Should I consider a PhD in International Development Studies?

After the Economist’s piece on the (non-)value of doing a PhD and some comments later (e.g. Prometheus doesn't read the Economist (I like the slightly cynical dichotomy between ‘civilians’ and the ‘academic insiders) or the ' 100 Reasons NOT to Go to Graduate School ' (they are only halfway through so check it out regularly in the future...) I had an interesting conversation with a prospective PhD student a few days ago. This was not the first time that I had been approached about doing a PhD and I always try to be as frank as possible, even playing the ‘devil’s advocate’ when it comes to the complicated ‘should I or shouldn’t I?’ decision-making process. At the end of our conversation I sat down and tried to summarize a few important and generic points from the point of view of doing a PhD in Development Studies and in the UK . I understand that every case is different and involves a range of motives, options and rationales, but there a few important questions and t

MA Participation, Power and Social Change at IDS: Linking practice, theory and reflection

The IDS MAP is a unique programme combining action-research and reflective practice with more traditional elements of a one-year postgraduate programme.  It is likely to be a small (~15 participants) course with excellent possibilities for sharing, learning and networking. Subject to university approval, the fees should be the same as for other IDS MA programmes, i.e. around £11,000. Feel free to contact Angela Dowman or myself if you need further information. 'This MA allows me to put theory into practice on a daily basis. I have experienced a paradigm shift in my career.' Tamara, USA, student 2008 IDS is actively recruiting now for the next intake of the MA in Participation, Power and Social Change at IDS (starting in October 2011). MAP is a unique 18-month programme providing experienced development workers and social activists with the opportunity to critically reflect on their practice and develop their knowledge and skills while continuing to work or volunteer for

Stuff expat aid workers like: Looking down on academics

Unfortunately, 'Stuff Expat Aid Workers Like' editorial policy states that only 'actual aidworkers' can submit contributions and this excludes me from publishing my contribution on their blog, but I still think that the relationship between aidworkers and academics is a very suitable topic.   Among the many unique features of expat aidworkers is that they know everything about the country they are working in. 'Everything' often meaning all the nitty-gritty political gossips that emerge every day about, say, the new minister of health, the president’s daughter or that really big aid project by that really important donor agency. Throw in some local gossip told by the driver and most expat aid workers could well be journalists, country experts – or academics.  Although most aid workers have a range of qualifications from a range of universities, they like to nurture the idea of out-of-touch academics sitting in their cosy ivory towers. Many still ho

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