Links & Contents I Liked 231

Hi all,

You’ll notice the new layout; there have been a few problems with Blogger’s dynamic themes so I switched to a more traditional one. The blog loads faster and looks better on mobile devices, but is certainly not on a path for winning design awards…let’s see how I can tweak things a bit-and if you have feedback, comments and complaints you know how to reach me!
Back to business: 
Development news: Kenya’s florticultural industry does not look rosy; saving children who don’t want to be saved; let Thousand Currents flow! Geo data and U.S. airstrikes; the tricky discourse of ‘social accountability’; a good example of celebrity advocacy; ‘working from home’ and the duty of care; the local-expat relationship in the Philippines; digital technologies exclude marginalized people; young male MBA guy wants to ‘disrupt’ development; the heroines of Haiti’s revolution; award-winning documentary on coco farmers in Ghana; ISIS and long-term effects of indoctrinating children.

Our digital lives:
How valuable is facebook data really?

How many interviews and focus groups are (good) enough? Academography.


New from aidnography
The Assault on Journalism (book review)

Many topics of this edited volume resonate with current debates in humanitarian aid and the aid industry more broadly, for example mental health, staff safety, new forms of local-expat collaborations and the chances and limitations of digital tools. Many of the chapters also suggest to me that issues around journalism and ‘media development’ may become more closely aligned with other core areas of ‘real’ development. This is not just about ‘communicating development’, but about engaging with inequalities or injustices that often are the root causes that development tries to tackle.
This is a great open-access collection that goes far beyond journalism safety and highlights many important issues in communicating development and social change topics in our mediatized world!
Nigeria: The Paradox | Medea Vox
Nigeria is a nation of paradoxes. Crime and corruption, Boko Haram and Niger Delta militants. But Nigeria also has one of the largest movie-producing industries in the world, Nollywood, and Nigerian culture is spreading all over the world. Nigeria’s glass is half empty, half full, as today’s guest Eromo Egbejule describes it.

Eromo Egbejule and I talked Nigeria during his visit at ComDev-and Richard from Medea was kind enough to produce a podcast from our ramblings ;)!

Development news
Why prospects of flower farms don’t look so rosy

A further look at the numbers shows that the value of horticultural — and specifically cut flower — production went down after 2012 for three consecutive years and only rose last year. During those three years, some companies were so adversely affected that some closed shop.
No wonder experts have poured cold water on job availability and the sector’s potential to create job, with floriculture the worst affected. In fact the industry is haemorrhaging jobs as flower farms go through a rough patch or are entirely shut down.
Bernardine Mutano and Macharia Mwangi for Business Daily with a familiar pattern on how 'business' is supposed to lift 'Africa' out of poverty, but that many industries are very fickle to global movements and often do not contribute to long-term sustainable growth and employment options.

When NGOs save children who don't want to be saved

When it comes to children, one of the most powerful of these is that they are all inherently vulnerable and thus in danger when at work or on the move. The result is that many migrant working children are automatically assumed to be victims of trafficking when they are away from home, with the blame put variously on irresponsible parents, weak states, or abstract poverty. UN staff are taught to think like this, and the journalists who interview them are inevitably taught to think the same.
Almost overnight, thousands were laid off, with many ending up in far worse conditions - on the street, in sex work, or in dangerous factories even further under the radar. Surely it would have been better for him to address the power of US corporations buying from Bangladeshi factories, demanding an extension of labour rights and good pay all the way down to the young workers in question?
Neil Howard for Al-Jazeera with a very interesting long-read on perceptions of 'beneficiaries', media representations of 'vulnerable children' and an aid industry that often ignores complexities around children and work.

'International development' is a loaded term. It's time for a rethink

Today, Thousand Currents is focused on addressing our shared global challenges, not just the issues faced by a marginalised community or a poor country. That requires new approaches from donors in acknowledgement of this complexity – unrestricted financial support, multi-year timeframes, and new skills and personnel that reflect the world we want to see.
We dropped “international development” from our name, because when small, yet formidable pockets of people power come together, that’s when Thousand Currents sees results.
Jennifer Lentfer for Guardian Global Development Professionals on why IDEX changed its name to Thousand Currents!

U.S. Signals Possible Airstrikes in Somalia by Asking Aid Groups for Their Locations

“It is not unusual that when there is a ramp up in U.S. military engagement and a bombing campaign somewhere — as is now signaled by the White House with the Somalia announcement — that USAID would reach out to humanitarian partners to get deconfliction information to ensure that the military campaign doesn’t inadvertently target humanitarians,” said Jeremy Konyndyk, director of the Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance during Obama’s second term.
Samuel Oakford for The Intercept on how humanitarian aid organizations may be indirectly forced to cooperate with the US military and how geo-location data becomes a powerful tool in contemporary warfare...

Social Accountability from the Trenches: 6 Critical Reflections

Social accountability is recognition that there exists a lack of engagement with the public institutions that are so critical to our daily lives, a lack of influence in decision-making and more importantly, a lack of voice for expressing our needs, concerns and demands. We believe that social accountability approaches enable citizens, especially the voiceless and the powerless, to engage with state institutions in a proactive and constructive way to demand and exact accountability and responsiveness.
Gopa Kumar Thampi for the Global Partnership for Social Accountability is spot-on with his six issues on how social accountability can move from discourse to critical practice for social change!

Accountability and celebrity

Done right, deploying the talents of famous people to raise awareness and funds can bring advantage to both celebrities and people hit by humanitarian disasters. But without firm evidence, my gut tells me that in the triangular relationship between celebrities, aid agencies and affected people, it is the celebrities who come out on top.
Nick van Praag for Ground Truth Solutions recaps some essential aspects of celebrity engagement in humanitarian aid.

Letter From Iraq: Cutting Transatlantic Aid And Turning Away Refugees Is Immoral

Young Americans and Brits in particular have a role to play. They can no longer chalk up bad policies to politicians backed by their parents. To those who say, we have enough problems at home without taking on these international challenges, we say, let us address both by tackling both. It’s ‘both and’, not ‘either or’. Our international policies, after all, are reflections of the state of our society’s soul. Let’s demand that our leaders represent our interests abroad by acting in the interests of those in need abroad.
Not to act is to act. Not to speak is to speak. Inaction can be a unique version of cruelty. We are at risk of abandoning the major achievements of the 20th Century - the widespread recognition that rights of protection extend to all people by simple fact of being human.
Marcus Mumford for Huffington Post with a good example on how celebrities can communicate development. Assuming that he wrote the piece himself (or was at least involved in the writing) this is a very good example of how celebrities can use their 'power' to communicate and advocate.

When ‘working from home’ isn’t as nice as it sounds

A) because it meant not only living with your colleagues, which is bad enough, but also turning your home into an office. As an aid worker told me “it drives you crazy” B) because by the time you settled into the job, it was time to leave. On top of that it could have had serious legal consequences like this situation illustrates:
But what happens when you don’t have a home to go back to and when your home is a dangerous war-zone? It’s time that INGOs realise that staff care does not simply mean a session with a psychologist pre or post deployment, or a training on psychosocial support. It’s about caring for your staff by complying also with legal matters. That’s maybe why some prefer to call it “duty of care”.
Alessandra Pigni for Mindfulnext with an important reminder on how to provide a safe work environment when the expat lifestyle magazines tell you that all you need is a laptop and you can work from 'anywhere'...

The local – expat relationship: its complicated.

A second question probed for an additional dimension of this same topic. Nearly half -49%- of the respondents noted, regarding interactions with their foreign colleges, that, “They listen to the advice of local people and try to understand the local context/culture sometimes (emphasis added).” Another 8% indicated, “They rarely listen to the advice of local people nor try to understand the local context/culture.” In sum well over half -57%- responded in a way that indicates they feel less than fully respected by their expat counterparts.
So here’s what I am seeing from the quantitative data. Filipino aid workers believe they are getting compensated far less for doing the same job, many sense that expats feel they are superior to them, feel less than respected by their expat colleagues, and yet, tellingly, the vast majority have a positive experience working with expats.
Tom Arcaro continues his inquiries into the complex relationships of aid workers in the Philippines.

Digital technologies exclude

I remain optimistic about the potential for using digital technologies in social justice and human development. We found initiatives in Philippines that genuinely inspire optimism, but we also need to be mindful of the potential for technology to exclude the most marginalised.
There are always imaginative ways to secure the participation of marginalised groups, including blending offline and online activities and using analogue as well as digital technologies. The main take-away from the research so far has been underscoring the lesson that if we intend digital development initiatives to include the most marginalised, then we need to design for equity from the outset.
Tony Roberts for Making All Voices Count shares his reflections on digital development in the Philippines.

When is giving to charity the wrong thing to do?

We also need to be conscious consumers and harness the democratic function of the market economy to signal demand for vertically integrated ethics in the economy.
We also need good people working in business. Business is the normative way in which people rise out of poverty.
Amy MacMillan Bankson for MIT Management Sloan School. There was quite a bit of discussion on my facebook about this piece-a young white male MBA student talking about 'fixing development' by embracing consumerist capitalistic recipes; Being a 'good' consumer and making sure that 'good' people work in business is most likely not leading to social transformation and sustainable development...

Heroines of the Haitian Revolution

For Anglophone readers and students, Dance is an ideal way to enter the world of colonial Saint-Domingue and the Haitian Revolution. The novel does not focus on the uprising of the enslaved in Saint-Domingue’s Northern Province, depicted in Carpentier’s well-known The Kingdom of This World. Instead, it focuses on Port-au-Prince and the colony’s Western Province, where planters battling one another first armed their slaves. Vieux-Chauvet brings this complex and swirling political and military conflict to vivid life, with many key revolutionary figures, including Vincent OgĂ© and Alexandre Petion, appearing as characters in the novel.
Dance on the Volcano, like Vieux-Chauvet’s other works, disrupts and disturbs, in part because of the counterpoint between moments of softness and of harshness, possibility and terror, dreams of change and the reality of a system that closes in and traps us. At the center of the stories she tells in Dance, and in all of her novels, is the idea that art is a way of refusing the silencing, cruelty, and destruction of life at the heart of any social order based on exclusion and violence.
Laurent Dubois for Public Books reviews a new novel from Haiti.

University film scoops Higher Education Oscar

Telling the story of life for female cocoa farmers in Ghana, the film uses participatory video - whereby female farmers used video cameras to chart aspects of their lives – to highlight how access to land, capital and markets often remains the preserve of men. Despite their efforts, this shows how women’s ability to reap the financial rewards of their efforts is often limited.
Congratulations to my former IDS DPhil colleague Elizabeth Fortin who as involved in the award-winning documentary!

ISIS schools and indoctrination of children

One of the biggest mistakes of the western world in recent years has been to underestimate the long term formation of Islamic State’s ideology and state, military capabilities and brutality. By learning from this mistake we must now increase and share knowledge about the issues above, collaborate on preventive measures and find ways to deal with the upcoming and long-term threat towards western societies, but maybe even more important a major social development dimension in the region with a growing generation of children who have lived under Islamic State ruling and indoctrinating tentacles of “education”.
Michael Krona is one of my department colleagues and does important, amazing, mind-boggling research on the world of ISIS and its mediatized ideological ecosystems.

Our digital lives
I'm an ex-Facebook exec: don't believe what they tell you about ads

Converting Facebook data into money is harder than it sounds, mostly because the vast bulk of your user data is worthless. Turns out your blotto-drunk party pics and flirty co-worker messages have no commercial value whatsoever.
But occasionally, if used very cleverly, with lots of machine-learning iteration and systematic trial-and-error, the canny marketer can find just the right admixture of age, geography, time of day, and music or film tastes that demarcate a demographic winner of an audience. The “clickthrough rate”, to use the advertiser’s parlance, doesn’t lie.
Antonio Garcia-Martinez for The Guardian with an important reminder not to trust everything you hear about the power and value of facebook data. Facebook sells advertising, hence it doesn't mind if 'we' believe that it sits on this mountain of valuable data that companies are keen to exploit for their marketing. Just because this is facebook's business model does not mean that the data is actually that valuable.


Riddle me this: How many interviews (or focus groups) are enough?
These data from our study suggest that a sample size of two to three focus groups will likely capture about 80% of themes on a topic — including those most broadly shared — in a study with a relatively homogeneous population, and using a semi-structured guide. As few as three to six focus groups are likely enough to identify 90% of important themes.
Emily Namey for FHI360 with a question many students will ask at some point during their preparation for their thesis work...

Academography and Disciplinary Ethnocentrism

In any case, in one of those predictable ironies of academic history, ethnocentrism can afflict not just the “traditional” disciplines, but also the more contemporary interdisciplinary fields that have emerged alongside them. One would think, for instance, that Science and Technology Studies and the more recently-inaugurated Critical University Studies would be closely linked together. I would certainly hope so, since that my own work focuses on the links between French university politics and the epistemic culture of a left-wing French philosophy department. And yet I find, to my considerable dismay, that these two little worlds are deeply segregated from each other, as if we faced an “ethnocentrism of interdisciplines.”
Eli Thorkelson for Platypus with a great post on studying (academic) organizations. I think that ethnocentrism is only one important aspect of 'academography'; anthropology in this field is very good at 'studying down', looking at teachers, adjuncts or students, but less powerful in studying up (yet). I haven't come across an ethnography of university board meetings, salary negotiations with senior management or an 'Inside the REF' account-not just a journalistic long-read, but a real ethnography. So lots to discover in our own organizations...

Contingent No More

The core self-worth of the typical American academic is deeply invested in the notion that we’ve spent most of our lives rising to the top through determination and intelligence. And as a reactionary and masochistic correlate to that faith, we harshly link each other’s professional failures and our own to some presumed lack of such qualities. We feel like it would diminish our life’s work to admit in public that, actually, the system is rigged, that many of our successes are due more to luck than anything else, that most of the “best work” is not being produced at all because the collective, variable talents of our community of thinkers and teachers and partners are being wasted in the competitive pursuit of individualistic success that our livelihoods depend on.
It’s also true that loving something means you will fight for it—and that’s increasingly the only option we have left. But this struggle is vastly complicated by the realization that what we’re actually fighting for—an independent, communal, decently compensated life of the mind—has been taken hostage by the very thing we’re now fighting against: the ever more corporatized and compromised higher education scene.
Maximillian Alvarez for The Baffler on The Academy.


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