Summer Break 2019 + Links & Contents I Liked 332

Hi all,

Following my first blogging summer break last year, Aidnography will take a break until about mid-August again.
My final post consists of two part, first some new #globaldev Links I Liked that actually address topics that will still be relevant in a month's time and then a quick review of some of my key posts from the first half of 2019 as well as a few book recommendations for your summer reading list!


New from aidnography
Who Owns England? (Book review)

Shrubsole’s book is not just an interesting case study of English history and contemporary conditions under the ‘neoliberal’ condition.
Questions about land ownership are playing an important role when we discuss sustainable development. After the initial excitement the debates on ‘land grabbing’ in the global South seem to have lost a little bit of momentum, but ownership of agricultural land, land for infrastructure developments or for a new middle class of home owners are not just discussion for the former imperial center…
Development news
The New York Times' job advertisement for their East Africa bureau chief in Nairobi created quite a lot of debate this week:

Love, Africa (book review)
Gettleman is quite fond of Gettleman; that may not be that surprising given that he is writing his memoir, but it may also be indicative of similar Generation X narratives: His story is not a ‘rags to riches’ story, Gettleman essentially gets paid for creative work he loves and is good at and once his wife Courtenay has come to terms with the ‘emergency sex’ cheating they are starting a family and settle firmly into Nairobi. There is clearly a ‘I would do it again!’ notions about his experiences-and some parts of the European white academic male in me initial think ‘why not?!’.
In 2017 I reviewed the memoir of the outgoing Nairobi bureau chief Jeffrey Gettleman and it seems that many mindsets have not changed really...

The Problem with ‘Fixers’

The division between correspondents and fixers is not only a matter of title, compensation, and credit. It is also what determines who gets to tell the story. The role of journalism is to question the dominant authority and destabilize reductionist narratives. But too often, Western journalists are the sole authors of stories about non-Western subjects, and the inequitable relationships within journalism get reproduced in the published work. The result is a glut of predictable and monotonous news pieces about rape in India and war in El Salvador.
In 2013, Dixit was hired as a fixer by a German filmmaker for a documentary on women’s safety in India. The filmmaker expected Dixit to fetch her from the airport and drive her around. Dixit complied. But then the filmmaker demanded, “I want to interview a rape survivor who can speak English, for my camera.” Dixit felt she had to speak up. (Hearing this story, I was reminded of the 1978 memoir by Edward Behr, Anyone Here Been Raped and Speaks English?) Many foreign journalists might not be so shameless. But there’s a word for the act of flying in to claim ownership of the stories of others: imperialism.
Priyanka Borpujari for the Columbia Journalism Review coincidentally adds some important food for thought to the foreign correspondent debate.

UK government among those exaggerating impact of aid

Most aid and development projects are subject to independent evaluations. But the article warned that funders maintain a high degree of confidentiality and control over the results.
In some instances, researchers who attempted to document negative findings had been subject to “personal and institutional pressure, intimidation and censorship”, the article said. The authors also warned of more subtle forms of bias, such as self-censorship on the part of academics and embellished findings.
Perverse incentives across the development sector encourage the use of “bad or fudged” data by agencies, it added. The article referred to previous warnings of a “success cartel” in global health, where pressure to achieve targets has led some governments and other development agencies to inflate their achievements.
Rebecca Ratcliffe for the Guardian. Power relations, politics & concerns about funding...some things have always been around in almost eight decades of modern 'development'...

New Research Released Into The Need For More Research About Charities and Giving
Caroline Fiennes, Director of Giving Evidence, said: “We were surprised by how uninterested charities and donors seemed to be in academic research. We were also stuck by the mismatch between the topics that they said they were interested in and the focus of the existing research. Clearly the voice of the intended beneficiary is not the sole determinant of a research agenda, but it is an important component. (...).The research also points to some activities that would be valuable beyond producing more research. One is helping charities and donors to find and use existing research –for example, about the effectiveness of various interventions, which they can use to design programmes. And another is training charities and donors about research methods e.g., for identifying impact, because there were several requests for research methods which in fact already exist.”
Charity Futures and Giving Evidence introduce new research studies. In some ways the findings are not surprising-the story of 'influencing policy' and 'organizational learning' through research have also been around for a while. From an academic perspective, I tend to disagree slightly with the findings: Academia has made a lot of efforts to communicate research better, to leave the stereotypical 'ivory tower', to focus on applied forms of research and be more participatory-and yet, they do not reach many organizations. On the one hand, this is not surprising: Producing more peer-reviewed articles for journals behind paywalls will not have any impact on non-academic stakeholders; this is not just a question about open access; the genre of 'journal article' is unsuitable for any meaningful engagement outside a narrow in-group in academia. On the other hand, it has always been easy to demand more from academics, pushing them to communicate more, better and with different tools. If many charities are not interested in academic research, no amount of events or impact case studies will likely change that. And establishing an Institute of Charity research at Oxford of all places...well, it reminded me of the final line from the Great Gatsby:
'So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.' 

Ecuador legalized gangs. Murder rates plummeted.
In your 2017 study, you note that Ecuador’s murder rates fell drastically after it legalized gangs — from 15.35 per 100,000 people in 2011 to 5 per 100,000 people in 2017. To what extent can you show that that was actually caused by gang legalization, as opposed to other factors?
David Brotherton
Statistically, you can only show correlation. And, actually, at first I thought maybe the crime rate was going down because the country had reformed the police. But we spent a year traveling around Ecuador and interviewing all the [gang] leaders. And when you hang out for a while, you see how differently they respond to conflicts now. For example, they [the Latin Kings] put on one of the biggest hip hop concerts ever, and they worked with other previously antagonistic gangs on the project.
It’s all about a progressive, rational policy for social control. There’s this idea known as “deviance amplification” — basically, when you want to stop a behavior, the worst thing you can do is prohibit it. Social inclusion is the most productive means of social control. You have to have a system where most of people’s engagement with the authorities is as positive as possible.
The state can’t just say, “This is the American dream, you can do it, so do it.” The state has to say, “I want you, and I’m going to help you in these concrete ways, and I’m going to win your trust.”
Sigal Samuel talks to David Brotherton for Vox about gangs, long-term qualitative research and an approach to legalization that will unlikely gain much traction in the US.

Eight reports from UN humanitarian week you ought to know about

When hundreds of aid officials, NGO workers, and diplomats gather in Geneva, you can be sure of one thing: there’ll be publications and PDFs galore. We’ve gathered our top eight here
The New Humanitarian with some food for summer reading (well, not really, but perhaps download them to the 'to read' folder for later on...).

Aidnography Summer Break

For your summer reading list:
Algiers, Third World Capital-Freedom Fighters, Revolutionaries, Black Panthers

Algiers, Third World Capital, brings out the best in what I appreciate so much about alternative writings about the history of development: Through the eyes of a fascinating personality the reader is immersed in a historical puzzle that vividly and also entertainingly, outlines the complexities of transformation, of alternatives ideas, different ideals and insights into societies, countries and larger parts of the world in limbo.
In the end, I am basically repeating my previous praise for J’s writing. Cross-border is an entertaining read during your next ‘airport purgatory’, a thoughtful reflection on contemporary challenges in humanitarianism that students (and researchers!) should discuss and the continuation of friend’s literary journey that I have been fortunate to accompany from my academic sideline!
Heineken in Africa-A Multinational Unleashed
Heineken in Africa is an excellent book, one that underlines the importance of taking a long-term, historical perspective when assessing corporate engagement in Africa and highlighting the nuances of how multinational companies operate in what is all too often labelled as a ‘difficult’ environment. Van Beemen’s particularly strength lies in the fact that he not vilifying a company or making blanket claims about the ‘evils of capitalism’ and yet provides ample of food for thought for assessing the private sector’s role for ‘sustainable development’. Heineken’s impact of local labour markets is smaller than what one might expect, its interest in accountability when it comes to the host countries is weak and ‘corporate social responsibility’ not more than an evolving buzzword.
Some food for thought:
Are you planning to apply to or even start an MA in Development?
6 points to consider before applying to an MA program in international development

In case the 'white savior' debate will resurface over the summer...
White saviour communication rituals in 10 easy steps

Our digital lives

Race in the Digital Periphery: The New (Old) Politics of Refugee Representation

This means that it has become easier to track refugees by benign actors, such as keenly interested academics, NGOs, and rescue coordinators, as well as more sinister actors including border security towards the interception of migrants. From mathematical formulas that neatly calculate the numbers of refugees any given European country should receive, to technical innovations that surveil mobility, there is no shortage of examples as to how sociotechnical imaginaries have shaped and determined refugee destinies. Dijstelbloem and Meijer point to digital technologies as a symbolic front, or a political strategy, through which governments can claim that they are proactive in their management of borders. My interest in these developments have been along two lines: first, how technological interventions, such as these, are seen as a way of bypassing the politics of migration and integration (meanwhile deferring power to but a few large tech corporations), and; secondly, how inequities and discrimination resulting from these interventions have been defined as technical questions.
Matthew Sepehr Mahmoudi for the Sociological Review with an excellent overview over his research and broader questions about 'the digital' and refugees.

To Really 'Disrupt,' Tech Needs to Listen to Actual Researchers

Above all, successfully implementing technology requires more than socially-wise engineers. Technology workers' recent protests prove that it takes more than ethical judgement to implement ethical technologies. Workers across the industry sounded alarm bells over the last year as part of the #techwontbuildit movement. Tech workers have begun to protest unethical technologies by producing letters, petitions, work slowdowns, and even walkouts. Ethics guide our sense of right and wrong, but it does not empower democracy in the tech world. For this, students in computing-related fields need a sense of history and society that exceeds design or behavioral knowledge.
What we need is an approach that empowers citizens, civic organizations, and advocacy groups to take collective action. We will make progress when we collaborate with impacted communities to identify the issues that matter most and arrive at inclusive solutions. Community organizations already exist to combat the very real institutional and systemic injustices that plague vulnerable communities. We do not need to clarify the technology, we need to identify how technology might exacerbate those challenges.
Lilly Irani & Rumman Chowdhury for Wired. I have reading similar articles for a couple of years now and not much has changed-or things are actually changing for the worse...

Global Digital Cultures: Perspectives from South Asia

From massive state-driven digital identity projects and YouTube censorship to Tinder and dating culture, from Twitter and primetime television to Facebook and political rumors, Global Digital Cultures focuses on enduring concerns of representation, identity, and power while grappling with algorithmic curation and data-driven processes of production, circulation, and consumption.
Aswin Punathambekar & Sriram Mohan with a new open access collection for University of Michigan Press.


Saudi Arabia, Humanitarian Aid and Knowledge Production: What do we really know? #MUHUM
Gaining trust and access to sites of humanitarian practice is often challenging, yet imperative to understand the diversity and complexity of the humanitarian field. In the course of my research on domestic charitable practice in Saudi Arabia I encountered a broad range of different visions of community engagement, gathered under the umbrella of charity. Humanitarianism has offered a niche for my interlocutors in Jeddah and Riyadh, who sought to make a positive change. However, what constitutes “positive change” is a highly contested topic in today’s Saudi Arabia.
Nora Derbal continues the excellent Allegra Lab feature on #MUHUM - Muslim Humanitarianism!
Black academics bear brunt of university work on race equality
For the past two years, Thomas-Asante, co-president for democracy and education at Soas University of London student union, has attended meetings, panel discussions and focus groups, created mentoring schemes, organised events, listened to the problems experienced by BAME students and liaised between them and academic staff.
At first, she did so voluntarily, but it is now a paid role after she was advised by a BAME staff member not to work for free. While she loves doing the job and values the way the university involves students in addressing the attainment gap, she says it’s a lot of psychological pressure. “Just because it’s paid doesn’t mean it’s any less difficult. It’s an immense amount of work that you cannot do alone. It’s not enough always for universities to say the work is being done because students are doing it,” she says.
It is not only BAME students who bear the brunt of schemes to address inequality – academic staff from under-represented groups feel it too. Kalwant Bhopal, professor of education and social justice at the University of Birmingham, says that if there are issues around race and racial inequality “there seems to be an expectation that this should fall as a burden on BAME groups”.
Harriet Swain for the Guardian continues the discussion we already know from North America concerning black and indigenous academics in particular.

Why a decolonial lens must be at the heart of all those who claim to research and teach “development”

Despite the fact that there are increasing attempts to “decolonise development”, much of academic debate is still concerned with questions of how to fix development, how to make approaches, projects and interventions more applicable, but seldom on questioning the complex web of who defines “development”, who practices development, with what means and to what ends. Most importantly, why do Western universalist idea(l)s of progress and growth continue to occupy the core of all deliberations? Without attempting to be conclusive, I want to highlight what I see as first careful steps towards approaching development studies with a decolonial lens, starting in the areas of research, teaching and collaboration.
Julia Schöneberg for EADI outlines what 'decolonising' development studies means for her. I guess you are already following the excellent Convivial Thinking project that has much more on this topic!


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