Showing posts with the label academia

Radical Approaches to Political Science (book review)

You have to be a bit of a polsci nerd to fully enjoy Radical Approaches to Political Science. Roads Less Traveled, a collection of essays by German political scientist Rainer Eisfeld. 
But if you choose to indulge in this eclectic collection, I can almost promise you that you will come across new and interesting insights from fields of inquiry that are certainly not political science mainstream or well-covered by conventional literature. And even though Rainer Eisfeld does not explicitly talk about ‘international development’ he actually presents quite a few things that are relevant in the context of regime (changes), history and the complex shades of grey that often get lost in dominant black and white narratives. The research and writings that were part of my undergraduate degree in political science in Germany were part of the canon that Eisfeld criticizes right from the beginning as ‘political studies (that) have largely been reduced to a functionalist science of “managing” parlia…

Do we really need more new development ethnography? – a response to Ed Carr

Ed Carr asked a few days ago Should ethnographies have an expiration date? and invited me and other colleagues to comment-which I am more than happy to do.
I do not disagree with Ed in principle (he already anticipated on facebook that we are likely ending up ‘hugging it out’ ;) and his argument for more relevant ethnography in development research is very valid as is his main question whether and how such anthropological knowledge ‘expires’.
However, his post triggered a few thoughts of my own and there are some nuances about contemporary development anthropology that I want to elaborate on a bit more:

‘Clusterfication’ of (development) anthropology
Substantial parts of my doctoral field research took place in Nepal, probably one of the best researched places with regard to anthropology, ethnography and development research.
And as much as I have enjoyed meeting fascinating colleagues and learning a lot about various places and spaces, there was a feeling sometimes that Nepal is ‘over…

MOOCs, power relations & the tacit knowledge of academic socialization

Professors in the philosophy department at San Jose State University are refusing to teach a philosophy course developed by edX, saying they do not want to enable what they see as a push to "replace professors, dismantle departments, and provide a diminished education for students in public universities."
(Why Professors at San Jose State Won't Use a Harvard Professor's MOOC)The more I engage with the MOOC debate (e.g.), the more I am wondering whether the focus on lecturing, teaching and the virtual or physical classroom experience ignores important and powerful debates in higher education. These are debates that those institutions that are at the forefront of the MOOC trend tend to conveniently ignore.

My reflection will focus on the argument that academic socialization, learning the tacit knowledge that comes with a university education and the powerful ‘soft skills’ happen to a large extent outsi…

Are journals hindering creative academic writing & engagement with research?

tl;dr (for those who find blog posts on academic publishing too long)
The focus onopen access publishing’ and ‘better academic writing’ may be overrated when it comes to fostering creative writing, public engagement with research or finding cures to eradicate poverty because the commodity of academic journal articles has limited value outside a relatively narrow circle of academic insiders.
In addition to advocating for more open access publishing we should think outside the box of a particular written genre to ensure that the goals we envision to achieve are truly met in today’s digital world.
And sometimes not publishing another article at all can be the part of the solution, too...

For quite some time now, there has been a debate in the academic sphere about the future of academic journal article publications that more or less focuses on questions around access, namely on publishing these articles under various ‘open access’ options. Aaron Swartz was maybe the most prominent activi…

John Marsh: Why Education Is Not an Economic Panacea-insights for development?

John Marsh just published an interesting article in the Chronicle of Higher Education on 'Why Education is not an Economic Panacea'. The article is long and a bit confusing to read. It is based on the author's experience in an education project for poor members of the community:
The idea was simple. Faculty from the University of Illinois would offer night classes in their areas of expertise [...] for anyone in the community who was between the ages of 18 and 45 and lived at 150 percent of the poverty level of income or lower. [...] Students who completed the nine-month course would receive six hours of college credit, which they could then transfer to other institutions of higher learning. Everything would be free: tuition, books, even child care at a nearby community center. We named it after a similar program in Chicago, the Odyssey Project.
In short, the programme was based on the well-known dicussion that 
education pays, and pays more than ever. If so, it must …

New paper I like (02): Scholars Who Became Practitioners

At first sight and read, Nora Lustig's latest CGDev paper looks like an unspectatcular working paper with a long sub-title: 'Scholars Who Became Practitioners: The Influence of Research on the Design, Evaluation, and Political Survival of Mexico’s Antipoverty Program Progresa/Oportunidades'. The summary does not really tell you why I like this paper either:
Celebrated by academics, multilateral organizations, policymakers and the media, Mexico’s Progresa/ Oportunidades conditional cash transfers program (CCT) is constantly used as a model of a successful antipoverty program. Here I argue that the transformation of well-trained scholars into influential practitioners played a fundamental role in promoting a new conceptual approach to poverty reduction, ensuring the technical soundness and effectiveness of the program, incorporating rigorous impact evaluation, and persuading politicians to implement and keep the program in place. The involvement of scholar-practitioners also …

Highly educated, poorly paid women in short-term jobs without career support – welcome to the world of NGOs!

This is a very blunt summary of interesting research on the non-profit sector in Nova Scotia, Canada.
Granted, Nova Scotia may not be a hub for international development work and my assumption is that it is a relatively small part of the non-profit sector here, but nonetheless this is an interesting view from the ‘margins’ with some likely broader implications for other parts of the world and development work in particular.
Recently, the lead researcher shared some of her key findings and they are definitely food for thought.  This is in a nutshell what the project has been about:
In 2007, Phoenix partnered with the Federation of Community Organizations (FOCO) to undertake a labour market study of the NFP sector in Nova Scotia. From January to June 2011, the labour market information was followed-up with an intensive six-month mapping of sector development strategies. Labour market information on the non-profit sector is especially valuable because it helps us understand: Who works in the …

Academic socialisation, publishing and Tyler Cowen

Tyler Cowen shared some basic rules for academic publishing in a video two weeks ago. I was a bit disappointed, because it appears that he took a very conservative stance on the subject, not mentioning the 'political economy' of publishing that is often part of the process. He seems to follow a purely scientific model where a high-class paper will be reviewed by high-class reviewers leading to high-class feedback and in the end to a high-class publication on your CV. This is not going to be a rant suggesting that there are secret networks of power and mafia-like structures when is comes to getting into the publishing circles, but my experience so far is that in addition to good, high-quality research you need the right amount of luck, take advantage of unexpected opportunities and be prepared to learn that publishing does not take place in an unbiased, purely scientific bubble where only 'the best' research is going to be published. Cowen's talk reminded me a bit o…

Is development a city, a corporation or something completely different?

The headline may sound a bit strange, but after Ran Prieur’s reflections on a longer conversation and essay by Geoffrey West it turns out to be a legitimate question after all. I came across Ran’s summary first before reading Geoffrey’s essay:
West is a physicist who tried to find universal laws for biology, and he discovered that a bunch of things scale exponentially with size, and the exponent is less than one, which means as an organism gets bigger, certain things get smaller in ways that you can mathematically predict. [...] Then he started looking at human social systems, and he discovered that cities scale with an exponent greater than one, which means a city of a million people will have more production and innovation than ten cities of a hundred thousand. Also it will have more crime and disease, and people will walk faster! [...] Then West looks at corporations, and finds that they operate like individual organisms, not like cities. So a billion dollar company will have lower…

Celebrating the work of Robert Chambers

The IDS Alumni Association celebrated the work of Robert Chambers last week with a special event and the launch of the book 'Revolutionising Development: Reflecting Forwards'.
I did not attend and just want to take this opportunity to share and collect some impressions and follow-up comments from the event. 

First, it is always fantastic to see Robert 'in action' and this flickr album is a fantastic proof that Robert and well and active! I hope that they will add more reflections such as Kamal Singh's who shares his insights at the end in this 9-minute video. Kamal is the CEO of Khanya-acidd, the African Institute for Community-Driven Development.

IDS director Lawrence Haddad shares some reflections in his latest blog post:
I have only worked in the same place as him for 7 years. He is inspirational, visionary, full of energy and directs his ego into his work and not into his own position. In a room full of gurus at IDS today, he was the guru's guru (although …

Some reflections from an academic job interview non-dialogue

I was surprised when I was invited to an academic job interview to a university in the North of the UK. Although the department appeared to be focussing on International Relations and Security Studies they were looking for a lecturer on conflict and development. A good friend of mine was also invited so I knew from the beginning that I was not the only potentially fig-leaf anthropologist or qualitative researcher; we were five candidates in total from a range of well-known UK development studies departments. However, there was no preliminary phone interview and in the end the experience turned out to be quite frustrating, though shedding at least a few insights into recruitment practices at highly ranked British universities. The 20-minute presentation of my research in front of a group of about 15 staff members went well, but there were literally two short questions afterwards because of time constraints (friends in the US told me about 30 minute presentations and a thesis viva-like …

Publishing books vs. the modern world II - The Ebook post

A few months ago I shared some musings, based on my initial experiences with blogging, about writing and publishing in an academic context
The main point was that the current academic system supports a publication model that ensures high profits for (academic) publishers, but that does not do much in terms of sharing knowledge, starting debates or helping academic writing to get feedback from the ‘real world’ - vital for research on international development, anthropology or any other social science. In the end, there is often an expensive hardcover book that is difficult to order and while many complain that such books are basically ending up on library shelves, they are ending up on library shelves without much notice other than by the library accountant who oversees an ever-dwindling budget for acquisitions.
A few days ago I read a long and insightful interview with Barry Eisler and Joe Konrath on Ebooks and self-publishing. They are outlining some of the key challenges publishers …