Links & Contents I Liked 243

Hi all,

We are in the middle of packing boxes and prepare for the move to a new apartment next week, so I’ll keep the intro short:

Development news: Angelina Jolie & how celebrities shouldn’t engage in distant places; how much ODA is really spend on #globaldev? Can Gueterres disrupt UN bureaucracy? Uranium mining in Niger; once and for all: Don’t send your old stuff abroad/to refugees! Uganda’s new activism; the IMF’s social protection thinking is behind the curve; Gentrifying Kibera-Kenya’s well-known slum; Kony’s bodyguard talks; perceptions of poverty of India’s urban youngsters; Sean Penn has a new terrible aid work(er) movie out; the trouble with caste-free Bollywood movies; is the world really better than ever?

Our digital lives:
Participatory community mapping; how to ace narrative writing; the gendered challenges of paying women in exposure and as influencers; where are the mothers in news rooms?

Digital anthropology from the fields. 

Academia: The expensive political economy of academic conferences; publication, power & patronage; laboring academia-a long read.


New from aidnography
The privilege of giving career advice in international development

The toughest question in terms of career building is the question of the slowly changing ethical framework of international development: How can I justify my engagement?
Duncan writes: ‘I loved writing; I was (broadly) on the left; I wanted to understand social and political change and if possible contribute to it.’
Is this still enough to build a career given our global Northern/ Western, male etc. privileges?
Since social change usually happens slower than we anticipate my tentative answer is ‘yes, to some extent’-but the more important questions for which I have no good answer at this stage is, to put it more provocatively, who should have a career in international development in the future and at what cost will they happen in a globally accelerating labor market?
Development news

Aid credibility at stake as donors haggle over reporting rules
The OECD’s statistical directives, including tables and annexes, already come to 294 pages, many about reporting ODA.
Closed-door committee meetings at the OECD regularly update the definitions of what’s allowable as ODA and how it should be calculated. Last year, for example, the members agreed new guidelines allowing certain types of military and security assistance to count. The debates tend to roll on: discussions continue on what support to the private sector should be included and how to measure it, while peacekeeping and security spending are attracting another round of attention.
Ben Parker for IRIN. Fascinating case study on how little 'data' tells you by itself, how little transparency is created through rules and regulation alone and how you need intermediaries like journalists to 'translate' the politics of data into the public sphere.

A disrupter at UN: Can new chief shake up bureaucracy to speed progress?

The UN “needs to be nimble, efficient, and effective. It must focus more on delivery and less on process, more on people and less on bureaucracy,” he said after taking the oath of office before the 193-member General Assembly of UN nations. Looking at UN rules and regulations, he said, “one might think some of them were designed to prevent, rather than enable, the effective delivery of our mandates” to secure global peace and prosperity.
Howard LaFranchi for the Christian Science Monitor. Spoiler alert: The answer to the headline is 'No!' ;)... as the quote above indicates: We have heard similar talk time and again and I doubt that any disruptive changes are likely to happen regardless of which male SG is in charge...

A forgotten community: The little town in Niger keeping the lights on in France

Back in Arlit, the stories of French former employees standing up to Areva are well-known. But the struggle for Nigerien workers to get recognised is even steeper than in Europe. “Both the legal system and the financial means to stand up for our rights are lacking”, says Dan Ballan. “In a couple of years, the uranium reserves will be depleted and Areva will leave, however the pollution and underdevelopment will stay behind.”
He may be right, but Areva will not be going far. About 80km away, a third and enormous new Nigerien uranium mine called Imouraren is being developed. “Lacking any perspective of another job, the workers will eventually move wherever the mine is”, says the local activist.
In our last hours in Arlit we drive around in town. It’s the afternoon, the sky is dark red, and a harsh wind is blowing. A new sandstorm is gathering. We try not to think of the particles it carries from the radioactive hills.
Lucas Destrijcker & Mahadi Diouara for African Arguments with a very nice piece of long-from journalism, sadly with the unsurprising bottom line that decades of mining have left very little positive impact on Niger.

Do Refugees Really Need Our Old Crap?

“We don’t know what it is to feel like every individual aid recipient,” he said. “We don’t know their priorities. Instead of giving people objects, which they often sell to buy things they really need, why not give them cash in the first place? Give people a choice on how to spend precious resources.”
So if you really want to help, instead of shipping off your baby carrier, maybe sell it on Craigslist and donate the proceeds to a well-rated charity. And if you prefer donating items, keep it local. Maybe there’s a homeless shelter or teen mom home in your community that could use a baby carrier.
Livie Campbell for The Development Set with an excellent report on the well-known debate on why you should not send old stuff 'to Africa'.

Uganda’s New Civic Activism: Beyond Egos and Logos

This new face of civic activism is challenging the old-style, conformist, traditional forms of organizing. This change will likely have wide-ranging implications for civil society generally and the struggle for social justice. If the new forms of activism are nurtured, they could have a greater impact than any traditional civil society organization (CSO) has recorded in Uganda in recent times. But the so-called big ego and logo CSOs view the new activism as a distraction, if not a threat, and still need to strike a constructive partnership with it.
Arthur Larok from ActionAid Uganda for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace with a great long-read on the new forms of activism and how they challenge the aid industry.

The truth behind IMF’s claims to promote social protection in low-income countries

Despite the current objectives of the international community on social protection, the IMF continues to maintain and pursue an opposing policy position. The IMF appears to operate within a self-referential dialogue that is cut-off from the international policy consensus. A look at the paper’s reference list strongly supports this idea: out of the 22 studies cited in the paper, only one is not conducted by its own staff.
Thomas Stubbs and Alexander Kentikelenis for the Bretton Woods Project dissect a recent IMF study on social protection. This is an important reminder that just moving the IMF to Beijing, a suggesting from Christine Lagarde herself, will not solve more fundamental problems of the institution.

Kenya | Gentrifying Kibera

Firstly, the slum population keeps growing. Secondly, houses are useless to the poor without land tenure, security and infrastructure. Resident Michael Arunga, who represented Kibera civil society in the KENSUP planning committee, feels that the project was doomed from the start. “How can people without any income even afford decent housing? People have no livelihood.” He believes the scheme was started for “political reasons” and not genuine in assisting Kibera people to build better lives. Some former Kibera residents who did move in the new houses now sub-let them in order to make a living, he says, and still stay in shacks.
All this just to attract donor funding for the politically-connected? Yes, said the official: “The real intention of authorities in the slum upgrade is to milk Kibera dry and sustain its misery.”
Ken Opala for Zam Magazine on what is probably the world's most well-known slum and how efforts to change living conditions are encountering (stereo)typical development problems-social change is complicated...

This is what we can learn from Joseph Kony’s bodyguard

Kony — like Museveni in some ways — has never been rigid about anything except his own survival. I came to see Kony as a pragmatist of the first order. Kony has used bits of religion, including Catholicism, Protestantism and Islam, to advance theories that were all designed to prolong his rule. He has done the same with regard to traditional Acholi beliefs and even select Marxist theory.
Laura Seay for Washington Post's Monkey Cage interviews Ledio Cakaj's about his latest book.

When do upper middle-class urban youngsters start thinking of themselves as poor?

You can skip meals in private for days on end, or walk home for half an hour because you couldn’t even afford a bus ride, as long as no one knows about it. At the precise point when the lack hits your pride and there is no solution in sight, does the debt become the trap, and you begin to feel hunted.
Inasmuch as this book is a confession by many of that sense of wounded pride, it’s also, in their candidness and insistence on using their real names (some names have been changed on request) and details of their intimate financial dealings and fall from grace, a breaking of the pattern.
The refusal to live this lie, sit with a false sense of social achievement that in many ways society forces them to live up to. The fear of being unable to pay for drinks, dress a certain way, be seen at certain places, and be subsequently rewarded by the system for that behaviour. The insistence on being told and being seen is a lifting of the curtain of silence that surrounds it. This generation isn’t as broke or bereft of courage and integrity as it looks.
Gayatri Jayaraman for with a fascinating excerpt from his forthcoming book; this is an interesting pre-quel to the long read on whether the world is really getting better-and how people feel about it.

Review: Aid Workers in Love and War in Sean Penn’s ‘The Last Face’

At one point Ms. Theron’s character asks, in voice-over, “In this place of so much war, had I found peace?” The script, by Erin Dignam, doesn’t get much deeper than that. The romantic chemistry between Ms. Theron and Mr. Bardem feels forced throughout, never more so than in a scene of mutual seduction in a cutesy context of brushing teeth. Mr. Penn is more than competent in recreating the noise, gore and panic of war zones, but far less so in simulating the atmosphere of alienated romance common in 1960s European art films.
Glenn Kenny for the New York Times reviews another bad aid work(er) movie.

Missing in the Scene

Caste remains hugely important in India today, especially in villages where there are denser traditional networks and occupations,which are at their thinnest in the city. While there are Dalit millionaires, who prove to be exceptions to the rule, there are very few Dalits among the country’s new middle classes.
This absence of low castes among India’s better off means that Hindi cinema is caste- blind, rather than caste- neutral. Usually, everyone who mixes socially in such circles is upper caste. This is their version of a caste-free society, while lower castes perhaps dream of a caste-free society where everyone is so well off that caste no longer matters.
Rachel Dwyer for the Open magazine with a reminder that Bollywood's caste-free movies do not mean the system is no longer relevant.

Is the world really better than ever?

Nestled inside that essentially indisputable claim, there are several more controversial implications. For example: that since things have so clearly been improving, we have good reason to assume they will continue to improve. And further – though this is a claim only sometimes made explicit in the work of the New Optimists – that whatever we’ve been doing these past decades, it’s clearly working, and so the political and economic arrangements that have brought us here are the ones we ought to stick with.
Oliver Burkeman with a Guardian long-read that resonates with core development debates that argue that traditional economic growth-driven economies will continue to deliver benefits and lift people out of 'poverty'.

23 quotes by famous people if they had worked in nonprofit
“Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become emails. Watch your emails; they become meetings. Watch your meetings; they become more meetings. Watch these meetings; they become your destiny.” Lao-Tzu
Vu Le for Nonprofit: Awesomely Fun!

Our digital lives
Participatory Community Network Mapping as a Crucial Methodology for Social Innovation – Part 1 of an interview with Aldo de Moor

When done poorly, he cautions, community network maps can undermine community work by being an empty distraction, offering the seduction of a silver bullet, institutionalizing the misuse of power, and by using limiting language - language that closes down possibility, exploration and creativity, instead of opening them up.
But when done right, these kinds of maps can be powerful catalysts for empowerment and emancipation.
Christine Capra interviews Aldo de Moor for Greater than the sum about the potential of community mapping exercises.

Katherine Boo’s 15 rules for narrative nonfiction — now this is a “must-read”

Additionally, rather than “follow the money” or “follow the lies,” she says “follow the policy.” Policies are changing rapidly, and the impacts on poor communities are often obscured. Instead of just gravitating to the aberrant, which is our journalistic instinct, Boo suggests also thinking about ways we are interconnected.
Katia Savchuck for Nieman Storyboard with a great summary of Katherine Boo's rules for writing important stories.

Thousands of women try to make a living blogging and vlogging. Most fail.

There's various stats, and I have to look up the one I used in the book, but I think it's maybe 15 percent of content creators make more than $100 a year. It's a huge disparity. In terms of fixing it, one of the problems, again, is that people who already come from a position of privilege can afford to work for free, just like unpaid internships. So I think the most important resolution is one of two things. One is collective advocacy in recognizing this as a profession rather than a hobby, and also, calling attention to who pays and the amount. And so there was that ... I don't know, it was Who Pays Influencers website? Do you remember that? That was maybe a year and a half ago? I loved it, and it kind of disappeared.
Gaby Dunn for Vox talks to Brooke Erin Duffy’s about her new book and the gendered aspects of digital work.

Where Are the Mothers?

In an era of cost-cutting and layoffs, ongoing technological disruption, lack of public trust in our work, and a hostile political climate, newsroom environments still matter. It’s precisely because of these uncertainties that news organizations need to be smart about how to keep talented, diverse groups of journalists, including mothers with young children, in our ranks, doing the vital work that needs to be done. Paid family leave, inclusive, flexible work policies that benefit everyone, and improved office cultures are not tangential priorities; they are crucial to fostering a pipeline of young, innovative thinkers—the future leaders of our industry.
Katherine Goldstein for Nieman Reports. Very interesting research that raises many important questions about the future of work more generally.

Hot off the digital press

Digital technology, transformation and social change

The Lab and this issue focus our attention on squarely on technology and change. That includes slow change and fast change; small change and transformational change; change that we create; changes we want to make; changes we must make; and change that happens to and around us. It includes changes in the home and changes in our social and political lives; and changes in the Global North and changes in the Global South.
Jessice Noske-Turner with a special issue of the open access Wumen Bagung journal featuring some really interesting notes from the field of digital anthropology!


The Great Conference Con?

Kelsky said that if she had to predict the future of academic conferences, she’d anticipate a further shift toward virtual conferences, with more interviews via Skype, in recognition of the financial constraints facing many participants. At the same time, she guessed there would be a continued reliance on in-person conferences for those who can afford them.
In other words, she said, it’s “the continued feudalization of academia, where those at the top occupy a more and more isolated enclave of privilege and opportunity hoarding, at the expense of everyone else. Virtual options will mitigate this to some extent, but as you know, some of the deepest human engagement remains face-to-face, so that option will exist for, and benefit, those with funds.” Financial concerns notwithstanding, Reed, writing for Inside Higher Ed, said he wished academic conferences were a bigger part of community college life and cautioned against writing them off too quickly
Colleen Flaherty for Inside HigherEd reviews the current iteration of the of the love-hate relationship that many academics have with large, expensive conferences.

A Feminist Note on “Publication, Power, and Patronage”

To understand why prestige still marks a publishing system founded on the rhetoric of meritocracy, we’d need to not take that rhetoric at its word but instead understand how it has functioned discursively, and often nefariously, in an institution whose entire existence is predicated on keeping the channels narrow.And in doing that, we’d have to ask whether such a system is worth redeeming, and why. That is: to what end do we want to diversify the “four leading journals in the humanities”?
Whitney Trettien presents her research findings on how publications became the key currency of modern academia-and how that has created a (male) elite hierarchy.

Laboring Academia

Most graduate schools admit students to fill specific labor needs. One of the core functions of graduate programs is to enhance flexibility, always presenting just enough labor, just in time . . . The academic labor system creates holders of the Ph.D., but it doesn’t have much use for them . . . The system produces degree holders largely in the sense that a car’s engine produces heat—a tiny fraction of which is recycled into the car’s interior by the cabin heater, but the vast majority of which figures as waste energy that the system urgently requires to be radiated away.
Maximillian Alvarez for The Baffler. A long-read for the weekend about academia and the capitalist condition-Marc Bousquet's quote above was almost worth reading the essay ;)!


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