Are we still chasing the flame? A few reflections after reading Sergio Vieira de Mello’s biography

My last post for this year will be in line with the reflective end-of-the-year mood rather than engaging with an ongoing debate. I enjoyed reading Samantha Power’s biography of Vieira de Mello and it made me think about two bigger issues that have been part of my research work and that also interest me beyond academic endeavours: First, the book is a vivid example of how the UN transformed from a small, political and 'neutral' organisation into a participant of the global aid industry and became part of the transnational work- and lifestyle – and how little the UN seem to have engaged in these transformations. The other issue is that Vieira de Mello’s career and his duty stations are good/sad examples of how difficult, slow and interlocked peacebuilding challenges are. Practically all of the countries he has worked in throughout his career are still struggling with (the aftermath of) violent conflict and civil war – which often happened years or even decades ago – and that man

Great article: Autoethnography-An Overview

I'm a big fan of FQS, the Forum for Qualitative Social Research : FQS is a peer-reviewed multilingual online journal for qualitative research established in 1999. FQS is interested in empirical studies conducted using qualitative methods, and in contributions that deal with the theory, methodology and application of qualitative research. Innovative ways of thinking, writing, researching and presenting are especially welcome. The current issue features an excellent introduction and (literature) review of 'autoethnography' : Autoethnography: An Overview Carolyn Ellis, Tony E. Adams & Arthur P. Bochner Autoethnography is an approach to research and writing that seeks to describe and systematically analyze personal experience in order to understand cultural experience. This approach challenges canonical ways of doing research and representing others and treats research as a political, socially-just and socially-conscious act. A researcher uses tenets of autob

Why I would like to see more critical debates on the ‘open aid data’ discourse

I enjoyed reading the summary of David Eaves’ presentation on aidinfo. Especially the concluding remarks seem to be a good summary of why the discourse on open data seems to gain some momentum, they sound right and they are also right in many ways: With a good set of examples, patterns and common practices, the use of data will become embedded in development practice. Better information will make aid more effective : data portals improve data literacy, an open culture promotes learning, and using information to add value in the aid sector will ensure data remains open and will promote the release of more [my emphasis]. But then I read ‘ Story project aims to put people back at the heart of development ’ and it confirmed some of the discomfort I have with the rising popularity of aid data: Concern that an obsession with numbers is leading to development donors distancing themselves from those they seek to help has led to the creation of a new initiative which seeks to brin

Deconstructing Development Discourse-book available for free download!

This is an excellent book and yes, I have contributed one of the chapters on 'Peacebuilding does not build peace'. I'm glad that Oxfam and Practical Action have re-published the contributions and best of all you can download the entire book for free! Writing from diverse locations, contributors critically examine some of the key terms in current development discourse. Why should language matter to those who are doing development? Surely, there are more urgent things to do than sit around mulling over semantics? But language does matter. Whether emptied of their original meaning, essentially vacuous, or hotly contested, the language of development not only shapes our imagined worlds, but also justifies interventions in real people's lives. If development buzzwords conceal ideological differences or sloppy thinking, then the process of constructive deconstruction makes it possible to re-examine what have become catch-all terms like civil society and poverty reduction

Why work doesn't happen at work – and conference rituals rarely spread new ideas

I just listened to Jason Fried’s interesting TedX talk ‘Why work doesn't happen at work’ : Jason Fried has a radical theory of working: that the office isn't a good place to do it. At TEDxMidwest, he lays out the main problems (call them the M&Ms) and offers three suggestions to make work work. Although he mentions charities and non-profits at the beginning he is clearly focussing on the classic corporate setting of offices, meetings and 9-5 work. But what he also does is to describe the rituals around meetings, why they are organised, how they are implemented and that they are often an expensive performance that does ad very little to productivity, knowledge or information sharing. The key part for me that is also relevant for development work and learning is between minute 10 and 11: So they go into a meeting room, they get together, they talk about stuff that doesn’t really matter usually, because meetings are at work, meetings are things you are talking

Publishing (in) books vs the modern world

After a brief travel- and flu-induced hiatus two articles in the excellent Inside Higher Education on academic textbook pricing and challenges of university presses reminded me that I wanted to write a post on my own recent publication experiences – by way of promoting my published works ;). Being active on Twitter and writing a few blog posts now and then is part research , part creative writing exercise and part developing a professional identity around certain issues I feel strongly about, e.g. the ethnography of aid or the value of qualitative research. Two recent examples, a co-written chapter in an edited book and a journal article in a ‘fancy’ (i.e. with high impact) journal show the complexity of publishing research, and, more importantly for me, engaging in discussions about said research with a broader community. As part of this (self-)reflective exercise I recently wanted to find out about the sales figures of a book I contributed a chapter to together with another coll

Corruption, consultants and contributions to academic life

I was part of an interesting seminar of the Nepal Study Group at the University of Trondheim/Norway last week. I presented and discussed with the audience via Skype which worked really well and I was able to listen to the other presentations and the discussion for three hours. It was great to be in Trondheim virtually and an important reminder about how relatively inexpensive technology can contribute to important academic exchanges. But this post is less about technology and more about one particular aspect that a Nepali participant raised in the discussion: How 'development' and its agencies are in his view 'corrupting' academics (and other parts of the elite) by hiring them as consultants. After my presentation one Nepali member of the audience made a comment about how donor money has been 'corrupting' Nepal for a long time. This is a claim that I have often heard during my research and a point that was argued most prominently in Devendra Panday’ ' Nepal