Links & Contents I Liked 252

Hi all,

Before I'm heading to Pretoria for a week to participate in the kick-off workshop of the new Swedish-South African University Network, I'm sharing my regular Friday link review.
There may not be a new one next week due to travel-so don't read everything at once ;)!

This week's theme is definitely 'humanitarianism'-from disaster capitalism in Puerto Rico to new forms of aid and anthropological reflections as well as research ethical challenges surrounding the concept of 'doing good'...

But there are also insights into global education challenges, preventing conflicts, artificial intelligence and how students should challenge the neoliberal academy!


New from aidnography
Love, Africa (book review)

At the end of the day, Gettleman’s memoir is not an exceptional piece of writing or insight and maybe other reviewers had expected more, because he is not ‘just’ a regular humanitarian aid worker or traveling journalist. He delivers an entertaining memoir that clearly has potential for further discussions and non-expert engagement around topics of foreign correspondents and journalism from and about Africa, but ultimately falls a bit short as self-reflective, and –critical assessment of how white men, global media brands and expat bubbles create ‘our’ image of a rapidly changing continent with its 54 countries.

Third World Quarterly & the colonialism debate
The saga continues and my Storify features an overview over the latest twists and turns...

Development news

Has the UN failed Myanmar's Rohingya Muslims?

The UN's priorities in Rakhine were examined in a report commissioned by the UN in 2015 entitled "Slippery Slope: Helping Victims or Supporting Systems of Abuse".
Leaked to the BBC, it is damning of the UNCT approach.
"The UNCT strategy with respect to human rights focuses too heavily on the over-simplified hope that development investment itself will reduce tensions, failing to take into account that investing in a discriminatory structure run by discriminatory state actors is more likely to reinforce discrimination than change it."
"I think the key lesson for Myanmar from Sri Lanka is the lack of a focal point. A senior level focal point addressing the situation in Myanmar in its totality - the political, the human rights, the humanitarian and the development. It remains diffuse. And that means over the last few years there have been almost competing agendas."
So might a different approach from the UN and the international community have averted the humanitarian disaster we are seeing now? It's hard to see how it might have deterred the Burmese army's massive response following the 25 August Rohingya militant attack
Jonah Fisher for BBC. As always, it is important to stress that the UN works on the invitation of and with governments; they can't simply intervene against the will of the regime. But there are obviously a few strategic options that the UN systems could have explored further...

The UN general assembly’s events have truly terrible titles—so we fixed them

Scaling Impact Investing
The ultimate guide to investing ethically while still making a ton of cash
Private Sector Accountability for Women, Children and Adolescents
Companies everywhere abuse women and kids, and now it’s payback time
Business Fights Poverty: Rethinking Collaboration for the SDGs
How I learned to stop being greedy and love meeting anti-poverty goals
Annalisa Merelli and Max de Haldevang for Quartz with their own version of UNGA reverse 'bullshit Bingo'...

'In school, but learning nothing'

"Many of these children are not hidden or isolated from their governments and communities - they are sitting in classrooms," said Silvia Montoya, director of the Unesco Institute for Statistics.
She said the report was a "wake-up call for far greater investment in the quality of education".
This problem of "schooling without learning" was also highlighted by the World Bank in a report this week.
It warned that millions of young people in low- and middle-income countries were receiving an inadequate education that would leave them trapped in low-paid and insecure jobs.
Sean Coughlan for BBC with reminder that focusing on building schools and featuring boys and girls in school uniforms in your organization's PR materials is actually not enough to prepare young people for a complex future...

Boys Are Not Defective

There are also practical differences in incentives: In Jordan, a boy with mediocre test scores can still get a job after high school, maybe with the police or maybe cleaning hotel rooms. It probably will not be a great job, but it will give him some money and allow him to marry someday, which remains a mark of status in the culture. What’s more, under the law, boys can often count on inheriting twice as much as girls.
Women and girls, on the other hand, have far fewer choices. They must either score high on the end-of-school exam (which only half of students typically pass) so that they can get admitted to a university and get a reputable job like a teacher or a doctor—or they must marry right away. It is considered dishonorable for a woman to work alongside men in service jobs at restaurants or hotels. “A boy doesn’t need to study hard to have a good job,” Mousa said. “But a girl needs to work hard to get a respectable job.”
Amanda Ripley for The Atlantic on gender gaps, incentives structures and the complexity of culture in the Middle East.

What does Artificial Intelligence mean for the future of poor countries?

‘Export led growth of the sort that created the East Asian legend of the 20th century could be a thing of the past….. This includes industrialized economies that have relied on the exports of manufactures and participation in global value chains—i.e. the Malaysias, Polands, and Thailands—as well as other economies—the Pakistans, Egypts, and Honduras—that are at earlier stages of industrialization.’
So the most successful ladder of development of the last 70 years – low skill, labour intensive industrialization – looks like to be kicked away. 5 million women in Bangladesh currently working in the a garments industry that, for all its flaws, has transformed their lives (and accounts for 80% of Bangladesh’s exports), will probably be replaced by robots, located nearer the consumer markets (no need to make T shirts in Bangladesh if cheap labour is no longer necessary).
Duncan Green for fp2p summarizes a very interesting discussion about the digital future for which most of #globaldev is not ready yet.

Why would anyone in Puerto Rico want a hurricane? Because someone will get rich.

The paradox of these Caribbean societies is that their economic challenges are often masked by an appearance of prosperity. Despite their relatively high incomes, places like Guiana, an overseas department of France, and Puerto Rico struggle with inflated prices for basic goods because of steep transportation costs from their colonial centers and restrictive legislation, such as the Jones Act, which limits their ability to engage in more favorable trade. This means many materials necessary for storm preparation — storm windows, generators, battery-powered electronics — carry price tags that are prohibitive for many. This spring, residents of Guiana sustained an 11-day mass strike to protest the economic hardship and social insecurity experienced by residents who feel ignored and abandoned by their government across the ocean.
Yarimar Bonilla for the Washington Post on Caribbean disaster capitalism and colonial pasts and presents.

Ounces of prevention, pounds of cure
The returns to prevention can basically be broken down into two parts: saved costs (the costs of reconstruction through foreign aid, the costs of peacekeeping in the recovery phase, humanitarian response, and so forth); and prevented damages (the economic value of lives lost and the cost of foregone economic growth due to conflict). Due to the huge impact that violence has on economic growth, the lost gross domestic product (GDP) plays a key role in the loss estimate.
This $33 Billion is net of the savings on prevention and reflects both GDP gains as well as avoiding fatalities and expenditures on peacekeeping and humanitarian response.
Gary Milante and Hannes Mueller for sipri with new evidence that prevention tops reconstruction; the full World Bank-UN report 'Pathways for Peace' is also available now.

The world is losing a generation of development leaders, and Melinda Gates wants to fix that
That idea now has a name: Pathways for Prosperity, an initiative Gates announced today at a dinner held by the foundation on the sidelines of this year’s UNGA. Due to kick off in January, Pathways will likely fund research around the future of work, access to services such as finance and health care, and safety nets to protect the poor and powerless. It will also convene discussions around those topics, potentially extending into hackathons and television programs.
Gates said Pathways will assemble alongside them a core of 10 or 12 development experts, practitioners, technologists, and academics. The Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford University is expected to be the Pathways secretariat, managing and staffing it and directing the research agenda.
Kevin Delaney for Quartz. Philanthrocapitalists, sigh...not that there is anything wrong with the agenda, but by focusing on individual leaders and involving a traditional institution like Oxford you will get more of the same...which is a shame at Gates has the power and capacity to do something differently-and look for different models and places!

Why Hollywood’s White Savior Obsession Is an Extension of Colonialism

There are many ways that Hollywood could do better. First, it could hire more diverse writers. Representation comes through hiring trans and nonbinary writers, black and brown writers, queer and disabled writers; it’s about engaging in the problematics of a system and not hiding from the reality that perpetuating whiteness as a norm hasn’t got us anywhere, ahem. The most damning part of the white savior complex is that Hollywood is making content for us, but without us in mind, usurping our stories with a white person’s guilt. If we want stronger storytelling, we have to be willing to invest in those who have that lived experience and nurture their voices, too. Because Hollywood is reliant upon us both to make money and to survive.
Fariha Róisín for Teen Vogue on the persistent trouble with white saviors on screen.

Our digital lives

Chasing the Flame: Does Media Coverage of Wildfires Probe Deeply Enough?
As it turns out, we know little about how local media engage with the increasingly common occurrence of repeated catastrophic wildfires, which might inspire a different style of reporting. As a former journalist myself, I was especially curious to know more.
These questions sent us digging into a stack of 1,702 news articles published by local media in Colorado before, during and after the 2012 wildfire season – the state’s worst in history. As we analyzed these stories, an unexpected trend appeared: Articles published on wildfires’ anniversaries were more likely to bring up tough policy questions than stories published at other times of year.
Adrianne Kroepsch for Scientific American with an overview of her latest research on local media journalism and moving from event coverage to asking more political questions about wildfires.

Learn from the Past, Prepare for the Future: Impacts of Education and Experience on Disaster Preparedness in the Philippines and Thailand

Controlling for the interplay between education and disaster experience, we show that education raises disaster preparedness only for those households that have not been affected by a disaster in the past. Education improves abstract reasoning and anticipation skills such that the better educated undertake preventive measures without needing to first experience the harmful event and then learn later. In line with recent efforts of various UN agencies in promoting education for sustainable development, this study provides a solid empirical evidence showing positive externalities of education in disaster risk reduction.
Roman Hoffman and Raya Muttarak with an open access article in World Development.


Everyday humanitarian practices can now take place in many different realms: in consumption, entertainment, or across social media. These are all areas that are traditionally considered outside of the humanitarian scope, not least because of their association with market-driven and celebrity-oriented activity rather than altruism and anonymity. Such practices can change – in both conservative and critical ways – how we seek to help others, and how think of ourselves when doing so.
Lisa Richey with an overview over contemporary approaches to humanitarianism for the International Political Economy of Everyday Life.

Vernacular #Humanitarianism, Adhocracy, and the Problem of Emotion

But as the experience of the BRSN shows, vernacular humanitarianism is often held hostage to the emotional and social needs of its donors, leaving aid delivery uneven and unstable in both space and time. Tightly bound to its social context, vernacular humanitarianism often leaves recipients as abstract and obscure figures abstracted from the real political and historical contexts that displaced them, and thus inadvertently reinforces the othering that characterizes anti-immigrant rhetoric (Malkki 1996). If the problem with institutional humanitarianism is that it operates through a chaotic and improvised “adhocracy” rather than the rationalized bureaucracy it claims to have (Dunn 2012), vernacular humanitarianism offers no remedy.
Sadly, for all its promise, humanitarianism outside the organizational structures of the international system seems unlikely to replace its institutional counterpart.
Elizabeth Cullen Dunn for AllegraLab with an interesting reflection on new forms of humanitarianism and old problems of political and organizational limitations.

“Responsible Research”: Reducing Risk or Improving Well-being?

But, while local research codes and guidelines are a commendable and perhaps necessary intervention in some cases, as mentioned above, I worry that such research ethical guidelines may offer an illusion or promise of a template for an ethically unproblematic research project, erased of inevitable knowledge and power asymmetries. Do such indigenous ethics codes shift the fundamental measures of what is considered “responsible research”? Do they continue to operate within a paradigm of “reducing risks” or will they open up new possibilities of science in/with/for communities?
But, while local research codes and guidelines are a commendable and perhaps necessary intervention in some cases, as mentioned above, I worry that such research ethical guidelines may offer an illusion or promise of a template for an ethically unproblematic research project, erased of inevitable knowledge and power asymmetries. Do such indigenous ethics codes shift the fundamental measures of what is considered “responsible research”? Do they continue to operate within a paradigm of “reducing risks” or will they open up new possibilities of science in/with/for communities?
Angela Okune for Critical Investigations into Humanitarianism in Africa continues this section on humanitarianism with important reflections on research ethics and involving 'native people'.

Doing Fieldwork among People We Don’t (Necessarily) Like

There is an albeit small window of opportunity now for anthropologists to come to ethnographic grips with the rise of far- and populist right-wing formations in both Europe and the US and what their rise tell us about the changing nature of our lives, societies and politics at the moment. We could do worse than stepping up to this challenge here and now at a time when what was once on the fringe in our own societies have all of sudden and quite disturbingly turned mainstream.
Sindre Bangstad for Anthropology News. Engaging with groups and people from outside the filter bubble is a core trait of anthropology. But there are some points where I disagree with Sindre. We also need to be aware of the power of legitimizing radical, absurd, 'stupid' and fringe groups and their believes. What could an actual research agenda look like that doesn't just uncover the same stuff about 'Trump voters' that we don't know already? Why is it important to understand the super-rich or super-right/left-wing-beyond what we already know anyway?!?

Speak out, get feedback and don’t be a consumer: advice for a new student

Students need to be offered an environment for learning, and if that’s not forthcoming they should demand it to be so. “The more it costs, the less it’s worth,” students shouted in protest to the introduction of fees and indebtedness. Nevertheless, thinking and intellectual growth cannot be purchased “off the peg”. It makes universities into places of skills transmission, or a kind of financial transaction. The university can foster a place where we can “think together” about difficult problems and practise what Fichte called the “exercise of critical judgment”. This means not being just a consumer, and thinking for yourself with others.
Les Back for the Guardian with advice for (new) students on how to maneuver neoliberal academia.


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