Links & Contents I Liked 217

Hi all,

Another Friday! New student are settling in, calendar filling up with appointments and so much interesting stuff to read!

Development news: World Vision tests humanitarian boundaries in Syria; China’s development debt-traps; time for a new anti-politics machine? Child refugee exploitation in Turkey; where are the women in Pakistan? Illegal logging; UN World Data Forum; have statistics lost their power? Colour and the UK civil service; the gentrification of back-packing; Amartya Sen is smart.

Publications:New book on the politics of inclusive development; WHO outsourcing dilemmas.

Academia: New #globaldev podcast series; meaningful work and management science; the MOOC emperor is naked!


New from aidnography
The BBC-Myth of a Public Service (book review)

Tom Mills’ interesting historical review of one of the world’s most renowned news media enterprises deserves attention, especially because his detailed analysis bridges the gap between ideologies and political leanings.
His longer-term perspective also enables him to look at key developments that took place over time and that seem to have culminated in all-too-easy catch-phrases about ‘fake news’, ‘alternative facts’ or the ‘post-factual media age’.
But for media, communication and journalism students and researchers it provides ample food for thought how the past of public broadcasting relates to our messy contemporary times.
And for the (communication for) development audience it offers valuable insights into institutional transformation under the neoliberal condition and the chances and limitations of communicating social change.
Development news
EXCLUSIVE: World Vision rattles aid groups with solo operation for Syrians at Jordan border

Working so closely with an armed group has upset some in the humanitarian community.
“The nature of the agreement they have is so dodgy,” one senior humanitarian said of World Vision’s collaboration with the Tribal Army. “It’s so far from what I’d call normal humanitarian conduct.”
Describing World Vision’s access as “very instrumentalised”, another aid worker asked: “How can you provide humanitarian assistance through an actor, a military actor, no less?”
But World Vision defended its approach.
“In situations like this, there are no perfect answers,” a spokesman for the NGO told IRIN. “We take great pains to follow humanitarian protocols and principles, carrying out assessments and checks in deciding who we work with. In our request for access to the berm, there were no preconditions requested or agreed that contravene humanitarian principles.”
Sara Elizabeth Williams for IRIN on how humanitarian work is changing in the face of old and new challenges in Syria.

China’s Debt-Trap Diplomacy

Some developing economies are regretting their decision to accept Chinese loans. Protests have erupted over widespread joblessness, purportedly caused by Chinese dumping of goods, which is killing off local manufacturing, and exacerbated by China’s import of workers for its own projects.
New governments in several countries, from Nigeria to Sri Lanka, have ordered investigations into alleged Chinese bribery of the previous leadership.
In retrospect, China’s designs might seem obvious. But the decision by many developing countries to accept Chinese loans was, in many ways, understandable. Neglected by institutional investors, they had major unmet infrastructure needs. So when China showed up, promising benevolent investment and easy credit, they were all in. It became clear only later that China’s real objectives were commercial penetration and strategic leverage; by then, it was too late, and countries were trapped in a vicious cycle.
Brahma Chellaney for Project Syndicate. An interesting analysis of the 'new world order' and the ambitions of one of the BRIC countries that do not seem to transform development, but rather deliver new forms of dependency and imperialism.

Is the Anti-Politics machine still a good critique of the aid business?

23 years on, is this sceptical view of the politics of aid becoming more justified? Should I stop seeking allies and common ground in USAID or the World Bank? Is all that stuff about adaptive management, empowerment and ‘doing development differently’ either PR spin or wishful thinking? Or has something substantial moved on (and if so, why)?
Duncan Green re-posted on the World Bank blog links quite nicely to the previous article and beggars the question what today's 'anti-politics machines' look like...

Syrian child refugees in Turkey work in fields for slave wages

The fear is that a phantom workforce of Syrians is fuelling the Turkish economy. And this is made of child refugees who have suffered twice - once at the hands of war in the own country, and again at the hands of labour exploitation in their host nation.
“They are called the lost generation and it is an accurate description,” says Cem Terzi, head of the Bridging People’s Association, an Izmir-based volunteer group helping local refugees.
From the balcony of the apartment used as the association's base of operations, Terzi tells the Black Sea that the plight of refugee children should not be underestimated.
“The situation is terrifying," he says, "These kids have war trauma, and on top of it they are pushed to the margins of society."
This fear is echoed by Muhammed Salih, an ethnic Syrian and coordinator of Izmir-based Syrian Solidarity Association. “We don’t know what’s going to happen to these kids in ten years," he says. "I just know it’s not going to be good. They are vulnerable and open to exploitation if they don’t get educated. Troubled children become troubled adults.”
Zeynep Sentek and Margherita Bettoni for The Black Sea with an important story on refugees, children and 'the margins' of migration.

Where are the women?

In this regard, gender sensitivity training for relevant officials and greater women’s representation in law-enforcement agencies is essential. Less than 1pc of the Pakistani police force is female. Not only do we need more female police officers, but also female lawyers, magistrates and judges. This brings us back to the role of curricula, media and teachers in presenting role models to our younger generations — breaking existing stereotypes of what is ‘appropriate’ work for both girls and boys.
Finally, we need to redefine what it means to be productive. There is tremendous value in the domestic work that women do. Unless the burden of the care economy sees more equitable distribution, women will continue to face tremendous time poverty while also likely remaining secondary workers in the labour force. In such an environment, the incentive for particularly educated women to participate in an unforgiving workplace will be minimal at best.
Hadia Majid for Dawn with an important reminder from Pakistan that questions about gender and inclusive societies are by far 'over' and still need attention from many aspects of the development industry.

Illegal logging: A Russian nesting doll

Only rarely are the ministries best placed to take these decisions consulted or integrated into the decision-making process. Ministries of agriculture, territorial administration, mines, finance and, of course, justice, are rarely part of the “forest game”. This is unfortunate, as they have an important role to play that stretch beyond the current capacities and mandate of forest-related ministries.
Secondly, timber is not an edible product. This dramatically alters the behavioural consequences of consumers. Despite the shocking images that NGOs use in their campaigns against illegal logging, buyers along the timber value chain (processing companies, retailers, wholesalers, and final consumers) pay less attention to an illegal piece of wood than they would to food or medicine produced illegally that could have harmful effects on their health.
Pablo Pacheco, Paolo Cerutti and Robert Nasi present findings of a new International Union of Forest Research Organisations (IUFRO) and Collaborative Partnership on Forests (CPF) report. Despite its importance, one of the under-reported stories stories in development as Asia is losing forests with unprecedented speed.

Dispatch from the UN World Data Forum

Data clearly needs to be conveyed in a more engaging way so that people around the world can know the facts about topics ranging from global health to migration.
These were just some of my top takeaways; the conference also stressed the importance of breathing life into statistics with a narrative, improving everyone’s data literacy so they can engage with statistics better and giving greater weight to qualitative data about people's perceptions and values.
Sonia Whitehead for BBC Media Action shares her impression from the World Data Forum. I think that well-intentioned policy discussions need to engage more/better with the realities of the post-factual world:

How statistics lost their power – and why we should fear what comes next

A post-statistical society is a potentially frightening proposition, not because it would lack any forms of truth or expertise altogether, but because it would drastically privatise them. Statistics are one of many pillars of liberalism, indeed of Enlightenment. The experts who produce and use them have become painted as arrogant and oblivious to the emotional and local dimensions of politics. No doubt there are ways in which data collection could be adapted to reflect lived experiences better. But the battle that will need to be waged in the long term is not between an elite-led politics of facts versus a populist politics of feeling. It is between those still committed to public knowledge and public argument and those who profit from the ongoing disintegration of those things.
William Davies for the Guardian with a great long-read. The data for development movement cannot avoid to become 'political' if it wants to have impact beyond regular summits and policy papers!

Being #Colourbrave in the UK Civil Service

Caroline, a black female colleague, challenged me on this last week. Despite warnings from other BAME friends and peers that it wasn’t worth the hassle, the way she described her experience has transformed the way I think.
Caroline told me about the extraordinary signals she has experienced throughout her career in the civil service. She explained how, although she has never seen explicit racism at work, these signals incrementally undermine her confidence making her feel an outsider and unequal to others. She explained how this manifests itself in all sorts of ways:
how informal networks work and how BAME staff like her feel excluded;
how others (usually white, Oxbridge-educated) seem like to get more opportunities;
how odd it can feel to be the only BAME staff member in meetings;
how people make daily assumptions about her as a role model for our local staff, as if she isn’t a role model for everyone (which she most certainly is).
Pete Vowles on diversity, meritocracy and being challenged about the ways things work in UK civil service.

How Hostels Have Turned Backpackers Into “Brokepackers”

All hostels (even if they are really affordable, like the one Giraldi mentioned) tend to create a concentration of backpackers; as a result, backpackers become an economic resource for locals, which can sometimes complicate how backpackers interact with the community. Travelers who choose to stay in hostels, as opposed to those who stay in locals’ homes, often miss out on opportunities for meaningful engagement with locals. Gentrified hostel chains create even more of a barrier to the surrounding population in that they offer standardized accommodations and they don’t tap into local culture or benefit local communities.
It’s safe to say that if they do, these lodgings will probably not foster particularly meaningful interactions with locals.
In any case, despite the differences between brokepackers and flashpackers, most people who travel with backpacks express a yearning for experiences that other tourists don’t have and a hunger to learn from locals about the places they visit. Much like anthropologists conducting short ethnographies, backpackers possess a raw desire to immerse themselves in and learn about cultures foreign to them, even if they most often find themselves immersed in “backpacking culture” instead.
Jeanette Moreland for Sapiens on the gentrification of backpacking into yet another aspect of the experience industry-closely related to voluntourism and similar endeavors that promise 'authenticity' along an ever-more sophisticated tourism value chain.

Amartya Sen: ‘Referendums are like opinion polls. Sometimes they’re very wrong’

What I’m saying is that all of us have to examine how we could communicate better with each other. It’s not that there is a subaltern-major who is going to be in charge of that and periodically goes around and tells the press what to do. It has to be like public discussion in general. It has to be something, and these people have to take an interest. Not only in expressing their own view but making sure that they actually give an opportunity to listen to people who may be excluded by the papers for one reason or another.
Will Hutton with another long-read from the Guardian featuring Amartya Sen. It sounds so clear and simple in theory, and yet achieving meaningful freedom(s), communication and belonging are tough challenges in turbulent times...

Hot off the digital press

The Politics of Inclusive Development

It is now widely accepted that politics plays a significant role in shaping the possibilities for inclusive development. However, the specific ways in which this happens across different types and forms of development, and in different contexts, remains poorly understood. This collection provides a state of the art review regarding what is currently known about the politics of inclusive development. Leading academics offer systematic reviews of how politics shapes development across multiple dimensions, including through growth, natural resource governance, poverty reduction, service delivery, social protection, justice systems, the empowerment of marginalised groups, and the role of both traditional and non-traditional donors. The volume not only provides a comprehensive update but also a ground-breaking range of new directions for thinking and acting around these issues. The book's originality thus derives not only from the wide scope of its case-study material, but also from the new conceptual approaches it offers for thinking about the politics of inclusive development, and the innovative and practical suggestions for donors, policy makers, and practitioners that flow from this.
Sam Hickey, Kunal Sen and Badru Bukenya's edited volume is available open access from Oxford University Press.

Comment — WHO outsourcing dilemma: for whose benefit, at whose expense?

Alongside outsourcing comes increasing political pressure to demonstrate that the disbursement of resources is linked to performance of measurable results. The result is an increasingly complex chain of subcontractors whose activities the lead agency then struggle to manage. Under the outsourcing model, lack of targets will leave subcontractor agents unaccountable. Thus, targets will have to be introduced and new monitoring and results frameworks will need to be put forward to ensure that targets are met. In addition to creating fragmentation and coordination challenges, there are dangers that outsourcing will produce short-term measurable results at the expense of long-term challenges to build local institutional capacity.
The WHO is not alone in this trajectory. Many global health and development actors (multilateral; bilateral and other international organisations) increasingly outsource responsibilities to others. What is often ignored in the outsourcing argument is that these intermediaries have their own interests and agendas—which are not always transparent—creating further uncertainties for those managing the contracts.
Jeevan Raj Sharma, Ian Harper, Radha Adhikari, Pam Smith, Deepak Thapa, Obindra B Chand and Address Malata for BMJ Global Health.

Cambridge scholar's new podcast project puts academics on the airwaves

“So often with academia you tend to work by yourself, not knowing that much about your colleagues’ work, so it has been more fun getting to know my colleagues, reading their papers, which we should all be doing anyway, but often don’t have the time.”
A specialist in gender equality around the world, she has already featured Dr Graham Denyer Willis, from the University’s Centre of Development Studies, and Charlotte Lemanski, a geographer working on contemporary South Africa.
She said: “Some of my academic colleagues are a little bit self-deprecating and may be shy to self-publicise their brilliant research, so I thought I wanted to share their ideas.
“I like the idea of a conversation between academic people who are experts, talking to each other, critiquing and questioning each other’s views.
Alice Evans talks to Cambridge News about her new podcast project!

Imposing ‘meaningful work’ leads to staff burnout
“Ensuring that line managers are appropriately trained and developed to help employees find their work genuinely meaningful should be the cornerpiece of a meaningfulness management strategy.”
Catherine Bailey on Sussex University News highlights a core challenge of management research: The need to be constructive and to not rock the capitalistic boat too much: Maybe work will never be meaningful for many people and no HR, PR and CSR can change that sad reality...

The MOOC as a trojan horse

The ideology of innovation obscures the interests vested in what is deemed to be innovative. Not only is it dishonest, shutting down debate through the breathless invocation of technological inevitability, it also crowds out earlier and worthier experiments in digitally mediated distance learning. These communal and collaborative projects were focused on empowering networks rather than facilitating individuals.
The MOOC dresses up the most uninspiring and uninspired aspects of actually existing educational initiatives in the cloak of technological progress. As Bady puts it, these start-ups “aim to do exactly the same thing that traditional courses have always done—transfer course content from expert to student—only to do so massively more cheaply and on a much larger scale”. These are technologies of modernisation rather than progress, intended to lock in existing arrangements in a way that disempowers those who might impede their smooth operation. They are technologies of scale and control, masquerading as tools of liberation.
Mark Carrigan takes on the MOOC emperor!


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