Links & Contents I Liked 336

Hi all,

We welcomed more than 150 new students to our Communication for Development courses this week so I'm equal parts exhausted and thrilled about the forthcoming semester with a great group of global students!

My quotes of the week
As I shared video footage with friends in Puerto Rico, they remarked, “I know the sound of that wind.” Is this what it means to be intimately connected by horror? Is there a new creolized language and aesthetic we have now become fluent in by default? We are island people. Where do you go? We live on slim margins.
Hurricane Dorian Makes Bahamians the Latest Climate-Crisis Victims)
Giving charity and doing voluntourism are self-gratifying ways of filling this void that they feel – and are a whole lot easier than doing the work to find the root cause of what is wrong in their own lives.
“We Aren’t Just Vehicles for your Guilt and Privilege”: A View from Nepal (Part One)


New from aidnography

Everything you have told me is true (book review)

Mary Harper is the BBC Africa editor and has reported on Africa and its conflict zones for 25 years and her biggest achievement with this book is her nuanced, careful, critical and ultimately empathetic engagement with Somalia and her citizens. Her book is not about a ‘failed state’ that has been captured by a terrorist group, but about the fact that 'many people have multiple identities, one of which is some kind of association with Al Shabaab, sometimes voluntary, sometimes pragmatic, sometimes forced'.
Development news
Hurricane Dorian Makes Bahamians the Latest Climate-Crisis Victims

We watch as the governments of small island states like our own, tied to multinational agreements, are forced to make decisions that are not in the best interests of the people they serve, while our electrical grid fails and we are made more dependent on fossil fuels rather than renewable energy. “Too expensive,” they say. “For whom?” we reply. “Is cost the only consideration?”
This is no longer unusual for Caribbean people. As I shared video footage with friends in Puerto Rico, they remarked, “I know the sound of that wind.” Is this what it means to be intimately connected by horror? Is there a new creolized language and aesthetic we have now become fluent in by default? We are island people. Where do you go? We live on slim margins.
Erica Moiah James for the New York Times with a reminder that the climate crisis will be at heart of #globaldev in the future (In 2017 I curated Reading #Maria through a #globaldev lens).

RIP Immanuel Wallerstein — “This is the end; this is the beginning”

“I had the gut feeling in the 1950s that the most important thing that was happening in the twentieth‑century world was the struggle to overcome the control by the Western world of the rest of the world. Today we call this a concern with North‑South relations, or with core‑periphery relations, or with Eurocentrism. It has to be said that, in the 1950s and indeed for a long time thereafter, my assessment of what was most important was not shared by most people, for whom what some called the Cold War between democracy and totalitarianism and others called the struggle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat (both of these terms being rather narrowly defined) was (and indeed for many, remains) the central defining issue of our time.
Oleg Komlik for Economic Sociology and Political Economy with an obituary for Immanuel Wallerstein.

MIT Media Lab founder: Taking Jeffrey Epstein’s money was justified
The comments clearly stunned some of his listeners. A woman in the front row began crying. Kate Darling, a research scientist at the MIT Media Lab, shouted, “Nicholas, shut up!” Negroponte responded that he would not shut up and that he had founded the Lab, to which Darling said, “We’ve been cleaning up your messes for the past eight years.”
Zuckerman, who had spoken earlier in the meeting, also had a brief spat with Negroponte. Negroponte pressed on: in the fund-raising world, he said, these types of occurrences were not out of the ordinary, and they shouldn’t be reason enough to cut off business relationships. It wasn’t until Darling yelled “Shut up!” again that Negroponte mumbled “Good grief,” and sat down. Soon after, the meeting disbanded.
Angela Chen & Karen Hao for MIT Technology Review. Negroponte is the man behind the infamous One Laptop per Child initiative; I wrote about 'OLPC in Ethiopia: The thin line between digital innovation, cargo cult and peoples on parade' in 2012.

UN communications chief under fire for tweeting refugee's details

“There are two issues. First is the way members of the humanitarian community use pictures and videos of the people they claim they are trying to help. The way they dehumanise them or actively endanger them. It is very common.”
“You see the banner on Melissa Fleming’s feed, where children are gathered behind her, presumably those who have been ‘helped’.” It was a form of “white-saviourism” that “has been happening for decades and it still happening” he said.
Fleming, who was chief communications officer at UNHCR until Friday, when she left to take up her new post, told the Guardian she had sent the tweet to raise awareness of how child refugees were unable to access education. She said she had “immediately acknowledged my mistake” and deleted the tweet, and said she was currently trying to locate the child’s family to apologise.
Karen McVeigh for the Guardian. This is less about bashing Melissa Fleming and more about a general statement to respect data privacy in your #globaldev communications.

Selling stories of war in Sierra Leone
Engaging the same participants over and over again naturally impacts their interview expectations, a situation exacerbated by the high number of development interventions in Sierra Leone. Such interventions often mirror research practices and are experienced similarly by participants, though their purposes differ. It’s important to acknowledge the compound effect of these different factors, and researchers should consider the level of aggregate exposure when selecting cases and populations.
The commercialisation of conflict experiences in Sierra Leone highlights the need to recognise that knowledge production does not take place in isolation. Exposure has created expectations and has engendered an industry of research participation. At the same time, knowledge production generally remains extractive.
Sayra van den Berg for Open Democracy. This is an interesting piece, but I think we could be even more explicit that there are over-researched areas and locations on #globaldev research and that not going 'there' is also a legitimate research choice.

Britain’s Warfare State

Military industry in the UK is made up of close to 2,500 companies, generates £33.5bn in turnover and employs 128,000 people, according to the government. Yet even from this high base, the government is currently seeking, in effect, to further militarise the British economy and society.
So Brexit is driving UK leaders' new military ambitions. Or perhaps providing an easy cover for their ambitions. Either way, the whole strategy raises concerns. Does this enhanced global military strategy have public support? It is hard to say because it has been so little debated. The public is surely even less likely to support future entanglement in wars in Asia than it does Britain's current wars in the Middle East. What is clearer is that Britain needs an industrial strategy that makes the economy less dependent on the military and arms exports and which articulates a transition towards creating new, civilian jobs for large numbers of people. But at the same time, Britain surely needs to move away from its imperial pretensions to police the world's oceans.
Matt Kennard & Mark Curtis for the Pulitzer Center on how the UK is fueling the global arms trade.

Cold Case Hammarskjöld’s Artful Paranoia

It is impossible in this paranoid-making era to watch Cold Case and not be made to feel uneasy by the secrets it unlocks and the human aptitude for evil that it exposes. Its questions about the ways in which corporate interests—such as the Belgian mining company Union Minière du Haut Katanga, which backed Tshombe’s breakaway move—can undermine good intentions (in this case, Dag Hammarskjöld’s integrity and vision of a more egalitarian distribution of wealth in Africa), could not be more timely. Although the film starts out by positioning itself as a deliberately meta-inquiry, replete with self-mocking gestures, it ends by being a deeply serious and deeply unsettling portrait of a world run by exploiters, whose avarice and self-interest is served at the expense of the vulnerable and the dispossessed.
Daphne Merkin for the New Republic on a new Hammarskjöld documentary. Somehow, I have the feeling that reading Susan Williams' book could be more enlightening on this story...

“We Aren’t Just Vehicles for your Guilt and Privilege”: A View from Nepal (Part One)

Growing up alongside international volunteers has impacted me hugely. When I look into the bigger picture of what is going on with them I can see how their actions have a lengthy history and are related to human psychology. That volunteers feel the need to give things to people they don’t know on the other side of the world must be a response to a kind of emptiness in their own life. They live a life with every material wish fulfilled, and yet no amount of cars, luxury resorts, or material possessions can satisfy them. Giving charity and doing voluntourism are self-gratifying ways of filling this void that they feel – and are a whole lot easier than doing the work to find the root cause of what is wrong in their own lives.
There is a saying in Hindi: “Who will make their hands dirty by doing the cleaning in their own house?” It basically means that the best way to avoid dealing with your own problems is to get yourself involved in someone else’s problems. I think it is the perfect metaphor for what is going on with those volunteers.
Rishi Bhandari for Great to read about volunteering from a local perspective. Coincidentally, five years ago an article on Nepal's orphanage tourism made into the blog as well (see bottom of post)...

Getting the story right
Thus, rather than simply wondering if Africa’s narrative has changed, perhaps the real questions should be: how are narratives on and about Africa changing? Could there be a room for Africans to claim their ownership? And how to best do that? The task is not to replace one single story with another. Rather, as Peter da Costa eloquently argues: “There is a need to push the boundaries, to find new ways to communicate about [developments], to represent Africa in all its complexity and contradiction…” Only then will we have in-depth and informed analyses; and only then will we offer balanced perspectives about the complex dynamics unfolding in Africa. The real challenge, in a nutshell, is to provide balanced and substantiated perspectives, rather than catchy titles with hollow contents.
Abdou Rahim Lema for Africa is a Country on the stories of/about/with/from Africa.

‘Tipping’ in contemporary India: A colonial story

Essentially, the baksheesh system in India has been systematizing corruption, class conflicts, socio-economic divisions and poor workplace performance from the colonial to the postcolonial times. Looking deeper into the system of tipping unfurls the different ways through which India continues to be infected with the toxins of colonization.
Sayan Dey for Convivial Thinking with more insights into the legacies of colonization on contemporary routines.

Our digital lives
The ballet world is still male-dominated, research shows

That certainly resonates with my experience. It is commonplace to hear artistic directors of the largest, most influential companies freely opine publicly that women cannot be choreographers, for the most risible, blatantly illogical reasons, including “Women don’t want to choreograph, they just want to have babies and dance” (told to me at a company fundraiser) or this gem from a recent gala, reported by a woman well known for her advocacy for women in finance: “Women cannot choreograph because they are used to being lifted on stage, so they cannot see what’s going on behind them.” Nope, not making it up. Alexei Ratmansky, who as the in-house choreographer for American Ballet Theatre has immense influence, stated on Facebook in 2017 that there is no equality in ballet, and he is fine with that, it is simply part of the tradition and the way things are.
Elizabeth Yntema for Women's Media Center with another industry ready for a #MeToo-esque disruption...

State of Open Data

As the open data movement enters a new phase in its evolution, shifting to target real-world problems and embed open data thinking into other existing or emerging communities of practice, big questions still remain. How will open data initiatives respond to new concerns about privacy, inclusion, and artificial intelligence? And what can we learn from the last decade in order to deliver impact where it is most needed? The State of Open Data brings together over 65 authors from around the world to address these questions and to take stock of the real progress made to date across sectors and around the world, uncovering the issues that will shape the future of open data in the years to come.
Open Data for Development with their latest publication.

The credibility problem of United Nations official statistics on Internally Displaced Persons by Gloria Nguya and Dirk-Jan Koch

We do not argue that the numbers provided by the UN are too high, or too low: we also do not know. In our research we noticed that to determine if somebody is an IDP according to the UN definition one needs to engage in conversations with the potential IDP in terms of the origin of the move, their needs or issues. The methodology that the UN has used, notably asking key informants, such as neighborhood leaders, instead of potential IDPs themselves, isn’t accurate enough according to us.
Gloria Nguya & Dirk-Jan Koch for the ISS Blog on Global Development and Social Justice on the challenges of counting and the power of numbers...

What we were reading 5 years ago

(Link review 125, 12 September 2014)
10 Lessons I have learned as a community development worker

Although I was born and raised in Uganda, it has not been my home for 25 years. this means that I don’t always understand the ways in which the country has changed/evolved and this has implications for the work that I do
Children in Nepal orphanages 'at risk of abuse'
Private orphanages have mushroomed across Nepal in the absence of a state-run welfare system, their growth fuelled by corruption and the prospect of attracting donations from foreigners, activists say.
Robinson, whose name has been changed, and others fear some of these unregulated orphanages are neglecting and possibly abusing children in their care.
Voluntourism as Neoliberal Humanitarianism
Tristan Biehn examines the new imperial ideologies present in narratives manufactured by the websites of youth-centred volunteer abroad organizations. These narratives serve to instil neoliberal, capitalist understandings of the issues of global inequality and poverty in prospective volunteers, resulting in the depoliticization and decontextualization of such issues. Biehn finds that ideas of “change” and “good” are ubiquitous and yet are left undefined, that claims of “helping” and “immersion” are questionable, and that the utility of international student volunteering lies not in the benevolent donation of unskilled western youth labour to underprivileged communities, but in the production of ideal neoliberal subjects.


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