academia reveals that MOOCs don’t run themselves and educate everybody by itself and a Malmö colleague reflects on how to academic outreach can be tricky in Sweden…


New from aidnography

New journal article on peacebuilding and anthropology

Nikolas Kosmatopolous and I are very happy that our special section on anthropology and peacebuilding will be published in the forthcoming issue of Peacebuilding.
Development news
Q&A: ‘UN doesn’t have to change,’ says relief chief

And so the answer is no the UN doesn’t have to change. What has to [be done is] we have to build on all this fantastic track record and build on the best, and yes then change to add and to bring in more innovation, more skills, more ability to generate the high-impact results of life-saving and protection of civilians that we know can be achieved and working increasingly with a wider range of partners…
Well you’ve just asked precisely the wrong question of course because you’ve just said ‘everyone’, and then you’ve referred to member states. There are actually very few member states here. This is mainly the consultation of the world. It’s a global consultation. Member states are vital stakeholders, but they’re not the only ones who have an interest in humanitarian action and inspiration and leadership.
And so when you say you’ve been hearing this about a roadmap, yes of course people at a bureaucratic level want to have the chance to talk about a document. But that is very uninspirational. That isn’t what gives people inspiration and a sense of real political motivation to get behind the idea of delivering the best of humanity to our fellow men and women who are in need.
Maybe UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Stephen O’Brien had a bad day when he was interviewed by IRIN’s Managing Editor Heba Aly, but this is a TERRIBLE interview. He mainly speaks in bubble speak, seems hostile and to me seems to diss the Istanbul summit as a talk-shop (which it probably is)...


I heard a lot of speaking either directly or indirectly on behalf of others who weren’t there…
If there was one thing that came through last week, it was that the aid industry has an urgent need to put some solid thinking behind the global reality that we are an increasingly local (some say “southern”) industry and workforce. The disparities between international and local aid providers particularly when it comes to access to funding and participation in industry decision-making fora simply cannot be ignored or given token lip service any longer.
As a personal contrast to the previous story, J. reflects on the World Humanitarian Summit Global Consultation.

Richer nations dominate sustainability science tie-ups

“These collaborations are largely driven by the North and do not necessarily reflect priorities of the South,” she says. “The positive side is that the collaborations help knowledge transfer between the North and the South.”
Interesting-and quite sobering: Couldn't this article/study been published 10 or so years ago? It seems that the gap between the 'Northern' academic industry and 'Southern' academia is often widening even after years and decades of collaborations and 'capacity building'

What transformation in aid and development really looks like

But here’s the thing: they all say that the money’s not the point. They’re evangelical about the saving, don’t get me wrong. But they all say that the thing that’s really changed their lives is the relationships with each other: “We’re family now.” The trust they have in their group. The shift in their relationships with their husbands as they’ve stopped being dependent and started being income earners. Above all, the power – to make change happen, rather than have it as something that happens to them: “We used to be so timid.”
This isn’t a project, it’s a movement – there are now 25,000 self-help groups in Ethiopia, and they’re multiplying like yeast. And it is absolutely, categorically, totally transformative.
Alex Evans shares a great story of development and transformation from Ethiopia. My question would be about the role of the 'state' and at what point such a movement needs a state (or the state needs the movement?!).

And this week it’s ICT to the Rescue! Saving South Africa’s Failing School System….or not.

The reasons for South Africa’s failing education system seem to be infinite and with every new source of information uncovered on the topic, there different target for the finger pointing of blame. The teachers, skewed benchmarking, inequality, a disconnect between skills taught and market demands, and the government’s inability to provide adequate resources for all. All this is probably not news to most and certainly the tip of the iceberg. With so many deep-rooted challenges, can President Zuma’s ICT in Education initiative really been held with any real regard or promise of delivery, or is it just another smokescreen designed to mask the deeper issues? And from the perspective of someone working within ICT4D and specifically ICT for Education, my concerns are not just on the fact that this initiative could be set up for failure, but also the impact that failed large-scale government initiatives has on the overall ICT4D industry.
Lauren Dawes and the never-ending quest to employ ICT4D band-aids for deep-rooted, complicated socio-political issues...

Is there a problem with the development practitioner?

Related to all three of these roles above, we are exploring the question of “the problem with the practitioner” as part of a 9 month action inquiry intended to help discover, communicate and encourage innovative and progressive ways of intervening in international development—a broad field where many of our international policy and management (IPM) graduates end up working. Our inquiry will also explore (later in the process) problems with the academy, problems with local development contexts and problems with broader institutions--all as they relate to the practitioner and our ability at MIIS to offer pedagogically relevant support to our (future practitioner) students. The following question is illustrative of our intentions:
What pedagogical worldviews, processes, methodologies and technologies should educational institutions like MIIS be deploying to effectively contribute to the formation of critical, creative and reflexive social change agents who are competent to affect complex, “wicked” development problems?
My colleague Alfredo Ortiz opens up the debate on how development research, education and practice can come together to work towards positive social change.

Hot off the (digital) press
Digital Inequality and Second-Order Disasters: Social Media in the Typhoon Haiyan Recovery

This article investigates the intersection of digital and social inequality in the context of disaster recovery. In doing so, the article responds to the optimism present in recent claims about “humanitarian technology” which refers to the empowering uses and applications of interactive technologies by disaster-affected people. Drawing on a long-term ethnography with affected communities recovering from Typhoon Haiyan that hit the Philippines in 2013 triggering a massive humanitarian response, the article offers a grounded assessment of the role of social media in disaster recovery. In particular, the article focuses on whether any positive consequences associated with digital media use are equally spread among better off and socially marginalized participants. The analysis reveals sharp digital inequalities which map onto existing social inequalities.
Great new open access article from Mirca Madianou!

Aftershocked: Reflections on the 2015 Earthquakes in Nepal

Our discussions evolved into a larger investigation of the role of academia in a time of crisis. Much of what is often lost in the rush to rebuild is nuance and historical context, an understanding of the particularities of place in the form of reflections on the past and its implications for the future. Anthropologists working in sites of disaster have contributed much to thinking about the aftermath of reconstruction, but they are often included in the discussion only when the urgency has passed. The essays we present here are an attempt to begin the conversation early—to introduce issues of inequality, regionalism, class, local control, the environment, and diversity even as the dust is still settling—rather than merely as a posthoc critique.
Latest open access issue of Cultural Anthropology on the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake. Great readings!

NEW: Re-imagining Activism – A practical guide for the Great Transition

Re.imagining Activism provides practical advice and questions to ask ourselves when we want to change organisations, campaigns or become active on system change in another way.
Great new, accessible toolkit with lots of food for thought- and ACTION ;)!

Our digital lives
Philanthrocapitalism: A Self-Love Story

Garry W. Jenkins, a professor of law at Ohio State University, has written: “With its emphasis on superrich hyperagents solving social problems, philanthrocapitalism” has amplified “the voice of those who already wield substantial influence, access, and power.” What this means is that, for the first time in modern history, it has become the conventional wisdom that private business—the most politically influential, undertaxed, and underregulated sector among those groups that dispose of real power and wealth in the world, as well as the least democratically accountable—should be entrusted with the welfare and fate of the powerless and the hungry. No revolution, not even Fidel’s, could be more radical, and no expectation, no matter how much it was the product of ceaseless promotion in both old and new media, could be more counterintuitive, more antihistorical, or require a greater leap of faith.
David Rieff adds a brilliant essay to the growing discussions around 'philanthrocapitalism'

Why Twitter’s Dying (And What You Can Learn From It)

Here’s my tiny theory, in a word. Abuse. And further, I’m going to suggest in this short essay that abuse — not making money — is the great problem tech and media have. The problem of abuse is the greatest challenge the web faces today. It is greater than censorship, regulation, or (ugh) monetization. It is a problem of staggering magnitude and epic scale, and worse still, it is expensive: it is a problem that can’t be fixed with the cheap, simple fixes beloved by tech: patching up code, pushing out updates.
To explain, let me be clear what I mean by abuse. I don’t just mean the obvious: violent threats. I also mean the endless bickering, the predictable snark, the general atmosphere of little violences that permeate the social web…and the fact that the average person can’t do anything about it.
We have created an abusive society. We have normalized, regularized, and routinized abuse. We are abused at work, by the very rules, norms, and expectations of our jobs, at which we are merely “human resources”, to be utilized, allocated, depleted. We are abused at play, by industries that seek to prey on our innocence and literally “target” our human weaknessses. And now we are abused at arm’s length, through the lightwaves, by people we will never meet, for things we have barely even said. We live in a society where school shootings are the rule, not the exception, where more people will have taken antidepressants than not…and now one where nearly everyone will have been abused on the web…for a random, off-hand, throwaway comment, an idle thought, something trivial, unremarkable, meaningless.
Umair Haque starts with Twitter and moves into a broader cultural critique with interesting food for thought.

Researchers Find ‘Impossible to Trace’ Spyware in 32 Countries

“There is growing global demand for ‘targeted intrusion in a box’ capabilities,” Citizen Lab researchers wrote in the report, which was published on Thursday. “Despite extensive, and often critical, publicity, products like FinFisher are purchased and deployed by countries all over the world. As the customer list grows, so should concern over the abuse potential of this technology.”
A follow-up to the #HackingTeam story that was first featured on this blog in July this year.

Why Organizations Don’t Learn

It may be cheaper and easier in the short run to ignore failures, schedule work so that there’s no time for reflection, require compliance with organizational norms, and turn to experts for quick solutions. But these short-term approaches will limit the organization’s ability to learn. If leaders institute ways to counter the four biases we have identified, they will unleash the power of learning throughout their operations. Only then will their companies truly improve continuously.
This long, very long essay is an assemblage of organizational plastic, business school bullshit bingo and common sense. Although published in the November 2015 edition of the Harvard Business Review, not much needs to be changed to make it look like an article from 1995.


Massive open online courses haven't lived up to the hopes and the hype, professors say

Completion rates remain low. Even offering high-level online classes from major universities doesn't necessarily work; without a solid academic background, the classes may be too difficult for many students to follow.
As a result, most MOOC (massive open online course) students have been college-educated men from industrialized countries.
The idea is to embed interventions into online learning environments. The interventions would re-engage disengaged students and encourage them to adopt a growth mindset toward learning. The student becomes a participant in a carefully designed psychological intervention, encouraged to persevere, reassured that he or she belongs in the class and can do well. Similar interventions with students in other situations have had remarkable success.
Dan Stober shares some interesting insights on MOOC- and education-research which confirms what I am experiencing almost daily in our blended learning online MA program: Good online education is expensive. If you are interested in more than x-number of participants completing a short course you will have to invest in online pedagogy. They can work well-but they require a lot of input, facilitation and IT knowledge and if you cut corners, students will disappear.

Media and self exposure of academic research

I believe we have a responsibility as researchers to be useful resources in bridging the gap between academia and the general public. And while fulfilling this responsibility, it evidently doesn’t hurt to personalize our communication. Sure, some people mock me, make fun of me and criticize me for being visible and that’s fine. Even good.
Because it just proves I am doing something of use.
I think it is important to read my colleague Michael Krona's post in the context of Swedish higher education and its surrounding cultural context where actively reaching out to media and actively promoting you research is oftentimes frowned upon. We all wear many hat, but one of the hats I'm clear about wearing is that of a 'sales rep'-not in the sense that I sell 'useless stuff' to innocent people, but in the sense that my believe is that academics need to be entrepreneurial to some extent. I also believe that institutions benefit from public engagement fare beyond individual contributions or mediatized ego boosts...


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